An Interview with the Women In Automotive Conference Leadership

When female customers walk into your showroom, they notice when there are few, if any, women salespeople to greet them. According to the most recent NADA Workforce Study, women represented only 18.5 percent of dealership employees; 8 percent of those were employed in key positions, 91 percent in office and admin support. Those numbers need to be better, says Christy Roman and Jody DeVere, two of the founders of the Women in Automotive Group, which is holding its second conference this month. “Women are much more adventurous and courageous in trying new things. It’s not like the automotive industry is completely out of the question We just need to make sure they see it as an option and that the employers themselves are aware of how to retain these high quality employees,” notes DeVere. These are lucrative careers and very interesting careers. So there is a lot of appeal if dealers are willing to improve the culture.”

We asked Roman, president of JKR Automotive and Marketing’s digital group, and DeVere, an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, and spokesperson on the women’s market, for their take on hiring, and keeping, women in the automotive industry.

Have there been positive changes in the past few years for women looking at this industry as a career?

Roman: I haven’t really seen many changes. What I hear from dealers that I work with, is that they can’t find good people. Well, there are a lot of good people out there, but most women, if they get a job at a dealership, particularly in sales, don’t stay. There are some issues in the dealership culture that are not favorable to women with families and children. We want to help dealers to effect change on their side so they can hire women. What I see as promising is that more and more women are clearly considering or trying out the industry as we see a much larger female population at industry events. Whether they stay, grow into leaders, or bring friends into the industry is the real question here.

How can dealerships improve this culture?

DeVere: If women are uncomfortable shopping at the dealership, why would they want to work there? This culture term that is bandied about is really something that dealerships need to understand in order to create a place where women, and millennials for that matter, feel welcome. Both share similar values regarding employment experience; including compensation and the hours they work. Most millennial couples share responsibility with child-rearing. They want family leaves, maternity leaves, and great health benefits and hours that allow them quality time to participate in their children’s upbringing in a real way. Major corporations understand this outside of automotive and address these issues with great benefits. This is sorely lacking in our industry where the standard opinion is that if you don’t work 70-plus hours a week you’re not a good employee. That’s ludicrous. It creates burnout. The statistics just released in NADA’s Workforce Study shows 90 percent of women working in sales turnover because of these challenges. The reality, however, is that it isn’t about women or millennials as a singular group but rather the future of the dealership. If dealers continue to ignore these groups and refuse to evolve their culture, they may just see even higher turnover, limited employee options, and a negative social media reputation as the millennial generation becomes to majority of the workforce.

Are there some dealers doing a great job attracting both female employees and customers?

DeVere: In most cases, it’s a place where a woman has taken the lead. Lisa Copeland, who was one of our speakers last year, leads the number one Fiat dealership (Fiat Alfa Romeo of Austin) in the nation. In sales and at the senior level, there’s a very high percentage of women employed there—almost 90 percent. That is her strategic advantage. At the O’Daniel Automotive Group in Fort Wayne Indiana, Julie Kimes (GMS), is driving that initiative with a significant number of women working in that organization. Furthermore, that dealership doesn’t hire from within the automotive industry and then trains those hires extensively. They have made a long-term commitment to develop a culture that is extremely customer-friendly, and they have a low turnover rate which drives down their costs. Julie works very closely with her staff to make sure they have a career path. That specific concept of career path is hugely ignored by dealerships nationally and can solely attribute to an employees buy-in to your company. The dealerships doing all those right things are benefitting significantly.

Knowing all this, you helped create the Women in Automotive conference.

Roman: It started when Jody DeVere took me to a conference in Chicago called Marketing to Women. I was struck by the fact that we didn’t have anything like that at a peer level in automotive. There were some executive ones, but nothing for someone who works in the finance department or in administration in a car dealership. We wanted to create something where women could attend and learn about their opportunities, be inspired and to network. One of the unique things about our event is that it’s not just for women who work in dealerships, but also for women who are vendors, and for people who work in dealerships that are looking to market to women and hire and retain women. This isn’t put together for people to buy things. This is put together as an outlet for women to learn from each other.

Is there anything you’ve added based on last year’s responses?

DeVere: This year we have added a fourth track based on our feedback and are featuring keynotes and more in these four tracks of Dealership Strategies, Trends, Personal Development, and Leadership. Dealership Strategies is specifically for dealership principals, managers and dealership employees that are managing employees. The Trends track focuses on trends in employment and marketing to women. The Personal Development track helps women develop their personal branding. The Leadership track will help those seeking to become leaders in industry with the theme of peer and professional mentoring.

What do you see as the future for women in the industry?

DeVere: Women are becoming more outspoken about making change. This is why we think our first conference was successful. It is a gathering of women, and men, who support those ideals and want to make things happen. We’re tired of waiting around for the automotive industry to see the problems and make the necessary changes. We think of it as a movement, not as conference. And I think we are gaining momentum.

Roman: It is promising to see not only the incredible support we’ve received from our sponsors, but from all sorts of women with varying histories with the industry, experience, and roles within this space. We are seeing women in and around the industry and women become more of a hot topic and that is encouraging. Our goal isn’t just to have an annual conference, but to force the topics we feel are imperative to the growth of our industry and the companies within it.

For more information on the group, event, or people behind the scenes, visit