A woman's touch is rare in F&I
Tamara Darvish: "Until we clean up our image, we'll never attract the amount of people we want to attract, and good luck attracting women."
Several dealers say they would like to hire more female F&I managers. But for a variety of reasons women in F&I are few and far between.
"We would go out of our way all day long to have women F&I managers," says Tamara Darvish, vice president of Darcars Automotive Group in Silver Spring, Md., which has 21 dealerships in Maryland, Virginia and Florida.
"The reality is it's difficult. We do have female finance managers. But probably the ratio is maybe 10-to-1," males to females, she says. Part of the reason: The main pool of F&I manager candidates -- the dealership sales force -- is dominated by men.
Darvish says Darcars almost never recruits F&I managers from outside its sales force. When it does, new F&I managers must first spend time as salespeople, she says.
Darcars ranks No. 25 on the Automotive News list of the top 125 dealership groups in the United States with retail sales of 17,187 new vehicles in 2011.
Tyler Corder, CEO of Findlay Automotive Group in Henderson, Nev., says he has some female F&I managers and wishes he had more.
"Our industry hasn't done a very good job of recruiting or retaining women in those jobs," he says. Findlay Automotive has 27 dealerships mostly in and around Las Vegas. It ranks No. 42 on the Automotive News list of dealership groups with retail sales of 14,140 in 2011.
'I get a lot of hugs'
Dealers, trainers and female F&I managers interviewed for this article say women excel as F&I managers because they work hard and tend to be detail-oriented.
Attention to detail is crucial in the F&I office because managers must comply with federal regulations such as the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Red Flags Rule and the Truth in Lending Act, as well as state rules.
Most important, those experts say, F&I customers are less likely to be intimidated by women. That's significant because the F&I process is considered the most stressful part of buying a vehicle.
"I really think women make fantastic F&I managers. Most dealers agree. We could use more in the industry," says dealership sales and F&I trainer Rebecca Chernek.
"They're personable. They know how to talk to customers. They certainly can handle the pressure of an F&I department," says Chernek, president of Chernek Consulting in Cumming, Ga.
Dina Wilson, director of finance for Timbrook Automotive Inc. in Cumberland, Md., agrees that a woman's touch helps in the F&I office. She is responsible for three new-vehicle locations and a used-vehicle store.
"I do get a lot of those comments. People come in my office and thank me. I get a lot of hugs, a lot of thank you cards. People have written, 'I didn't see the anxiety I've had that came with buying a car in the past,' things like that," she says.
"Some of the men I've worked with also have that knack" for putting customers at ease, Wilson says. "It takes a different kind of person, I think. But yes, I think a woman's touch is sometimes a little bit softer than a man's."
Kelly Wadlinger: "The perception is that a woman is more empathetic, she will take more time to understand your needs."
Kelly Wadlinger, sales and F&I manager at Faulkner Fiat of Harrisburg in Harrisburg, Pa., says that even though women and men can have similar skill sets, customers approach a woman F&I manager differently than they approach a man.
"The perception is that a woman is more empathetic, she will take more time to understand your needs. People -- women or men -- approach men differently, they look for a little bit more of a combative relationship," she says. "The expectation in our society still is that you don't beat up the women."
But that doesn't mean women will flock to dealerships, let alone the F&I office.
Darvish says dealerships will be unable to attract more women until the industry improves its image.
"Until we clean up our image, we'll never attract the amount of people we want to attract, and good luck attracting women," Darvish warned in October during a panel discussion on how to build a better workplace.
She suggested that the industry exacerbates the problem because of demeaning, unprofessional and sexist behavior at auto shows, races and other events.
"We have scantily clothed women at industry events," Darvish said. "I don't like to pack my clothes after SEMA because I feel so dirty."
Beyond the small pool of female salespeople, other issues tend to limit the number of female F&I managers.
F&I trainer Jan Kelly, president of Kelly Enterprises in Vancouver, Wash., says working nights is a deal breaker for many women.
"When women tell me they're interested in getting into finance I just ask them, 'If you're home at 11 p.m. or midnight, will that represent a problem at home?' And they just look at me in shock," she says.
"You can't get up and leave at five or six at night to go home and make dinner. You have to have an at-home support person," Kelly says. "I had a live-in housekeeper when I worked retail, and thank God, I made enough money to afford one."
She says some women prosper as F&I managers. "I've known women in finance since the mid-'70s. But in the car business the hours are long and even with the kinder, more family friendly environment of today, a lot of women don't have the support at home for that."
Role models needed
Julie Becker-Myers, director of automotive technology at Northwood University in Midland, Mich., knows of several female F&I managers in her area but says there were more a few years ago.
"One reason a lot of them end up leaving is to be more active with their families. One of the things that is different, I think, is that females are more driven by the need to be home," she says.
Becker-Myers, who teaches F&I courses, says her students tend to have their sights set on becoming dealer principals. They regard work as an F&I manager as a chance to learn all the jobs at a dealership so they can be better managers, but in general they don't aspire to be F&I managers.
Wadlinger and Chernek disagree with the "crazy hours" argument, noting that many women work evenings in retail jobs.
Wadlinger says few women consider careers in automotive retail based on the image of car dealerships and women's experiences as consumers.
"It's not the '80s. You don't really hear, 'Honey, go get your husband and come back.' But to an extent we still think it's that way and we think, 'Ick, I would never want to work there.' I didn't see myself initially going into the car business -- no, no, no, no, no," she says.
"I had another female say, 'You really need to pursue this. This is something people really don't think about, but you have to try this. I said to myself, 'I am not going to enjoy this, but I will tough it out to say that I tried it,' " she says.
"That was a little over six years ago."
Jamie LaReau contributed to this report
You can reach Jim Henry at email@example.com.