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Women in automotive seek more peers

Jim Henry is a special correspondent for Automotive News.

NEW YORK -- A lot of dealer principals and general managers swear by their female salespeople and F&I managers and wish they had more.

But in the business world at large, auto industry careers for women are a “best-kept secret,” according to panelists at a conference hosted by the Women’s Automotive Association International this month in conjunction with the New York auto show.

“How many women turn up their noses at automotive because they see it as a man’s business? There are some ladies out there who feel that way,” said Isabelle Helms, vice president of research and market intelligence at Cox Automotive, of Atlanta. “I think having more women at dealerships can only be a good thing for car shoppers.”

Women are particularly good at putting customers at ease in the F&I department, said Linda Barnette, the founder of Fifth Gear Sales in Palm Beach, Fla., a firm that trains and consults with vendors that pitch goods and services to dealerships.

“A lot of the market is a subprime market. People may be embarrassed that they’re not in a position to buy a luxury vehicle and pay cash. We don’t want those people to feel uncomfortable,” she said.

The panelists acknowledged they had faced issues as women in a male-dominated industry, but by and large, they said, women are missing out on good opportunities in automotive, and they encouraged the membership to help recruit more women.

Said Barnette: “In this room right now, we should all be talent scouts.”

You can reach Jim Henry at

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