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Why don't more women work in dealerships?

Mary Jo Wheeler-Schueller, left, says she, her mother, Maryann Wheeler, and brother, Daniel Wheeler, carry on the family tradition of hiring talented women at their Wisconsin stores.
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When Mary Jo Wheeler-Schueller started selling cars at her family's Wheelers Chevrolet in Marshfield, Wis., in 1995, it was not unusual to see women working in key positions at the store.
"I was 18, 19 years old, and we had mostly women salespeople," recalls Wheeler-Schueller, now 38 and dealer principal at Wheelers Chevrolet in Medford, Wis. Her partner in that store is her brother, Daniel, who is its vice president.
"Because of the way Mom and Dad worked the business, we always had women employees," she says. "F&I manager, service manager -- we had women in the service advisory roles back in the 1980s. Growing up, as a little girl coming to the dealership, there were always women in management roles."

Wheeler-Schueller said her brother and her mother, Maryann Wheeler, carry on the proud family tradition of seeking out and employing talented and capable women at their stores. Her father is deceased.
Maryann Wheeler is dealer principal of the Marshfield Chevy store, which now includes GMC, and a Chevy dealership and a Buick-GMC dealership in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
But that gender diversity at the Wheelers' dealerships is not the norm in the industry.
At the end of 2014, just 18.5 percent of active employees on new-car dealership payrolls were women, according to the 2015 National Automobile Dealers Association Annual Workforce Study. That's up slightly from 17.7 percent at the end of 2013.

Karen McKemie of Sonic Automotive: "You see so many successful women in real estate. ... The difference is they have complete flexibility."

"The gender gap in the nine key dealership positions is even more pronounced," the study states. Those positions are general manager, sales manager, service manager, parts manager, finance and insurance manager, service adviser, sales consultant, parts consultant and service technician.
Women represented just 8 percent of active employees in those positions, the study found. In contrast, women represented 91 percent of active employees in office and administrative support positions.
Nonconventional hours and commission-based pay plans are among the reasons many women pass up dealership jobs, say dealers, managers and others.

"You see so many successful women in real estate, and they work long hours and weekends," said Karen McKemie, divisional vice president at Sonic Automotive in Charlotte, N.C. "The difference is they have complete flexibility. They can say, 'Why don't we see that house on Saturday at 2 o'clock?' We meet at 2 o'clock and go until 4 o'clock, and we're done. They don't have to be there from 7 in the morning till 10 at night."
But culture, both inside the industry and in society in general, plays a role as well, said AutoNation Inc. CFO Cheryl Miller.
She points out that girls still typically play with dolls and boys typically play with cars. She said it is also a turnoff to potential female employees if they see no other women in the workplace.
"So when you get to actually selling cars and servicing cars, I still think there's a bias towards us," Miller said. "We need to continue to break that down."
How? "It's giving visibility to the existing women in the dealership. It's creating an open and welcoming atmosphere."
Wheeler-Schueller said women who have the personality and drive to work in the auto industry have an opportunity to do well. But she also said the pay structure in most dealerships is a barrier for women. That's why her family pays its salespeople a salary plus $200 per used vehicle sold and $170 per new vehicle sold. She says the dealerships' salespeople typically sell 10 to 15 vehicles per month.
"They need a stable income, and I think that takes the friction out of the negotiation process with the customer," Wheeler-Schueller said.

Cherie Watters of says sales teams may attract more women.

Cherie Watters, president of sales and marketing, dealership division, at, a dealership consultancy, spent 30 years working in dealerships in Florida and California. Watters, whose career path took her from controller to general manager at five dealership groups, suggests dealerships consider hiring sales teams, instead of individuals, as way to have all bases covered and attract more women.
A dealership could "put a couple of people together" to have "full coverage all the time," she said. Team members would share the commission and the benefits. "It would be a hybrid version of job sharing," she said.
Concerned about why women have shied away from becoming dealers and working in dealerships, General Motors created the GM Women's Retail Initiative in 2001 to nurture, retain and add to the ranks of profitable female GM dealers.

Celeste Briggs is director of the GM Women's Retail Network, which aims to set a path for women to become dealers.

The group was renamed the GM Women's Retail Network in 2008. It formed its first 20 Group for female dealers and general managers in May 2013, and it added a second 20 Group this year.
"Our goal is to attract women into automotive retail careers such as dealers, general managers and employees to create more gender balance and to create a pathway for women to become dealers," Celeste Briggs, director of the GM program, told the inaugural Women in Automotive Conference in Orlando in August.
At the end of 2014, women owned 225 GM dealership rooftops.
By August, that number grew to 230, representing 5.5 percent of GM rooftops, said Briggs.
At Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., two of the 24 individuals to come through the company's dealer investment program since 1990 have been women, said Ernest Bastien, the company's vice president of retail market development.
The program is open to any qualified candidate who has the skill and talent, but perhaps not the financial resources, to take over a dealership. The goal, said Bastien, is to have Toyota's dealer network reflect the customers it serves.
At the end of 2014, women owned 16 Lexus dealership rooftops, or 9 percent of total Lexus rooftops. In the same period, women owned 58 Toyota dealership rooftops, or almost 6 percent of all Toyota rooftops.
Jamie LaReau and Amy Wilson contributed to this report.

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