To Barbara Vidmar, it makes perfect sense that the American International Automobile Dealers Association would be the first national automotive trade association to be led by a woman from within its ranks.
'We're newer. We're younger. We are maybe more focused. There is less tradition to overcome,' she said, without naming the organization to which AIADA is automatically compared.
It is the older, larger, perhaps more tradition-bound National Automobile Dealers Association.
Officials of both dealer groups recognized years ago that the absence of women and minorities in their leadership ranks was a problem. They have taken different approaches to addressing the problem.
Through the normal director election process, AIADA members have chosen to include five women, two black people and one Hispanic person among the 46 people on its board.
And now they've elevated Vidmar to be chairman for 2000.
NADA decided in 1997 to create two at-large board seats for women and two for minorities to ensure they are represented on the association's 63-member board.
'It's a beginning. It's better than nothing,' said Betty Jo Moore, owner of Moore Auto Group of Williamson, W.Va., and holder of one of the at-large NADA seats for women.
In addition, Annette Sykora, dealer principal of Smith Ford-Mercury of Slaton, Texas, joined the NADA board last year after the dealers of north Texas elected her to one of the regular seats.
Moore said the reason progress has been slow is simple: 'In the past, people didn't see women as automobile dealers.'
Sykora said, 'I encourage women to not place limits on themselves.'
Data suggest that, despite recent gains, the real problem continues to be a shortage of women and minorities in the ranks of dealers, not just in association leadership.
NADA last year counted 526 women dealer principals, or about 2.6 percent of its 20,000 members. The association counted 450 minority dealer principals, or about 2.3 percent of members.
Vidmar of AIADA said, 'Certainly there is a lot more diversity in the marketplace than there had been in the past, and we like to hear all those voices.'
She pointed out that women and minorities aren't the only alternative voices vying to be heard. She said the AIADA board also has the advantage of age diversity - both older and younger dealers who can provide a sense of history and a vision for the future.