Lithia Motors Inc. has taken a step in the right direction.
On May 11-14, the dealership group hosts its first Lithia Women’s Leadership Week. The company has invited 70 of its female managers to the conference at its Medford, Ore., headquarters.
“The primary motivation is to offer an enrichment opportunity to the women we already have,” said Tom Dobry, Lithia’s vice president of marketing.
Lithia has about 10,000 employees; a quarter of them are women. At the leadership level, there are two female assistant vice presidents and five female directors. But Lithia, like many dealership groups, wants to hire more women across the company. It also wants those in its midlevel management jobs to advance, Dobry said.
“Every year we do see more women in sales, service and management positions and we’re happy about that,” said Barbara Perkins, Lithia’s assistant vice president of human resources. “But we’d like to attract more.”
So Lithia stopped paying lip service to wanting to attract and retain more women, and it is doing something about it with this conference. Sure, the conference is small in terms of attendance and offers only one 60- to 90-minute session a day, to make it easier for participants to attend without disrupting that day’s work.
But the women who attend the female business leaders’ presentations will “pay it forward” by sharing what they learn with colleagues or even folks outside Lithia.
That will positively influence Lithia’s culture and nurture its reputation as a progressive company that cares about all of its employees’ career growth.
One point gave me pause in my praise, so I did a little digging. Let me explain.
Susan Scarola will be one of the speakers at the conference. She used to be vice chairman of DCH Auto Group. Lithia bought DCH in October.
Scarola now is Lithia’s “industry ambassador,” meaning that she attends industry events on Lithia’s behalf, Perkins said.
This seemed like a demotion to me, so I emailed Scarola to ask about it.
“It is definitely less of a leadership role,” Scarola wrote back.
She wrote that when she stepped down as CEO of DCH and became vice chairman it was her intention to “seriously wind down.” Still, she was able to make “valuable contributions to the company by representing DCH in industry forums, and to lead the DCH Teen Safe Driving Foundation.
“That role of working directly with our shareholders resulted in my spearheading the sale to Lithia,” Scarola wrote. “As that transaction came to a close, Lithia asked if I were willing to continue in my ‘industry capacities.’ Neither party really knew what this meant, but we agreed to work through a partnership and see where it led.”
Scarola said she and Lithia are still in the “initial stages of defining the role.”
But clearly her accomplishments and her evolving role with Lithia qualify her as a role model for other female workers. And the important thing remains: A large dealership group is doing something proactive to inspire and engage its female workers. In doing so, it is cultivating a culture that will help it attract future female leaders.
It’s a step.