Many automotive retailers struggle to retain female employees. Flexible hours, maternity leave and daycare options are often listed as solutions.
It's not enough. Not even close.
Why do I think that? Because at this year's NADA Show in Las Vegas, a car dealer kissed my neck.
Hours later, General Motors CEO Mary Barra spoke onstage about how to attract women to dealership roles. "Create an environment they want to be in," she said. "What does everyone want with their career? They want to do work that's meaningful. They want to be valued for what they do. They want it to be fair — to have opportunities."
The disconnect between Barra's words and the reality on the showroom floor, for me, is stark.
If I were a prospective employee, those comments might sting even more or turn me off from the business. I don't think the dealer who made the unsolicited neck peck intended to make me uncomfortable or cause emotional harm. We'd spoken on the phone several times. But seeing me in person prompted a hug and kiss over a handshake.
Did he aim for my cheek and miss? Possibly. Did we have a relationship where either attempt was welcome? Hell no. And needless to say, my male colleagues generally don't have similar experiences. Was my revulsion enough to make me wag my finger and call him out right there? No. But it was enough to make me walk away.
In 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, women held 19 percent of jobs at U.S. dealerships, according to the NADA Dealership Workforce Study. Female turnover was 50 percent, with sales consultants, F&I managers and service advisers experiencing the highest turnover. Five out of 10 women walk away. How many do so from incidents similar to mine? Or behavior that's even worse.
I don't have the answers for that. But dealers, ask yourselves: When you hire women, how do you ensure they reach their earning potential? Do you talk about their career path and how to achieve their goals? When you see a young, professional woman, do you see a daughter? A potential girlfriend? A prospective employee who could one day become a general manager or more?
The auto industry has covered a lot of ground in recent decades, and a few more miles with the #MeToo movement. But the brief exchange has me questioning just how much further remains on the road ahead.