Monadnock Ford allows parents to bring children to work and offers flexible schedules. Makhlis said he believes that is one reason employee referrals are a leading source of job candidates.
"I really believe if you provide a good environment, you provide flexibility and you provide opportunity, and you're open to it, the diversity will come," he said, "regardless of what part of the country you're in."
Quantum5's Ford said dealership leaders first should ensure their company culture is inclusive, so employees feel a sense of belonging, before turning their attention to hiring. It won't matter how great a dealership is at hiring diverse people if they don't feel part of the team once they come on board.
Ford co-founded the DEI Champions Council for Automotive Retail, a coalition of auto retail leaders that shares DE&I best practices. She said dealers have told her that past efforts to hire more diverse employees have not worked out. It's often a problem of leadership not creating a culture that roots out biases and elicits more empathy from its team, she added.
Dealers should create a culture by design rather than default — one that intentionally asks uncomfortable questions and challenges how things always have been done, Ford said. "Your inclusive culture is what attracts more diverse candidates," she said. If dealers haven't created conditions that make employees feel comfortable and safe, "you have to have the courage to admit that and work to change it."
Dealer Dave Wright said the hiring of a female technician this year at his growing Nissan-Subaru dealership in Hiawatha, Iowa, raised an issue overlooked several years ago when the building was constructed: The dealership did not have a female locker room.
Wright quickly converted a gender-specific restroom to unisex for her to use and, in September, made job offers to two more women for technician roles. He now plans to build separate men's and women's locker rooms in the service department, and unisex restrooms across the store, as part of a planned future dealership expansion.
But, he said, the situation illustrated the importance of making sure the dealership is living the story it's telling prospective hires.
"If our story's going to be, we want to include people, period, we've got to have an atmosphere that includes them," Wright said. "We can say all we want and tell them all the things they want to hear, but if we don't have a restroom for them or we don't have a locker room, we're just kidding ourselves."