Another member of that panel — Evelyn Chatel, general manager at Bean Auto Group in Miami — said dealers have an opportunity to educate their communities about women's potential in the industry. She recalled attending a career-day event at a school and walking into a room of 30 boys who struggled to connect with her.
"You could see they were like, 'She must be in the wrong room. Where's the technician guy that's supposed to come in here?' " Chatel recalled. "And so I really teamed up with the teachers and the facilitators at schools and gave them insight on how many opportunities we have at the dealership for women."
Those opportunities go beyond technician jobs to accounting staff, sales reps and managers, service advisers, body shop adjusters, she said.
"It takes getting down to the community level and bringing their awareness up to understand that we have this amazing business, that we can include everyone," Chatel said.
During the past few years, more women have been recruited and promoted in the auto industry, speakers on the Cox Automotive panel said. But women should continue to voice their opinions to keep propelling the industry toward change, they added.
Most millennials see a more balanced work force than previous generations, said Lori Wittman, senior vice president of dealer software solutions for Cox Automotive.
"There's not these boxes around this is what women do and this is what men do," she said.
Encouraging women to consider technician jobs will be a part of the Women Driving Auto Retail initiative, Primm said. That effort matches well with the NADA Foundation's drive to solve the technician gap and recruit more young people to service jobs at dealerships, she said.
A few years ago, the vast majority of conversations about recruiting women in the industry were started by women. Today, many men are intentionally recruiting and promoting more women, Borches said.
"It's not just women talking about this subject anymore. It's all of us," she said.
But if women don't speak up, Borches added, the industry would never change. "We owe it to each other to speak up and be confident," she said. "We need everybody's opinion."