The Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) has launched its new Women in Automotive initiative, a program designed to increase awareness of opportunities in the industry among women in the discovery phase of their careers.
The program will connect interested applicants with women across Ontario in senior roles such as dealer principals, general managers, and service managers, who will act as mentors in helping students navigate the benefits and challenges for women entering the industry.
Directed at students in their first or second year of postsecondary education, a stage at which many students have not yet made concrete decisions about their career paths, the initiative arose from an expressed desire by dealerships to add more women to their payrolls, said Dave Fraser, TADA’s education coordinator.
“Dealers understand that women are now making more than 50 per cent of buying decisions,” Fraser told Automotive News Canada. “They’re seeing more and more women coming into their service areas, and these customers are not seeing themselves reflected in the staff and the dealership.”
Although the automotive industry is often viewed as a purely technical field, Fraser said a key objective of the program is to demonstrate that dealers are also seeking qualified staff with business and humanities-oriented skills. Such candidates are found in programs and schools that fall outside the traditional automotive sphere.
“Many of the jobs that they’re having trouble attracting people to are not the tech jobs, not the sales jobs,” he said. “They’re not what we traditionally associate with a dealership. They’re accounting and finance, human resources, marketing and business development, those types of things.
“We’re looking at people who may anticipate that they’re going to work for a large corporation sitting in a 27th-floor office somewhere in downtown Toronto. We want to open eyes to the fact that there’s a lot more opportunity out there.”
Perhaps the most significant barrier this program will need to overcome is the persistent perception that the automotive industry can be unfriendly to women.
“It’s interesting,” Fraser said. “Even in high schools now, I still get the question regularly: ‘Can girls work in dealerships?’ This is 2018. Why is anyone still asking that question?
“We think that the 2018 dealership is a lot different than one even 20 years ago. What’s really going to help in that area is we’ve got these women [acting as mentors] who have worked in these dealerships for quite some time and probably had to overcome those challenges.
“They are working internally to eliminate that stigma, and my hope is that the people we’ve chosen to participate are happy in their roles and are able to really demonstrate the positives of what the industry has to offer.”