Monday 22 July 2019

Women in the driver's seat

Females holding senior positions in the motor trade can become role models, writes Geraldine Herbert

Pole position: The Women@SIMI, an annual event for women in the motor trade, is designed to inspire, motivate and support females as they seek greater representation in the industry
Pole position: The Women@SIMI, an annual event for women in the motor trade, is designed to inspire, motivate and support females as they seek greater representation in the industry

Geraldine Herbert

Walk into most car dealerships and you'll be greeted by the same picture - a showroom made up predominantly of men. Is it any wonder that despite the inroads being made by women in the motoring industry, the public perception is that the business of motoring is a man's world?

After a decade working as an accountant in Australia, Cathy Malone returned to the family Toyota Dealership in Drogheda and became the Dealer Principal in 2017.

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Cathy believes female role models need to be more visible throughout all levels.

"Historically there has been a lot of women in the motor industry but maybe they weren't as visible in dealerships. To get more women into this industry we need to change the mindset of a male dominated industry, go to them and engage with them on all the opportunities available and positives of being involved in such a dynamic, successful and fast-paced industry." 

The image of a male-only industry is a perception that Cathy is striving to change.

"I encourage women to engage with us, apply for the jobs, go into dealerships or distributors get a feel for the place, don't write it off, it's a great career choice with lots of opportunities and diverse range of roles," she says.

The appointment of Mary Barra as the CEO of General Motors in 2014 was the first of many appointments putting women in key positions in the motor industry and showing that the dark ages of the male-centric motoring world are beginning to end.

While there is cautious optimism among women, the numbers are still low and women make up on average about 24pc of the industry across the European Union or put another way, the industry is 76pc male.

In Ireland things are changing and there are many more women in motoring in 2019 than ever before. Yet childcare remains one of the most significant barriers to women entering the workforce, returning to work or taking on more hours.

Rowena Dooley, a mother of two and the Dealer Principal in a family-run dealership in Carlow, believes that a fundamental challenge for women lies around the lack of adequate, affordable and adaptable child care arrangements.

"With enhanced and flexible child care, women will be in a stronger position to progress their career to the highest levels they wish to attain within dealerships, manufacturers or other paths."

This is a key requirement for women to advance in their careers, advises Rowena.

"This will also help build confidence towards the advancement of women in key positions within dealerships, industry bodies, manufacturers, correspondents and industry representatives."

Recently elected the first ever female Deputy President of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (SIMI) Gillian Fanning is Marketing Director of Serfac, a company that imports and distributes automotive component brands to the Irish market. For Gillian women are an under utilised resource, bringing a different set of skills to the workplace with gender diversity helping businesses perform better.

"Women see things differently than men - they have particular strengths in the areas of long-term strategic thinking, collaboration, communication and participative leadership and it has been demonstrated time and time again that having women in management positions can contribute significantly to the sucess of a company."

"In recent years, my colleagues on the retail side of the business have recognised that it makes sense to employ more women to enhance engagement with this largely female customer base and this is a significant improvement," she says.

There is a skills shortage across many sectors in Ireland and the motor trade is no different, it can no longer afford a lack of diversity.  Attracting and retaining women is now both key to survival and for future success.

Antonia Hendron is the managing director of M50 Truck and Van Centre. She acknowledges the industry is still seen as a man's world but says women play an increasingly important role in the business.

"Like most industries at the moment labour resources are in short supply and we are no different. We currently are experiencing a lack of technicians and apprentices in different sectors.

"The motor industry is changing rapidly both in terms of technology and compliance; we are always upskilling and learning. It may be a male-dominated industry but once you can demonstrate that you have a good knowledge of the Industry, gender is no longer an issue."

Diversity is important in any business, but is especially relevant when it comes to motoring. Women are now purchasing just over half of all cars and it's estimated that approximately 85pc of vehicle buying decisions are made by women, yet they are so often treated as passengers, not purchasers.

Jackie Wherity is Consumer Sales Manager with Bridgestone Ireland and the current chairperson of the Irish Tyre Industry Association.

"The motor trade and tyre trade have realised the necessity to provide a better and more suitable service to female motorists, it therefore makes sense to see more and more women taking up leadership positions in the industry."

Women need to be better represented across all industries, the make-up of all companies should mirror the make-up of their market and promoting women in the workforce has been a longstanding passion of Jackie's.

"There are great opportunities for women in the motor trade, it's no different to any other industry. Concentrate on the skills and experience that will benefit the role you are seeking in the motor industry rather than focusing on the perceived bias," says Jackie.

While there is an increase in women taking up prominent positions in industry organisations, tyre distributors, main dealerships, only a handful of mechanics in Ireland are female.

Sabrina Coventry is one of the few. With a passion for fixing things, she completed a motor technology course in Cavan Institute and has recently accepted a place on a mechanic's apprenticeship with Advance Pitstop.

"From an early age, I was influenced by my father who loved cars.  I like to think of mechanics as 'car doctors'. It's a challenging job but I get to keep people safe by getting their vehicle roadworthy and ensuring it's fit to drive. Solving problems they have with their cars and finding solutions to them."

Women who work in male-dominated occupations face some real and some perceived challenges.

"While it is nerve wracking going into a male dominated industry, it is the most interesting industry to be a part of. You will be supported 100pc by everyone, you will never have to struggle as you will have plenty of help and support," she says.

There is little doubt that the motor industry has some way to go to create, retain, and advance a more diverse workforce and make it a more attractive career choice for females. Role models and females must be visible throughout the industry. Vehicle connectivity, electric and autonomous cars, shifting consumer preferences and regulatory pressures are all creating an increasingly complex environment that is set to transform the industry over the next few years and women need to be part of that.

Despite the challenges, the motoring business is no longer an exclusively male environment but rather an industry that consists of many different sectors, diverse roles and great career opportunities for women.

Sunday Independent

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