Like many industries, the automotive industry has seen an increased—and much needed—focus on diversity in recent years. Why much needed? Consider this: Women make up 47% of the total workforce in the U.S., but only 18% of employees at automotive dealers.
While gender diversity is an important part of the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) conversation, it’s just that—apart. DEI is much more than a single factor. And, it’s mission-critical for your dealership’s success.
To better understand what DEI encompasses, how to intentionally bring the needed focus into your dealership team, and why it’s key for success, I talked with Wil Lewis, Experian’s chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer, whose responsibility is to ensure Experian’s programs and products reflect the employees, clients, and communities we serve and is a workplace where employees feel comfortable bringing their whole selves to work.
Wil Lewis: First, and foremost, we need to look at diversity through a more nuanced lens. Intentionally expanding our circles needs to be about more than just representation and focus on additional topics. When I define diversity, I often use four distinct terms: diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.
WL: When we think about why DEI is important, it’s because our society is diverse. Our businesses and dealerships need to be reflective of society as a whole. This will likely impact their revenue and bottom line.
Think about sales. If you walk into a dealership as a veteran, and the person you’re talking to also happens to be a veteran, then you can share stories about your time in basic training or other experiences, and that instantly builds a relationship. And that’s ultimately what sales is about: relationships.
As we work to build our businesses, dealerships, etc. we want to ensure they have a diverse population so they can relate to their customers. Not having that kind of representation can mean your dealership can lose a competitive edge.
WL: Here’s what’s key: The owner will always be the owner, and for some dealerships, the owner may often be a member of the family. I see this in my local dealership. But, that doesn’t mean the leadership team is fixed.
You can ask yourself, who’s your finance manager? Who does your inventory? There’s still an opportunity to diversify your leadership team. And, if you’re really good, you look at who’s on your sales floor, and you pull them up. Look for opportunities to promote from within.
Research shows that diversifying leadership is strategic for your bottom line. A study by Gartner found that 75% of companies with diverse and inclusive decision-making teams will exceed their financial targets through 2022. Additionally, gender-diverse and inclusive teams outperformed their less inclusive counterparts by 50%.
WL: The first step any leader needs to take is self-awareness. If a leader doesn’t realize there is an opportunity to fix it, or that there’s something that can get better, it’ll never change.
Once the awareness is there, the leader needs to talk about it. The people who work in these dealerships are good—and I mean really good—salespeople. Good salespeople are driven by revenue, so talk to them in their language and explain how this impacts the bottom line.
Then, you need to measure the impact. Each organization needs to set its own KPIs, because it depends on the baseline and where they’re starting. But the ultimate question is: are you representative of the community you’re doing business in?
WL: Absolutely. Beyond just sales, think about the marketing impact this could have. Bringing together perspectives that are representative of your potential customers ensures that you’ll be more effective marketing to them, based on your team’s collective experiences and understanding of things like communication preferences.
This really ties back to your first question, because it shows how if we go with the linear definition of diversity and just count numbers, not much will change. But, if you intentionally seek to create a culture where people feel like they belong no matter what their background or experience is, and they know their voice is valued, there can be transformational impacts for your dealership. Your customers will feel the difference when they walk into your showroom.
Drawing upon her years of experience in advertising research for national magazine publisher Time Inc. and Sinclair Broadcast Group, Amy has a passion for advancing the skill set of automotive marketers by helping them apply the latest enhancements in technology to their dealerships’ monthly advertising spend. Currently at Experian, Amy collaborates with dealers to transform their marketing operations through data. Previously, Amy was responsible for driving dealer sales and business development relationships for String Automotive and has been consulting with dealers on media and advertising for 15+ years.
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