By Maggie McBride
Every business has a stake in the community around them, from counting on them to patronize your dealership, to being members of the staff that will give the dealership a great reputation and ensure the trust of shoppers. That’s why it’s integral for the staff to reflect the neighborhood, offering another opportunity to get that local business vibe while catering to some shoppers that may normally feel forgotten when they shop for cars.
The word “minority” is a broad one and commonly associated with race, but covers a range of populations, including the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities, and religious minorities. With demographics in the United States changing rapidly (for example, census data predicts that the United States will become “minority white” in 2045), it’s beneficial to accommodate the changing landscape so that the dealership feels welcoming to a varied staff and customer base alike. The automotive industry must be customer-centric; with that logic, their staff should reflect the people that are buying, and a study from NAMAD (National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers) indicates that 30% of recent car purchases were made by multicultural consumers, but only 6% of dealerships are minority-owned.
Yes, being accessible to different demographics can lead to new business, but for dealerships interested in truly reaching out and assimilating into the neighborhoods where they’ve set up shop, the key is diversifying their staff to accommodate women and minority populations. Though two out of three dealerships lack a hiring strategy, the need for and benefits of a more diverse workforce make a compelling case for putting one together, tracking it, and sticking to it. There’s no down side to baking this idea into recruitment practices for all departments, at all levels. If the dealership is in a relatively homogenous area, be inclusive anyway. Given that shoppers are becoming more and more willing to travel quite a distance to secure a good deal, prioritizing the local area is important, but being inclusive has well-rounded benefits for everyone at the dealership.
A diverse staff comes with a benefit that is absolutely critical in a workplace that can sometimes end up being an echo chamber of lackluster solutions: a shift in problem-solving capability. Bringing different perspectives to the table can help overcome the stigma that auto dealers have been stuck with for ages of being an unchangeable industry stuck in its old ways. Different backgrounds also create a unique capability for forecasting problems and getting ahead of them, which is an absolutely vital asset in an industry kept consistently on its toes by market shifts triggered by unique external circumstances.
A staff comprised of local people from different backgrounds will offer unique insight into the community that keeps the business’s lights on. It’s how to hear about school fundraisers, charity runs, and more before anyone comes to the dealership directly, giving managers an opportunity to take initiative and coordinate giving and outreach that’s more tailored and personal. In addition to simply doing the right thing for the community, it continues to build the profile of the dealership as a local business rather than a piece of a larger, more monolithic puzzle.
The value of diversity is so important that several manufacturers have relevant initiatives in place- for example, Toyota encourages diversity at all levels and releases a report breaking down the ways they strive to include women and minorities in their business. GM does the same. Though this focus fell to the wayside during the recession when the auto industry plunged into crisis, these pushes are back in action, with their careers page extolling the virtues of “inclusion in action.”
These are examples of change coming from the top down, setting a precedent in the hopes that their franchisees will follow suit. In spite of these initiatives, the automotive industry remains overwhelmingly white and male: this information from the bureau of labor statistics indicate that 85.7% of the auto dealer workforce is white. The second-highest demographic is Hispanic or Latino, accounting for 21.9%, and in total, women only make up 17.9% of people working at car dealerships, to the detriment of the industry and its forward momentum.
There is no catchall solution to the representation and inclusion issues faced in this industry. Crafting a more diverse dealership requires deliberate thought, policies, and practice at every level: from recruitment, to onboarding, to discussions of career growth and long-term goals. For some dealerships, it may require a reprogramming of organizational culture. This issue also requires an abundance of nuance. It’s difficult to generalize the type of neighborhoods that OEM dealerships establish themselves in. Every manufacturer has a targeted demographic, but the communities where their dealerships reside vary as much as the population of the United States itself. That means that dealer managers and employees have to keep their ears and eyes open, observing their customer base and familiarizing themselves with the neighborhood so they can adjust their hiring approach and outreach methods accordingly.
For example, would area kids benefit from an internship or apprenticeship program for minority students? Think of all the ways that people are traditionally hired, and tweak it a little bit to broaden the appeal of the job, or even the accessibility of the job posting. Take a simple fact like this one: women are more likely to search third-party job boards than men. That means that if a smaller dealership relies largely on word-of-mouth for candidates, the subsequent diversity in the candidate pool might be nonexistent. Additionally, factoring every word of the job post is important too. A job posting that’s very specific will not attract a wide variety of candidates (diverse or otherwise). By providing a clear, but broad job description, the process becomes relatively easier on hiring managers when they have a large number of candidates to choose from, and more appealing to a wider variety of job seekers from more backgrounds.
As the automotive industry wrangles with the increasing need for more accurate reflection of the communities around them, it’s critical to approach this issue in a well-rounded way so that minority groups have an opportunity for representation at every level.
The dealership will thrive with new viewpoints, innovative solutions, and an elevated presence in a community that truly opens its doors to those around them.