If you look back on the history of the automobile, you’ll soon discover that women played a pivotal role in shaping the car industry we all know and love today. Despite this, it seems that the modern-day motor sector lacks diversity, with females representing less than a quarter of the American automotive workforce. But with the country’s female population anticipated to grow by five million over the next three years, the automotive industry’s attitude towards women is evolving. From the rise in female-led car purchasing to women slowly, starting to clinch those higher roles within the automotive industry, women are definitely starting to make their mark across the car sector.
Pioneering females that made history
Take windshield wipers, they were invented in 1902 by American female, Mary Anderson. While exploring the streets of New York City, Mary noticed that drivers had trouble in bad weather, especially come rain or snow. The idea was born and Mary was soon granted a patent for her idea. The windshield wipers might be of the smallest parts of the car, yet they’re one of the most necessary – especially when it comes to keeping drivers safe.
Or Bertha Benz is another example. Are you familiar with that saying, ‘behind every great man, there’s an even greater woman’? Well, that was certainly the case for Carl Benz and his wife, Bertha. While Carl (one-half of the Mercedes-Benz founding duo) patented the first ever three-wheel motorcar back in 1886, it was actually his wife, Bertha, who ensured its success. Not only did she help fund her husband’s business but she completed the first ever successful cross-country trip in 1888, proving to skeptics that Carl’s invention was more than simply a ‘horseless carriage’.
Have you ever got into your car or truck on a chilly morning and been grateful for the heating? Well, you have American female, Margaret A. Wilcox to thank for that. Margaret invented the first ever car heater back in 1893, enhancing the comfort of drivers across the globe – and we’re still reaping the benefits today.
Fast forward to today and women continue to influence the automotive industry. Just look at American businesswoman Mary Barra, who has been the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at General Motors since 2014 – she was in fact the first woman to reach such a high position at a company within the automotive industry. Or Elena Ford, an American-Greek businesswoman, who is following in the footsteps of her great-great-grandfather Henry Ford’s, working at the automotive brand he founded back in 1896. Elena was the first female member of the Ford family to hold the title of Vice President at the multi-billion-dollar car manufacturer, and she is now Chief Customer Experience Officer.
Women, jobs, and the automotive industry
Despite so many women making history in the car industry, females are hugely underrepresented across the automotive sector in America. In fact, latest statistics revealed that only 23.6 percent of women held jobs in the motor vehicle and motor equipment manufacturing industry in 2019. Breaking it down even further:
• 18 percent of automobile dealers are women1
• 16.9 percent of those who work in automotive parts, accessories, and tires stores are female2
• And, just 9.9 percent of automotive repair and maintenance employees are women1
What’s more, it seems that women rarely seem to climb up the ranks and reach executive positions. In the motor vehicle and parts industry, women made up 74.8 percent of the office and clerical staff, but just 18.1 percent at mid-level officials or managers, and just 17.6 percent at executive or senior-level officials and managers2.
The numbers are growing
Although the automotive industry appears to be extremely male-dominated, it’s worth noting that the numbers are on the rise. While only 9.9 percent of those currently working in maintenance are women, that number has grown from 7.3 percent in 2015 and 1.4 percent back in 20 years from 19992.
Women, diversity, and the automotive industry
Every year, Deloitte and Automotive News team up to shine a light on gender issues within the automotive industry, while celebrating influential women from the sector. In 2020, they carried out their ‘Women at the wheel’ survey, responded to by hundreds of industry professionals (both men and women) from across America, including the likes of dealers, OEMs, and suppliers1. Here are some of their key findings.
• When female respondents were asked if they had seen a positive change in the automotive industry’s attitude towards women professional employees in the last five years, the numbers have changed quite significantly since 2015.
o In 2015, 64 percent said yes
o In 2018, 55 percent said yes
o In 2020, just 39 percent said yes
Likewise, this year, 35 percent of those asked said the industry’s attitude to professional female employees has gotten worse, in comparison to 15 percent in 2015.
• Nearly half of women (45 percent) surveyed revealed they would leave the industry if they were to start their career again today, with a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion being the top three reasons influencing their decision.
• In fact, the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion appear to be the number one reason women don’t want to join the automotive industry (64 percent).
• Interestingly, women seem to care more about company culture than their male co-workers, with 81 percent of female respondents naming it as the most important career objective, compared with 55 percent of men. Likewise, 64 percent of women revealed career progression was a priority for them, in comparison to 40 percent of men.
• An outstanding 91 percent of women asked, believe that the industry is bias toward men for leadership positions.
• Interestingly, both men (64 percent) and women (50 percent) automotive professionals believe that their company can improve when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
These figures demonstrate the feelings of hundreds of women working in the automotive industry, especially in relation to the sector’s attitude towards female professionals.
Female car shopping trends
We’ve highlighted the low number of professional women working in the automotive industry, but can the same be said when it comes to those shopping for cars? Do women generally purchase cars in America? Are there any customer trends that dealers should be made aware of? Let’s find out.
How many women intend to make a car purchase?
Recent statistics show that women now account for more than 45 percent of new car purchases4. And with such a high figure, it’s even more essential that dealerships change their approach to selling vehicles and services. Dealerships must adapt their strategy to ensure they are giving each customer a personalized shopping experience.
Earlier this year, Mintel – who promote themselves as experts in what consumers want and why – released their US female consumers market report 2020 (supported by a range of data and research). Overall, the report suggested that while female purchasing power is widely recognized across a number of industries, the same can’t be said for the automotive sector. Furthermore, women are made to feel like their money and opinion doesn’t matter as much as their male counterparts. The report also looks at the current average lifestyle choices of women in America, highlighting that more women are opting to get married later in life – in other words, marrying later in life, means they’re forced to make their own decisions about the car they drive, rather than rely on a husband to support her.
What do women look for in a dealership?
According to Mintel5, there are four main values that women look for in a dealership, when buying a car and they are trust, transparency, understanding and reliability.
And with the female population in America anticipated to grow by approximately five million by 20245, now is the time for dealerships to re-think their strategy and engage with women. Especially as more than half of the female population plans on purchasing a vehicle in the next three years.
According to womendrivers.com, almost six in 10 women who don’t buy when they visit a dealer, don’t return there, mainly because they ‘didn’t like the way they were approached or treated’4. Furthermore, one-half of female car buyers will go into one dealership and buy a vehicle, while the other half report going into an average of three dealerships, so making that first impression count really does matter.
Having witnessed the shift in the way customers shop – in other words, the digital revolution – it comes as no surprise that more and more women are leaning towards buying a vehicle on the internet.
When it comes to customer touchpoints, a dealer’s website is rated as the number one platform women go to when buying a car. However, they gave their user experience a rating of 76 percent, with regards to being helpful and informative. It was also apparent that dealerships’ websites remained product-focused, while today’s female shoppers would prefer to see lifestyle images from various cultures and demographics4.
Unsurprisingly, sight came out as the top sense utilized by customers, with female shoppers looking for visual platforms, with clean design, consumer images, and videos. All of this is said to enhance trust between the dealership and shopper while engaging visitors.
Millennial female shoppers
We’d be daft not to specifically look at car buying trends among millennials – not only are they the largest generation in today’s workforce but they have the highest purchase intent across any generational group. Furthermore, 34 percent of millennials intend to purchase a vehicle in the next 12 months, of which 65 percent of new vehicle sales will be by women and 80 percent of car-buying decisions informed by women6.
So, what do millennial female shoppers (specifically) want when buying a car? When it comes to looking at millennial women car customers, the key values they look for when making a purchase tend to echo those of the general female population:
• Trust and transparency. When it comes to researching their purchase online, it appears that women are pretty comfortable carrying out the necessary research required to make their purchases. However, when it comes to visiting a dealership in person, they look for trust, empathy and honesty, shared with a desire to be well-informed.
• An easy and stress-free experience. According to research, around eight in 10 women aged between 18 and 35 find car buying stressful. So much so, that actually 30 percent of millennial women revealed they wouldn’t go into a dealership alone.
• A fair deal. Research shows that millennial women are driven by price, which means your dealership needs to work on showing them they’re getting value for their dollar.
• Online reviews. We often speak about the importance of customer testimonials and it looks like they’re more important than ever when it comes to engaging with a millennial audience. In fact, 40 percent more millennial women are reported to use car dealer reviews, than the general female population.
Most popular cars for women
While the male population seems to be a lot more emotional and brand-loyal when buying cars, women are far more practical and open to buying a car that will suit their needs and lifestyle. According to recent research by cars.com, here are the top five most popular car makes for women in America7:
And, more specifically, the most popular car models are:
1. Honda Civic
2. Honda Accord
3. Chevrolet Equinox
4. Ford Escape
5. Nissan Altima
Automotive communities for women
If you are a female working in the automotive sector, with a passion for paving the way for women – as both industry professionals and customers – then here are three networks you might want to explore.
Women Automotive Network
The Women Automotive Network is a community of more than 6,000 professionals, who come from all roles within the industry. Aiming to change the dynamics of the industry, they give members a platform for discussion. They have three meet-ups penned in the calendar so far for 2022, with the first on 7th March. This event is expected to be attended by more than 500 people from across the globe and includes personal success stories from female leaders in the industry.
Women in Auto Care
Similarly, Women in Auto Care is on a mission to connect, empower and mentor young women within the auto care industry (the auto care association is dedicated to supporting businesses so that vehicles can last longer and perform better while keeping drivers safe). Their Annual Conference is taking place in Indianapolis, Indiana, from 23rd – 25th March 2022.
Automotive News Leading Women Network
If you’re a female professional within the automotive industry then you might also consider joining the Automotive News Leading Women Network. With a goal to help advance women in the industry, the Automotive News Leading Women Network brings together females from across the sector, working to educate, mentor, and empower women who currently work in the industry. The Automotive News Leading Women Network also strives to promote automotive careers as a rewarding option for younger generations.
Adapting your marketing strategy to suit today’s audience
As we’ve discovered, women have been influencing the industry since the 19th century, but it seems only recently, dealerships are starting to notice that they need to adapt their strategies to suit both a female and male audience.
But, with the female population only increasing, as is the number of women workers in the automotive industry, and the number of women influencing the cars that are being purchased.
Forward-thinking and adaptation will be key for dealerships wanting to successfully engage with a female audience going forward. The challenge will be in changing the way women perceive car dealerships and amending their marketing strategy to suit every demographic, instead of treating all customers as ‘one size fits all’. Personalize your customer experience and enhance the shopper’s journey by using SnapCell. Our team of professionals keeps up-to-date with evolving industry trends, supporting and advising SnapCell users on how best they can reach their target audience.