Women In Dealership Management: Success FactorsWritten By Michelle Currie
Article Date: 10-01-2004
Copyright (C) 2004 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.
Working in a male-dominated industry is not easy: Here's how these women make it work.
A relatively small – but growing – number of women hold management positions in equipment dealership operations. My work as a consultant and personal coach to executives in this industry has raised my awareness of the challenges these women face to succeed in traditionally male-dominated businesses.
Are there specific personality traits or other characteristics these businesswomen have that allow them to overcome these challenges and succeed in equipment dealerships? What can they share with other women aspiring to advance in the distribution arena?
To attempt to answer these questions, we distributed a web-based survey to women in dealership management positions. The survey requested information about job responsibilities, behaviors, challenges – both past and present – and the value they believe women add to the dealership environment.
This is, perhaps, not surprising since little attention is paid to this growing demographic. Women dealership managers are eager to be heard. As one woman said, “It is nice to see someone interested in women working in dealership management.”
Respondents listed job positions ranging from president, chief operating officer and controller to general manager and department manager. The average reported tenure in dealership management was 12 years. Respondents came from a variety of industries including material handling, agricultural equipment, construction equipment and industrial machines.
Breaking Into The Business
More than half of the respondents reported that gaining the respect and acceptance of those they worked with was their first challenge. “Acceptance” is not limited to customers and dealership employees. One respondent said, “Getting our main supplier of product to take me seriously,” was a serious challenge.
The second most common challenge early involved learning the job. As one respondent put it, her first challenge was “getting acquainted with the very nature of the business and becoming versed with different terminologies used in the various departments and accounting.”
The most common challenge these women face today (reported by 56 percent of the respondents) concerns improving their job performance to reach personal career goals and improve dealership performance.
As with all managers today, growth and technology were common issues raised in the replies. One respondent said, “Keeping up with technology and making the best use of available technology is certainly a challenge.” Referring to building the business, another said a major issue for her is “growth – being prepared to make changes effectively, efficiently and quickly.”
Interestingly enough, 25 percent of the women said they were still facing the issue of acceptance within the industry. One woman with more than 10 years of experience in dealership management said, “Having to continue to prove myself as a management resource that contributes to the overall vision of the organization,” remains a
About half of the respondents reported frustration with getting their ideas heard and implemented. One of the younger managers to respond said her organization had something
of a generation gap.
“Sometimes I am moving faster than the old school is comfortable with,” she said.
The women believe the value they bring to the dealership is significant. Respondents to our survey report that women bring a higher level of social skills to their jobs such as strong communication skills, empathy, and good interpersonal skills.
“Women can juggle more, deal better with stress and have an innate ability to read different personalities and respond to them,” says one respondent. “They also tend to be more compassionate.”
Another respondent said, “Women bring a different pattern of thinking, which creates a better balance in decision-making” and “Women bring a different point of view to planning and decision-making that is important in reducing ‘group think.’”
What is it about these women that has allowed them to overcome these challenges and become effective managers in their dealerships? How have they managed to make their ideas heard and built their credibility with co-workers, customers and suppliers? Based on the survey, we were able to identify three areas in which these successful women focused their efforts in order to achieve their goals: strong job performance, assertiveness and determination.
In terms of behavior all but one woman described their behavior with their subordinates, superiors, and peers as assertive and all indicated their behavior style was effective for them.
One department manager said, “By respecting the rights of others we have promoted the expectation to be treated the same. My ideas and opinions are often requested by my supervisors on policies and procedures that affect my area.”
While it is common sense that to advance your career you need to perform your job well, for many women, just performing well is not enough. As one woman said, “We have to do more research and be more prepared than our male counterparts so that our input is overwhelming.”
Another said, “I’m good at my job – being a woman shouldn’t matter. If anything, being a woman makes it harder because sometimes the men don’t want to listen to a ‘girl’.” These observations are more than just perception.
Psychiatrist Anna Fels in her Harvard Business Review article “Do Women Lack Ambition?” reports on a study in which male and female researchers took turns assuming leader and non-leader roles while subjects performed a problem-solving task. The researchers found that, regardless of which
role a woman assumed, she received a greater number of negative facial reactions than positive ones and less attention was paid to the women than to the men.
The survey respondents’ comments reinforce these findings. Respondents perform their job responsibilities with the understanding that they have to outperform their male counterparts to receive the same recognition from associates. These women are continuously striving to improve in order to stay on top of the knowledge and skills required for their jobs, at the dealership level and in the industries they serve.
Excerpted from October 2004 Construction Equipment Distribution.
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