In 2011, I bought my Honda CR-V. I was unmarried, had no kids and was living in Chicago. The sales associate was very quick to point out the sunglasses holder and light-up vanity mirror. Gee, thanks. Can we get back to the MPG and cargo space? Granted, that encounter happened six years ago, and the auto industry has made a lot of strides since then. But at the National Automotive Dealers Association convention, I was reminded that while some dealers have made strides to evolve, others have not.
I came across an interesting pamphlet on the convention floor in New Orleans. It was titled “How to Get Rich Servicing Women.” Inside, it actually went so far as to suggest red signage to attract female shoppers. Just because you color something red or pink does not mean a woman is going to feel more drawn to it. But what really bothered me was that the pamphlet seemed to suggest that female shoppers were some untapped segment, when women already influence 80 percent of all vehicle purchase decisions today.
In 2016, I once again found myself shopping for a car. This time around, my circumstances were different. I was married and pregnant with our second child. My husband and I were considering trading in the CR-V for a Honda Pilot, which resulted in our visiting a handful of dealerships. I was relieved when no one asked where my husband was or pointed out the vanity mirror. Better yet, the sales associate seemed to read my mind when she pointed out the collision avoidance system and extra deep backseats, adding “with my little ones, two car seats completely rob me of a backseat so having the extra space will save you from feeling crammed in your own seat.” Amen, sister.
Being able to relate on a personal level to the sales associate got me to the level of trust necessary to spend upwards of $20,000 to transport my most precious cargo. It was only after I left the F&I office that I realized I had lucked into working with what appeared to be the only female sales associate in the dealership. Now, I’m not saying that as a female car shopper that I only want to work with women, but car shopping is ultimately done between a person and a person. And we know car shoppers feel more comfortable when they can make that personal connection. I felt like she got me. She had the same priorities as me in her own personal life, and it felt like just another member of the unofficial Mommy Tribe offering up some good old-fashioned advice. (We moms like to do that. A lot.)
It turns out the scarcity of women I saw in the dealership that day is representative of the entire auto industry. As of 2015, less than 19 percent of employees at new-car dealerships were women and those women that do get their foot in the door are turning over at an astounding rate of 88 percent compared to the 65 percent turnover rate of their male counterparts.
On July 9-11, Women in Automotive (WIA), a group founded to empower and develop women in the auto industry, will hold a conference in Orlando. Cars.com’s EVP of Business Operations, Elaine Richards, will speak, and Cars.com will sponsor the WIA Inspiration and Innovation Award. I’m proud to see the continued evolution of the auto industry. Events like the WIA conference foster the development of more women like the sales associate who made such a positive impact on me during my last car shopping experience.
Since 2011, when I bought our Honda CR-V as a single girl in the city, a lot has changed for me. My husband, our two young kids, and I now live in the Chicago suburbs. But one thing has stayed the same; I want to connect with a sales person just as much if not more than I want to connect with a dealership. So, ask yourself, if women are driving the majority of purchase decisions, and our industry is struggling to hire and keep female employees, how many personal connection opportunities are you missing with car buyers like me?
Lauren is a Cars.com veteran in her 10th year of employment with the company, having spent time in the product and marketing departments. She resides in Bartlett, IL with her husband and two children.
 WardsAuto, “What Women Car Shoppers Want,” May 5, 2016
 NADA 2016 Dealership Workforce Study