What are the keys for women to succeed in a male-dominated industry such as automotive retail? On International Women’s Day, Cars.com hosted a panel of women executives to find out. And we learned a lot – such as how important it is for women to be comfortable with always learning, sometimes failing, and ultimately prevailing.

Left to right: Cars.com CEO Alex Vetter; Christy Roman; Diana Kennedy; Joni Stuker; Brook Skinner Ricketts; Cars.com CFO Becky Sheehan; Brenda Robinson.

The panel, hosted by Cars.com CMO Brooke Skinner Ricketts, featured four women leaders in automotive:

  • Brenda Robinson, digital marketing and business development manager, Honda of Fife in Tacoma, Washington. 
  • Christy Roman, president of NOW Digital and co-founder of Women in Automotive. 
  • Joni Stuker, founder of Owner Connect and board member of Women in Automotive.

During the discussion, the panelists shared some compelling stories about how they’ve succeeded in automotive, often by overcoming hardship. For example, Joni Stucker described what it was like to become a consultant and retailer in a male-dominated industry 30 years ago. 

“I was the only woman at a dealership selling cars,” she said. “There was no training and no support. I needed to teach myself to accept failure. To get ahead, you have to be comfortable with failure.”

Christy Roman added, “As a woman running my own business in automotive, I’ve endured a lot. I’ve been divorced. I’ve made it through bankruptcy. When you lose everything, you learn not to be so scared. What’s the worst that can happen if you take chances?”  

A willingness to forge ahead and learn from challenges was one of many lessons that emerged from their stories. Others included:

1: Be fearless

The panelists spoke often about the need to be fearless about pursuing goals. Joni Stuker said, “Some women who open the door and start succeeding. But they encounter a fear factor about how to proceed to the next level. You have to embrace that fear and use it to grow. Don’t be threatened by fear.”

Brenda Robinson added, “Women are growing and realizing our worth. Don’t be afraid to grow. You have to get over yourself. Don’t be afraid to be scared.” 

Diana Kennedy noted that part of being fearless is being bold in a public way.

“At 22 years old, I knew I wanted to be a general manager,” she said. “I didn’t know if achieving that role was going to be possible. But making my intention clear from the start put everyone on notice.” 

2: Know – and prove — your worth

Part of the panel focused on the question of whether women can achieve enough work/life balance in an industry that is notorious for its long hours. The consensus: yes, expecting balance is possible when the conversation about balance happens in context of a woman’s proven value to a dealership.

As Brenda Robinson said, “Knowing your worth – the value that you are bringing – is crucial. I achieved balance at a dealership when I spoke up and said, ‘This is what I’m worth. This is the value I am bringing to the table, and here is what I need to succeed.’ That’s how I negotiated hours that worked for my needs.” 

3: Share your story

The panelists agreed that when women achieve success, they need to let other women know about it. Doing so makes it easier for other women to visualize what success looks like.

Diana Kennedy said, “Sharing our stories to make change happen is important. I am involved in several organizations where I can mentor and share for women looking for guidance. Other women need to know what it’s like to be the only female in a male-dominated meeting, and how to succeed in that environment.”

An Indominable Spirit

All the panelists exhibited an indominable spirt. They shared an ability to overcome obstacles and to turn problems into opportunities. 

“Resistance makes you grow,” Brenda Robinson said. “When you get pushback in the industry, find out what you can learn from the experience. Look at problems as opportunities to grow.”

Added Joni Stuker, “Where you go in life is not about the easy things but responding to the difficult things. When you encounter pushback, respond to it. When you hear, “That won’t work, ask, ‘Why?’ But above all, kill them with performance.” 

Thank you to our panelists for spending International Women’s Day with us!