Scrolling through my Facebook feed last night, this post from @galahadlake caught my eye:

It’s not a rare experience. Two weeks ago, inside_no_8 was inundated with comments about how women are made to feel like second-class citizens when buying a car:

  • “My daughter was with her dad looking at a new car and he was offered a drink, she wasn’t.”
  • “The only thing the salesperson spoke to me directly about was the colour – ridiculously really!”
  • “The salesman… wouldn’t look me in the eye. Kept speaking to Jamie when I asked the questions. What made me laugh was that Jamie couldn’t drive at the time and I had the money in cash to buy a car there and then…”

With comments like this, it’s really no surprise that 94 per cent of women don’t trust car dealerships.

Yet the irony is that women influence around 85 per cent of all vehicle purchases.

Now, perceived gender discrimination at the dealership isn’t a new topic. Research conducted by CDK Global four years ago said women reviewed their in-dealership experience with words such as ‘stressed’, ‘overwhelmed’, ‘taken advantage’ and ‘panic’. Google serves up plenty of similar stories about garages and tyres centres too.

So why is this something women are still experiencing? And what can be done?

I’d argue three overarching changes need to be made – and those changes go well beyond what happens on the shop floor:

It’s time to truly understand the female audience.

There may be over 33 million women in the UK, but they are far from a homogenous collective. Chromosomes only get us so far – we need to ask:

  • Where does our audience live, what is their family life like, what type of career do they have?
  • What are their passions and interests?
  • What are their sources of influences?
  • What are their media preferences and behaviours?
    What are their actions online and offline?
  • What are their purchase and brand considerations?

Detailed audience mapping typically highlights a range of groups within this overarching audience, with smart brands prioritising and segmenting their messages accordingly. It’s then about ensuring your brand shows up where those different groups are, in a way that’s relevant for them, at the moments in life when they’re likely be looking for a car.

Represent their purchasing power.

Throw pink on a label and job done? Unless you’re raising money for breast cancer, focusing on pink sends a message that you haven’t put any thought into your product at all.

Research by AutoTrader in 2018 found that 77 per cent of women were ‘put off’ buying a car because advertising was ‘too masculine. (Interestingly, men were also turned off).

Car ads weren’t always stuffed with macho messaging – the earliest ones emphasised the practical benefits of switching from horseback to horsepower. While ads are certainly less stereotyped, refocusing on core elements such as price, safety (and sustainability) would help demystify the market and make car purchasing an easy, hassle-free decision for all.

Diversify the industry.

It’s only four years ago since this Audi advert compared women to used cars. As one Weibo user responded, ‘from the inception of this idea to its broadcasting, was there a single woman who worked on this commercial?’

While targeted at the ad-makers, this comment is a microcosm of the wider auto industry.

In 2020, CATALYST highlighted that while almost half of the US workforce is female, they held less than a quarter of jobs in the motor vehicle/ auto manufacturing industry. I’m sure data across other countries would show a similar picture.

Similarly, Deloitte’s Women in Automotive Industry 2020 report indicated that 90 per cent of women who are in the industry feel unrepresented in leadership positions. 42 per cent also believe organisational cultural norms create a bias towards men for leadership positions.

Yet we know the winning companies of the future will be those who embrace diversity. Studies by Gartner have shown that gender-diverse and inclusive teams outperform their less inclusive counterpart by 50 per cent. It’s also a priority for younger workers.

Attracting and retaining more female decision-makers will not only create a better experience for women at dealerships – it is critical to the long-term success of the automotive industry.

I realise all three elements highlighted require a mind shift and, structural changes in organisations. But they’re not impossible to make happen.

And isn’t it time to make those changes? After all, of the 33.6 million people who hold a full car driving licence in England, 47 per cent are women. As the primary caregivers for children and the elderly in virtually every society in the world, women have a heck load of purchasing power (and veto).