Women in the automotive industry

Pictured, from left, are Grand Rapids GM employees Michele Broberg, Virginia Newman, Stacey Logan, Mary Lorentz and Justine Westerlund who shared their experiences as women in the auto industry.

Long gone are the days of car dealership “booth babes.” Women have entered the automotive industry world and are here to stay. While more women are purchasing cars compared to previous years, the representation of female employees at car dealerships is still statistically low. Conversely, Grand Rapids General Motors (GRGM) has a high percentage of female employees in their building in multiple areas of the business. We spoke to some of these women about their experience in the industry and at GRGM.

According to the article, “Women in Automotive: Making Way For Female Sales Consultants” by Modern Dealership, women make up 19 percent of car dealership employees and many are employed in support positions which tend to be lower earning. Additionally, women employed as salespeople have an 88 percent turnover rate according to the National Automobile Dealers Association in 2017.

As a whole, GRGM employees 30 men and 7 women. Speaking with Virginia Newman, Stacey Logan, Mary Lorentz, Justine Westerlund and Michelle Broberg of GRGM revealed the local dealership does not match all of the statistics established by the industry as a whole. Each woman had her own story of how she got into the industry and why she stayed.

For Sales Manager Newman, the appeal came from the job’s flexibility, potential earnings and interaction with people.

“Number one, financially. Number two because I just loved being around different people and it’s busy work. If you’re busy, everyday is different,” Newman commented.

Newman has a total of 12 years in the automotive industry under her belt with 10 of those years at GRGM.

Working in sales, Logan has worked in the industry for 18 years and has been in sales for 10 years. She started at GRGM three months ago.

Lorentz started her career as a service writer for 14 months and has now worked in the GRGM sales department for three years.

Westerlund began her career as a fixed operations assistant manager for four years and moved into the position of parts manager for about three years. Next she became a service writer and has been in the industry for a total of 10 years now. Westerlund has always enjoyed overcoming the challenges that come with the service counter side of the business.

“It’s a bit of a rush on the service side of things. You want to help people. You want to make what’s failing or what’s going wrong turn around into a positive. So it’s a challenge in that aspect,” Westerlund commented.

Broberg is the finance manager and has worked at GRGM for six years. She has a total of 20 years in the industry.

“I just really enjoy what I do. It’s always dealing with different customers,” Broberg said. “It’s a really positive experience.”

Other aspects that the women pointed out as positives of their jobs at GRGM included flexibility and a healthy work/life balance.

“Leigh (Lonson) is really big on a healthy work, home balance,” Logan commented. Lonson is the general manager of GRGM.

One suggestion that has been made for increasing the amount of women in the industry is the use of mentors. According to Modern Dealership, CEO of The Bees Knees Agency Bobbie Herron said that the use of mentoring for women new to the industry can help counteract discrimination.

For Westerlund, making connections with the people she works with is important.

“I came here and I would say that this place has such a positive vibe, positive influence,” Westerlund said. “I always feel encouraged when it comes to discussion with Leigh. I always feel encouraged when it comes to discussion with management. And I think that builds the trust in yourself and the trust in the place that you work.”

One of the top factors that affects whether or not someone purchases a vehicles is the level of trust they have in the dealership. According to the 2019 Women’s Car Buying Report, women made up 45 percent of new car purchases during 2018.

“Trust tops the list of reasons why women buy from their sales consultants – and their consultant is the number one influencer at a dealer,” according to the 2019 Women’s Car Buying Report.

Lorentz noted that she has heard women who come into GRGM comment on this important aspect.

“Women that come into our dealership, I think they feel comfortable,” Lorentz said. “I’ve just had a lot of women say that they find it refreshing that there’s women that they can deal with.”

Logan added, “It’s huge that they have a person they can trust when they are making such a large purchase or a service.”

Trust impacts a dealership’s service counter as well. Unfortunately, the perception of this area is not always favorable.

In regards to women’s experience with a dealership’s service counter, the 2019 Women’s Car Buying Report reported, “Nationally, 25 percent of women report that the amount paid was not consistent with the estimate received.”

Bringing in more sincerity to the business is a big part of Justine’s job and something she observes women in particular doing well at, even if she doesn’t know the answer to a customer’s question.

“I don’t know the answer but I’ll find it for you. But it leaves you stuck with honesty,” Westerlund said. “That’s a big thing with trust and just being straightforward and that’s why women, I think, are a big part of this industry.”

Each of the women at GRGM offered their own piece of advice for women who are considering going into any area of the automotive industry or who may have already started and are needing some encouragement.

Logan commented on those women who feel like they may not know anything about cars and advised that they be honest when they don’t know, but that there are people there to help.

“For women to get into the business, you just have to jump in,” Logan said.

Addressing women who are finishing college, Newman said, “Number one advice that I would give to that person is you have to be a self starter. You have to be. No one is going to hold your hand. You have to be a go-getter.”

Broberg spoke to the point that there are not many women who work in finance for the auto industry.

“It has been challenging,” Broberg said. “I’ve had a lot of men that didn’t think that I would make it in this business.”

“Don’t be intimidated by it. It is a lot of dedication. It’s a very demanding position,” Brogerb added. “Don’t be afraid of it though. It’s a good career. It’s good money. It’s challenging. It’s so fun. It’s just a really upbeat pace.”

“You have to get past that it’s a man’s world. You just have to be positive about yourself and what you’re doing,” Lorentz added. “You have to enjoy people and want to help people.”

Lastly, Westerlund reminded women to trust themselves. “Trust yourself and being honest. This industry itself doesn’t always have a good reputation for honesty because people have been burned. People have had their vehicle fixed and it wasn’t,” Justine advised. “You know the sleazy salesman and the dealership facility that will rob you blind. It’s really all about trusting yourself and being honest and doing the right thing that I think has built this reputation that Grand Rapids GM has.”

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