For many women, the path to automotive is an indirect one


Francine Floreani didn’t let her lack of automotive know-how prevent her from seizing the opportunity to manage an Ontario dealership.

Floreani, dealer principal at Great Lakes Honda in Sault Ste. Marie, credits her administrative and customer service experience with helping her make the move more than a decade ago.

“You don’t have to know anything about cars. It can help, but it’s not a prerequisite,” said Floreani.

“You can be a service adviser, you can sell cars, you can be a technician, you can work in accounting, you can do social media. These are all things that are open to young women that want to work in the industry.”

Floreani joined two other panelists April 12 at the Women Driven virtual event hosted by the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, which represents more than 1,000 franchised, new vehicle dealerships in Ontario.

For many women, the path to automotive can be circuitous. And by perceiving a lack of knowledge about cars as a barrier to a career in industry, women are doing themselves a disservice, according to Jennifer Okoeguale, regional marketing manager at Toyota Canada Inc.

“There’s so much opportunity and I truly believe there’s a role for everyone no matter what skills you bring to the table or what your interests are,” Okoeguale, who stepped into the sector through her background in communications, said during the panel.

“You learn through osmosis … Once you’re in the space, naturally, you’re going to start to learn about cars because it’s what you’re working with day in, day out.”

Having women on staff also helps put female customers at ease, Floreani said. She pointed to Great Lakes Honda’s service manager as an example.

“When women walk in … they really like to relate with her because she can understand their needs, they feel like they can tell her what their problem is.”

This dynamic has also changed what dealers and automakers are looking for when hiring, said Christine Mitchell, president of The Car Lady Canada, which assists women with the car buying experience and helps dealerships improve customer retention.

“Women are wanted — really, really wanted. So, it’s not so much of a bias anymore, we’re actually in a power position for the first time in history in automotive.”

While the opportunities are industry-wide, Okoeguale said demand for those with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) backgrounds are particularly sought after.

“Whether it’s working on the line at a manufacturing plant, actually building this product, or maybe you’re working at the corporate level in a product-planning role trying to understand the product, or servicing the product at a dealership, the STEM education is going to be a really big factor.”

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