Opinion: Where are all the saleswomen in car dealerships?

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A recent car-buying exercise highlighted how men continue to dominate the industry

Does it surprise you to see a female HGV Class 1 driver? It shouldn’t, of course, but the occupation is so male-dominated that to see a woman deftly handling a 40-ton truck is still a surprise.

I have the same reaction when I see a female car salesperson. When I was selling motors in the late 1980s, I don’t recall encountering a car saleswoman. I was reminded of this gender imbalance the other week when shopping for a car with Mrs Evans. Of five dealerships that we visited, only one appeared to have a female on their sales team. Of course, the others, if there were others, may have been busy on test drives when we visited but still, men were dominant.

This impression is supported by the findings of a survey carried out by What Car?. It found that almost 70% of car buyers had never bought from a female sales person.

Although respondents didn’t mind who, male or female, sold them a car, almost 90% did feel that more women should be encouraged to work in showrooms, a big ask given that almost one third of female respondents believed car retailing is inherently sexist.

I’m pleased to say Autocar is doing its bit to reward and encourage women in a sales career with its Autocar Great Women: Rising Stars 2021 competition, which includes a category for saleswomen.

The National Franchised Dealers Association, which represents main dealers, couldn’t tell me how many female salespeople its members employ. Instead, rather than focusing purely on gender, the organisation says it’s keen to increase diversity in general. I won’t argue with that but my point remains that 30 years since I last sold cars, buyers are still more likely to be sold a car by a man than by a woman.

Does it matter? For what it’s worth, on our recent car-buying expedition Mrs Evans and I found it much more pleasant to be sold a car by a woman than a man. With one exception the men were either slightly detached or too tiresomely animated and worse, we didn’t wholly trust them (one completely misrepresented the condition of a car).

In contrast, the young saleswoman we met, and who worked at a Peugeot dealership, was mature, composed, articulate, an excellent listener and, we felt, totally trustworthy. Sadly, my wife didn’t warm to her 208 GTi Line auto and bought a Mini instead – from a man… surprise, surprise.