Women in Auto Industry Unsafe, Unhappy & Get Unwanted Advances Says Automotive News Survey

One in four women working in the auto industry say they have been scared for their safety while on the job, according to a survey conducted by Automotive News called Project XX.

The survey was performed in partnership with Elephant in the Valley, a group that conducted a similar poll of women in Silicon Valley. Automotive News adapted that survey for the auto industry this spring, and reached women at all levels and in all segments of the industry. Nearly 900 women took the Project XX survey, which looked at four main areas: feedback and promotion; harassment and safety; inclusion; and unconscious bias.

“We wanted to gather data from women about their actual day-to-day experiences to help start a conversation about what’s actually going on for women in this industry,” said Sharon Silke Carty, news editor at Automotive News. “We were blown away by how honest women were when responding to the survey, because this is a topic that hardly anyone is willing to talk about openly.”

The Elephant in the Valley survey has been used to poll women in Silicon Valley, advertising, market research and now automotive. Women in the auto industry reported the highest rates of unwanted sexual advances (65 percent), being assigned lower-level tasks than male colleagues (65 percent) and feeling unsafe while in a work situation (25 percent).

For women of color in the auto industry, race adds another element to the challenges they face. Minorities pay an “emotional tax” in the workplace, and the wage gap is wider.

It is difficult for women to strike the right balance between being seen as too pushy or too weak. They’re told they’re too aggressive (68 percent) or too quiet (50 percent). They’re too bossy (62 percent) or too emotional (61 percent).

About 83 percent said clients and colleagues address questions to male counterparts that should be addressed to the woman.

A full 55 percent have received comments on their appearance, getting advice from bosses to wear skirts, or comments on how shirts show off their breasts.

About 18 percent of the Automotive News Project XX Survey respondents said they reported unwanted advances from colleagues to their HR department, while nearly a quarter said they didn’t say anything because they believed reporting the issue wouldn’t have made a difference.

Thirty percent of those who reported a situation said they were not at all satisfied with the result, while just about 6 percent said they were extremely satisfied.

Dealership turnover is a big staffing problem — 96 percent of female salespeople leave. Addressing sexism in the workplace could help, experts say.

The survey elicited more than 2,700 comments, where women went into more depth about their experiences.

“For 20 years, I’ve paid close attention to women in the auto industry,” said Automotive News Managing Editor Mary Beth Vander Schaaf. “Automotive News has made lists of 100 Leading Women four times. We’ve hosted frank roundtable discussions with them and held events to celebrate them. Our Project XX Survey and subsequent reporting builds on the desire to raise awareness about the danger of sexism in the workplace.”

Women make up about 47 percent of the work force, but only 27 percent of the manufacturing work force, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The turnover rate for dealership saleswomen in 2016 was 96 percent, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association’s 2017 Dealership Workforce Study.

The Project XX report will be published in Automotive News Oct. 23 and can be found online at autonews.com/projectxx.