This last year I watched from the sidelines as a friend and colleague came head-to-head with sexual harassment in her workplace. Reporting the incident to her supervisor had not been easy for her, and she later described it as one of the most difficult experiences of her professional life.
She had earned her way up the dealership ranks and despite the fear that speaking out would be seen as a sign of weakness she still chose to do so. She recounted the embarrassment of being forced to replay the occurrence first to HR, then to her HR & GSM, then her HR, GSM & GM, and finally to HR, GSM, GM & CEO.
“As if they wanted to make sure my story didn’t change with each telling.”
After a week of investigation, and despite the perpetrator’s history of misconduct, my friend was accused of ‘misunderstanding’ his intentions. He received a slap on the wrist.
The incident quickly leaked to the dealership, and she began to endure the fallout. No one at work would speak to her. Colleagues she had known for years started to avoid her. She was left feeling isolated and shamed. Yet her dedication to her career kept her moving forward despite all of this.
A year later, after a particularly cutting comment made in an elevator, she called me in tears.
“If I had known this was what it would be like, I would have kept my mouth shut.”
Sexual harassment is defined as:
Behavior characterized by making unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation. (Oxford Languages)
Sexual harassment and workplace misconduct accounts for a whopping $20.2 BILLION in losses annually and 43 million days of sick leave (Forbes). Since 72% of victims never report workplace harassment (zippia.com), that number is likely conservative.
Furthermore, these statistics are based on national numbers and account for industries of all shapes and sizes.
As a matter of pride, do we want to be painted with that same brushstroke?
The good news is we aren’t. The bad news—we are worse.
Automotivenews.com reported that 65% of women in our industry had experienced unwanted sexual advances in the workplace.
Here’s another number for you…
That’s the turnover rate for women in the automotive industry (automotivenews.com).
Currently women make up 21% of our 1.7 million employees. At a 96% turnover rate, that is 343,000 women leaving the industry annually. That is unacceptable. Here at the DTVMS, we have repeatedly discussed the importance of creating an industry worthy of passing on to our future. We discuss vendor relationships, marketing strategies, and training processes as the means of this transformation, yet in 2020 women sited lack of diversity, equity and inclusion as the top reasons for not pursuing automotive careers. If we want people to intentionally enter the automotive industry we need to foster and environment of collaboration, equality, and opportunity.
As an industry made up of 79% male employees, it is incumbent on us to take responsibility for the misconduct happening in front of our eyes and make the changes necessary for transforming our industry. You may not be the perpetrator, but every person can be the difference.
Here are four ways you can enact change within your dealership:
Clearly defining and adhering to a zero-tolerance policy begins at the top. As Dealer Principles and General Managers, it is your responsibility to work directly with your HR department to create rigidly adhered protocols that protect every employee.
For resources on how to create a zero-tolerance policy, go here.
Enforce the Laws Without Remorse:
Sexual harassment litigation can cost $25 million and is as easily avoidable as F&I compliance issues. Know the laws, teach the rules, and set your dealerships up for success with an environment that respects each individual’s rights to defend their safety and security. And then follow through without hesitation.
For resources on sexual harassment laws, go here.
Train Your Staff!
Proactively addressing workplace misconduct won’t just save you money it will increase employee morale and work productivity while decreasing burnout and turnover. Quarterly sexual harassment training is—to put it bluntly—an absolute no-brainer.
For resources on finding sexual harassment training for your office, go here.
Speak up or shut up
If you know someone has been sexually harassed, take responsibility for that knowledge and report what you know. Often, victims of workplace misconduct feel isolated and pressured to stay quiet. Speaking up about what you have seen or heard may motivate them to step forward.
If you don’t know anything, stay out of the situation and choose not to participate in workplace gossip. Not only do you risk inadvertent legal ramifications, but your words may also embolden the perpetrator to further misconduct.
For resources on what to do when you witness harassment, go here.