“I’ve been in the business for over a decade now and of course, I can’t help but notice that not many people look like me,” says Julie Holmes, co-CEO of Virginia Tire & Auto LLC, at 17- store dealership based in Fairfax, Va. She wants to change this.
So Holmes has started a campaign at Virginia Tire & Auto to recruit more women to work at the dealership.
The campaign has been a gradual process for Virginia Tire, with its kick-off last summer and a renewed drive to hire women that started in the fall of 2021.
There are a total of four people who hold positions of leadership at Virginia Tire. Half of them are women. Holmes wants to make sure that female representation is equal on all levels of employment within the company.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on finding new workers, says Holmes, who adds that Virginia Tire is experimenting with different recruitment methods. She says the majority of applicants for roles at her company are men and that they can exclude another demographic that may be just as skilled—women.
“We are not (always) getting the benefit of employing different kinds of people who would handle situations differently,” says Holmes.
The lack of female applicants sets Virginia Tire behind other retail businesses in the dealership’s area that compete for workers, she says, including “grocery stores, coffee shops — anyone in retail.
“At the end of the day, we are selling a product to customers like the rest of the retailers, except we only get applications from half of the population.”
Holmes, who runs Virginia Tire with her husband, Mike, has four daughters and a son.
She says knowing that her daughters are watching her being treated as an equal
in a business setting has had a positive impact on them. “I tell my daughters all the time. ‘If you want to make your own decisions, make sure you’re the one sitting in the driver’s seat.’”
The benefits of diversity
Holmes says that the men she works with—and who work for her—have a great set of skills that make them excel at their jobs. However, she thinks that bringing in more women will add an even greater benefit to the Virginia Tire team.
Holmes believes women excel at communication, empathy and multitasking—skills that are necessary in the tire and auto repair business.
She says empathy and communication skills are especially important because customers are coming to the dealership “from a point of pain.
“When customers come to us, they have a pain point and they are trying to either move towards pain or away from pain.
“We fix cars and sell tires. People have to buy this stuff because of a need or because they are literally in pain right now.”
Holmes says her employees take calls, deal with customers, relay information to service techs and much more. “You have to be able to walk and talk at the same time to function in a high-volume automotive repair shop,” says Holmes.
advertising for women
To increase its number of female employees, Virginia Tire is tweaking it job recruitment ads to be geared more towards women. And Holmes says her company is being vocal about wanting to hire more females.
She also believes that it’s important for men to realize the lack of women in the tire and auto repair business. Th challenge, she says, is that men at tire dealerships are almost always exclusively around — and working with — other men all day.
“You don’t know you’re the only one in the room who looks like you until you stand in a room filled with people who don’t look like you,” she says.
Virginia Tire is including images or more women in its ads, using inclusive pronouns in job descriptions, holding events for women who already work for the company and more.
“We are trying to make little tweaks to the verbiage of our job listings,” says Holmes.
“If it’s a job listing that says ‘five year experience’ for a manager position… men will look at that requirement an disregard it. But something as small as that verbiage can hold back a woman
Virginia Tire is also aware of how it addresses female workers. Holmes says in the tire and auto repair business, there is a tendency to refer to all women as “girls.
“The people who do that don’t mean to be derogatory,” she says. “They’re good people following the norm of our society. But no one calls men ‘boys.’”
In 2020, Virginia Tire hired five women and in 2021, the dealership hired 31 more women, according to Holmes, who adds that the new employees have integrated seamlessly into the company’s operations.
Hiring even more females will be a priority. “I feel like the more we can show benefits and affect change, I think the more people will be excited about it.”
Holmes believes that a big reason that the tire and automotive industry is dominated by men is because of the “stigma” that’s been attached to various tire and auto service jobs over generations, says Holmes.
“I think, traditionally, you go back 50 to 60 years to gender stereotypes and how dirty the work was,” she says.
Changing tires and fixing cars “really was a very dirty and physically demanding job, but with new technology, the work isn’t so ‘dirty’ or laborious.”
These preconceived notions are going to take awhile to unlearn, Holmes acknowledges.
Even though she wants more women to work in tire retailing and auto repair, she understands that these jobs don’t appeal to everyone. She cites her kids as examples. “I noticed my son loved playing with toy cars and my girls just weren’t into them.
“I understand that (automotive) may not appeal to every person. But selling high-value services is appealing and I want to make that appeal to women.”
Holmes says that women are just as capable as men and Virginia Tire wants to promote this as much as possible. “And no one is going to say this is a bad idea. There is a reason why (many) women are heads of households. There is a reason why women, I think, really make society move.”
The dealership is doing what it can to make its own facilities more female-friendly.
Virginia Tire opened a new store in Leesburg, Va., in June 2021. The outlet includes a female dressing room that doubles as a nursing room for mothers who work at the location, says Holmes.
She says she understands it will take time to update all of the company’s stores to include women’s dressing rooms, but the Leesburg location is “a good start.”
And events like weekly coffee dates for all of the company’s female employees allow them to get together and form a sense of community.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take years — decades — to change and we’re comfortable that this isn’t going to be an overnight effort.
“But you have to start somewhere and I am happy with where we are starting.”