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INTERVIEW Women in motor retailing: Diana Mackinnon, Snows Motor Group

As a woman in a traditionally male-dominated arena, did you ever feel patronised? If so, how do you handle it?

When reflecting on a career that started realistically back in 1987, I do realise now just how patronising some people (usually men) were. At the time I fought a hard battle, went to work every day, did my job and came home again, never questioning that my role was in fact twice as hard as a male colleague’s because of constantly having to prove myself through my performance.

I can recall various reviews or appraisals over the years where I was told that I had to “manage” my relationships with peers and colleagues (all males). Once I was told I had to be “less emotional” in meetings, and by that I don’t mean being reduced to tears, but by reacting to being ignored – or worse told to shut up – as my points were not valid or valued. There were also comments about being “hormonal.”

At the time, it was acceptable behaviour, but now I recognise it is nothing other than misogyny and would, quite rightly, result in a referral to HR. Interestingly, I have found that very often, my dismissed ideas were actually adopted, albeit having been adapted slightly and introduced as someone else’s.

A noticeable and obviously welcomed change began to occur when the poor treatment of women in our industry started to be identified and women started to become recognised as an essential component of the sector’s success.

However, call me cynical, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only senior woman in our industry to feel that this sudden ‘appreciation’ of our contribution coincided with even greater kudos for our male employers, who were seen as brave and forward thinking for taking us on.

I was also acutely aware back in the early days, that any male colleague could “talk the talk” and people would believe them and their abilities. While for me it was more about being able to or simply having to demonstrate the results and what I was capable of. That old saying of the figures don’t lie has never been truer for women.

What are the changes you foresee for motor retailing and women in the motor sector?

It is with sadness that I still do not see things changing as fast as they should. We have to stop talking about this as being a “male dominated environment,” as this conversation in itself, in my opinion, is quite negative and could be enough to put women off. We need to become an industry of choice for women and people from diverse backgrounds. We are seeing more women in managerial roles and on the showroom floor and this is a very positive move forward. While boards across the sector now do have more women, they remain concentrated in what are perceived of as ‘female’ roles such as marketing and HR. However, I do see this as ultimately an important step on the road to a more gender balanced workplace in automotive retail.

Most young women in our industry have arrived by default, and when they come in at a young age and a junior level, they often have early interactions with male colleagues that can be the reason they leave it! Some cite feeling intimidated walking into a sales office full of men, while comments said in ‘jest’ can be quite hurtful and cutting to the wrong person. People are also sometimes made to feel stupid and humiliated. We talk more now in our induction and onboarding about equality in the workplace with all staff, about what is deemed acceptable and what isn’t. But it is quite shocking how many people still speak out of turn without realising how detrimental their comments are to others. This is, I’m sure commonplace in all businesses. But will be more exaggerated in those industries that are more attractive to males.

There is so much psychology behind managing people and we should ensure that this features highly in training line managers. It’s the hardest part of the job for us all – it’s not just about how many cars, hours or parts they sell.


What personal strengths and attributes do you believe have enabled you get where you are in such a competitive industry?

I am a people person, and I have worked with and developed some good managers. I have a keen eye for the detail and need to make sure we are all reading from the same page. Process is key to success when we have bigger teams, as is sticking to the rules. Follow this and we can never go far wrong. However, I also believe in autonomy and empowering teams to make decisions they need to make there and then to benefit the customer and the business. I have always been open to ideas and I believe I am an approachable person. which has led to the development of agile teams which is good for employees, customers and the business.


What advice and career guidance would you give to other women just starting out in the industry? How would you urge them to thrive?

I would encourage them to see beyond the cars. Look at the brand, the job role, the satisfaction that working in this environment can deliver. I have a fabulous team of young women working for me at Snows and they all absolutely love what they do. They recognise that no two days are ever the same, and they love dealing with customers. One benefit the motor trade does bring is a variety of customers to deal with. The demographics are as diverse as the cars themselves and so are some of the issues that come with that, making a good customer experience all the more exciting and enriching – especially the service customers. I would also encourage women to take advantage of any opportunities that come their way and not to be afraid to create their own or ask their line managers to move into a different role. That’s how I ended up on the showroom floor. I was working in admin and wanted to make the move to sales, so I asked for the opportunity.


What are the key challenges that you see for women in motor retailing?

I guess any full-time job makes the hours challenging but we are a seven-day a week business and this is always an issue. But we are always looking at ways of addressing the work-life balance. Please don’t be put off. On the flip side, a seven-day a week business and to a certain extent, 24-7 since the digital showroom is always open, means there is more flexibility. The industry is changing, the world is changing and there is so much more we can do now to overcome and address this. We need to move away from rigid hours and, as a 24-7 business, develop a more fluid approach to our working lives which better suits what customers want, In the past we have shoehorned in customers to fit our timetable rather than suiting the customer’s requirements. By adapting to the latter, by default we will need a more flexible workforce, which in turn will lead to a more balanced work-life way of working, suiting both males and females. I think developing a more flexible approach to working life will prove to be key to the success of the business. While attracting more women and people from more diverse backgrounds to the sector will in turn breathe new life into automotive retailing. Every day is what I call a ‘school day’ these days, This is a new world and there are no right or wrong answers – we have to think on our feet and go with the flow.


What is your proudest achievement in your career?

Without a doubt being nominated and winning the Autocar Great British Women in The Car Industry for Sales Retail in 2018. I was so pleased to win this, for being the best at what I do in a female category. That was a great honour and proudest moment.


What goals remain for you going forward?

Honestly, who knows what is next? I have a few years in me yet and I would love to see my career develop before it is time to think about slowing down. I have really enjoyed getting to grips with a completely new brand (BMW and MINI) and playing such a pivotal role in a highly successful group. I am delighted to be where I am today as part of the Snows group. It is 12 months in for me (and 60 years for them) and we are really starting to see the fruits of our labour. The business is growing and starting to flourish, along with the people within it. I can honestly say I absolutely love what I do.


 The questions in the Q&A were compiled by motoring writer and Motor Trader Awards judge Sue Baker

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