At this time of year, our editorial focus concentrates on the annual Difference Maker edition. We canvass readers to find out who are the movers and shakers impacting the industry in a positive manner. I find this to be a refreshing diversion from the monthly overview of products and technology that are constantly shaping and reshaping the way customers do business.
While putting together the profiles for May’s Difference Maker issue, I noted a trend that was not particularly surprising, but it nonetheless brought a smile to my face. The percentage of women listed among our Difference Makers rose from 9 percent to 16 percent over 2017. In fact, the only higher percentage of women on the list occurred in 2016, which saw an impressive 20 percent of females among the honorees. It must be an even-numbered year phenomenon, perhaps.
Viewing the numbers from a personal, emotional and purely unscientific stance, I’m somewhat disappointed that the figures aren’t higher. Five of the 10 women on the list are vice presidents, clearly impact players. There are two directors, a managing partner, one senior product manager and an operations manager. Those are all lofty titles, and what seems to be missing from the list are more midlevel personnel. I’m sure there’s also a fairly strong cluster of women who are in sales and are deserving of such kudos…again, I have no statistical evidence to make a case one way or another.
One area that is almost completely unrepresented is marketing (we do have one VP of marketing), which is a field that has traditionally boasted a significant core of females. Obviously, there’s a randomness associated with this type of honor system, but there is no disputing the vitality that a strong marketing department can offer to both dealerships and OEMs. Word of mouth has dominated our space for decades, but the internet and social media have changed the marketing game significantly in the last 10 years, and a company’s ability to establish an online presence is certainly a difference maker (pun intended).
So, why isn’t the percentage of women higher in our industry, or business in general? Clearly, their acceptance as equals has been a needlessly slow and drawn-out process. Look at the past century alone. Women’s suffrage, the right to vote, didn’t occur in our country until 1920. That is mind-blowing when you consider there are still people alive today who were born before women had the right to vote. The voting right certainly didn’t extend to other privileges; the role of post-World War II women was still relegated to the home, and even through the 1980s, it was said that a woman who desired a family and a career was trying to “have it all,” leading to derisive admonitions regarding the decay of the traditional family unit.
With all due respect to Virginia Slims and its “you’ve come a long way…” tagline that only musters a backhanded, sexist compliment, women have long needed to be stronger than men in order to establish themselves in a professional context. Something tells me women have always been stronger, in many ways, since the beginning of time.
Perhaps my own personal experiences have colored this point of view. My father abandoned my mother and her five children when I was only four. Though she was disabled and never achieved status in the professional world, she did an incredible job of raising us and became a pillar of the community at the same time. She founded and performed all the legwork for our small town’s community day, and the event recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. When she passed away in 1998, our township council passed a resolution commemorating her for all the work she did to make our town a better place to live.
Violet Cagle carried herself with a quiet dignity and garnered the respect of all who came to know her. I can count the number of times I ever saw her cry on one hand, with a few fingers to spare, even though she endured a difficult existence—physically, financially and emotionally—for virtually all of her 64 years. That strength is the greatest gift she could have ever passed along. It comes as no surprise that most of the key people who have surrounded me in life are strong women.
Please pardon the brief tribute. I’d like to finish with a sneak peek at one of our female Difference Makers. Melissa Kaiser is a graduate of the United States Military Academy in West Point and served as a Cyber Warfare officer in the U.S. Air Force. She often speaks on the subject of women in technology and specializes in helping secure SMBs from cyber threats. There are more stories like Kaiser’s, and hopefully, we will learn of them in the years to come. To her, our other nine female Difference Makers and all of the unheralded women who continue to make a difference in the lives of others, I say thank you.