With the rise of second-wave feminism came a great emergence of women into the workforce. A positive, historical moment for women, that of course only lasted half a second before it was undermined by capitalist and sexist forces. The emergence of more women into the workforce allowed for employers to lower the pay for all positions, leading to a decline in wages overall. Since women typically didn't work, men were paid "family wages." However, when employers saw that women were now working part-time, sometimes, even more, they took it as an opportunity to lower all wages under the excuse that households now had two incomes rather than one.
To take it a step further, the formation and distinction of "women's" jobs became prominent, marked by very low wages and menial work. In the Global North, secretarial work or housecleaning was women's "go-to," or rather what positions they were able to actually get. In the Global South, this emergence led to primary roles in factories or "sweatshops," where they were paid (and still are) little to nothing by major corporations that outsource their labor. To this day, professions are gendered. In essence, work itself is gendered (why do you think you almost never see a male secretary or a female construction worker?). We all know this subconsciously, but it is so jarring when you actually see it play out firsthand.
Months ago, I had quit my job as an English tutor and decided to try my luck in sales. I really had no interest, but the possibility of making a large commission check was enticing. I had a brief stint with an MLM (multi-level marketing) scam, an insurance company called American Income Life, which sucked me dry of my finances but did help me develop more people skills and sales skills. When I was stumbling across a few job listings, I saw that there was an opening for an auto salesman — no experience necessary.
I consider myself an ambitious person, so I thought "why not?" I could sell a few cars, people generally tend to like me. Funny enough, I got a callback and had an interview a few days later. As I stepped inside the building, I felt optimistic, but as soon as the interview started I knew I had just stepped into a pile of flaming, sexist shit.
The auto industry is not exclusively male. Around 21.2% of auto dealership employees are women, although that figure is in reference to all types of work, including administrative (women only represent 7.3% of auto maintenance employees, and even less as salespeople). While we have visibility in the industry, it just isn't enough. Studies show that car dealerships have a hard time attracting women employees and only 2% of saleswomen who sign on actually stay with the company.
If you step into any car dealership, 9 times out of 10, your salesperson will be a man. Has anyone ever questioned why that is?
I know there have to be tons of ambitious women who like to sell things, but for some reason, the auto sales industry is primarily run by men. Now, historically, the industry of sales began with the "traveling salesman," always a man (hence the term), since back in the good old days, women were too "busy" cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the babes to travel around town selling shit.
I understand history's profound effect on our current circumstances, but there is no reason why this field has stayed male-dominated. It's not like construction work, where — yes, feminists, even though it's nice to delude yourself into not accepting it — the average woman cannot do the physical labor that is required of them to do so. To be a good salesperson, all you need to have is a charming personality, good people skills, and know the products you're trying to sell.
All things that women are entirely capable of doing.
So then what's the big deal? Why aren't more women in this industry?
For one, they don't feel welcome. And secondly, they're not even given the chance to prove themselves. I walked into my interview with the intention of securing a sales position, but was quickly redirected to the role of "cashier."
My interviewer (who was a man, obviously) began by asking me to tell him a few things about myself, which I did. He pretended to listen, but I could tell by his impatient expression and darting eyes that he wasn't actually listening and was only waiting on me to shut the fuck up so he could talk again (exhibit A of not feeling welcome within the company).
After I finished my elevator pitch, he nodded his head and said: "uh huh — so do you actually have any sales experience?" It was a valid question, but also kind of a patronizing one considering the position clearly stated no experience was necessary — one of the only reasons I even applied in the first place.
I responded with: "Yes, I do. I actually worked at an insurance company for a few months as a sales rep."
Him: "Oh, okay. [Insert mindless drivel that I don't remember] … So you're going to be in contact with a lot of different people. The reputation for salesmen isn't that good. People see you as the enemy, someone just trying to con them out of their money. You have to be able to have a thick skin… Do you have thick skin?"
I was bullied ruthlessly in high school, so my skin is pretty much bullet-proof at this point, which I relayed to him. I thought my spiel was pretty convincing, although he didn't seem too satisfied with my response. Before the interview even concluded, the words "would you be interested in another position?" were out of his mouth. He then let me know, rather excitable, that there were two additional positions open: cashier and online assistant (even though neither of them were listed anywhere on the website, and when I interviewed for the assistant position, the supervisor told me she didn't even have an opening). He suggested that these other roles would be a "better fit."
Now, I didn't find any of his questions to be offensive or rude, but the thinly veiled sexism in his remarks was off-putting. He only had to ask me two questions before he deemed I wouldn't be a salesman. When he asked me if I had thick skin, could it have been less obvious that he was really just asking me if I was going to break down and cry every time I got rejected? In his efforts to find me a "better suited" position, could it have been less obvious that he was just redirecting me to the "women's job" within the dealership?
It's no surprise that auto employers have a hard time finding women to enter the industry — it doesn't seem productive to try. To say that the cultural climate of this industry is slightly unwelcoming would be an understatement. It's an injustice to all, really, since women are proven to have an edge in the industry and female salespeople are seen as less threatening and more trustworthy.
Employers: please make sure that your company has a welcoming environment for all — and don't just write a woman off because you feel comfortable in keeping the distinction between "women's" roles and "men's" roles. As we see in the case of sales, breaking those barriers can sometimes be the better option.