The Case For Same-Sex Car Salespeople

February 16, 2011

The days of auto repair shops displaying centerfold calendars are long gone--as are a lot of the magazines.

The car sales environment is a lot less sexist than it used to be, but research to be published in the Journal of Consumer Research this summer says that for women, the reluctance to do business in a male-dominated environment still lingers, regardless of how the walls are adorned.

The three authors are writing about the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math collectively known as STEM. Specifically they are addressing the widely held stereotypical notion in North America that women's aptitude for STEM is inferior to that of men.

But how does this stereotyping influence a woman's behavior in the marketplace? The authors found that women will avoid doing business in environments in which they risk being targets of the stereotypes, especially when the STEM-oriented service being rendered is provided by males.

Finance and auto repair were cited as areas in which women may wonder if they are being manipulated or treated unfairly. In the study women who were reminded of their gender identity as it relates to STEM expressed less expectation to buy services from businesses that advertised themselves with male practitioners.

According to the work, the result of being in the outgroup and also being reminded of the negative stereotypes within the STEM domains engenders anxiety which the authors describe as the "driving force" for the reluctance to deal with male personnel in a STEM-oriented transaction.   

So maybe GM's decision to send Mr. Goodwrench packing wasn't just because of his age, since BNET reported that annually women spend $300 billion keeping their cars on the road and purchase 60 percent of the new cars and 53 percent of the used cars. These is not a demographic that a car maker would want to risk to the negative appeal of a 36-year-old image regardless of its iconic status.

In an interesting sidebar to the STEM research, the authors found that there was a way to negate the anxiety generated by male salespeople. Vanilla scent. I can see it and smell it now, car salesmen from Ithaca to Inglewood shedding their Old Spice for a cologne with just a hint of vanilla.

[Journal of Consumer Research, BNET]  

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