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How Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Can Take the Automotive Industry From Good to Great with Sandy Zannino

  • January 24, 2024
20 min read
How Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Can Take the Automotive Industry From Good to Great with Sandy Zannino

Ilana Shabtay
VP of Marketing, Fullpath

Sandy Zannino
Founder and CEO, IAHR

Sandy Zannino is the founder and CEO of Innovative Auto HR. With 25 years in the automotive industry, Sandy is passionate about protecting profits through compliance, programs, training & people processes.  She opened IAHR in 2017 and in 2019 received Tampa HR’s award for HR Consultant of the year.  Sandy is a processed based problem solver who believes deeply in offering exemplary customer service to her clients, earning their loyalty and trust.  Sandy holds SPHR & SHRM-SCP certifications as well as ADCO’s Dealership Compliance Officer certification.  Sandy is deeply passionate about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and is a Certified Diversity, Equity & Inclusion practitioner through The People Company’s Inclusion Institute.  

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • How Sandy ventured into the world of automotive and HR
  • How HR can help create a smooth transition in an acquisition process
  • A bit about the leadership program soon to come from WOCAN
  • The importance of inclusion in the automotive industry 
  • What the Inclusion Council is doing to help break down barriers within automotive retail.

In this episode…

Fact: Women only represent 18.8% of the workforce in retail automotive. 

What’s worse? According to NADA, that number hasn’t shifted in over three years. The industry is holding conferences, offering training, and making suggestions, but the number of women in the automotive retail workforce still has not shifted enough to be consequential. 

The truth is, inclusion is the solution to some of the major challenges in the automotive industry. Car dealers do well, but, as they say, good is the enemy of great. Greatness is something that is fully achievable for the industry by making diversity, equity and inclusion a priority. 

In the latest episode of Inside Auto Podcast, Ilana Shabtay speaks with Sandy Zannino, Founder and CEO of IAHR, about the work she is doing to create positive change and actively impact inclusion in the automotive industry through her work with the Inclusion Council. Sandy also discusses the steps she believes the industry should take in order to break down barriers and create a more inclusive and diverse environment. 

Resources Mentioned: 

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Fullpath (formerly AutoLeadStar).

Fullpath is the automotive industry’s leading customer data and experience platform (CDXP).

Fullpath enables dealers to turn their first-party data into lifelong customers by unifying siloed data sources and leveraging that data to create exceptional, hyper-personalized customer experiences.

To learn more, visit www.fullpath.com

Episode Transcript:

Ilana Shabtay 

Ilana Shabtai here, host of Inside Auto Podcast, where we interview top dealers, GMs, marketers, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. Before we introduce today’s guest, this episode is sponsored by FullPath.com. FullPath is the automotive industry’s leading customer data and experience platform, CDXP. FullPath enables dealers to turn their first party data into lifelong customers by unifying siloed data sources and leveraging that data to create exceptional hyper-personalized customer experience

To learn more, visit fullpath.com. Today’s guest is Sandy Zannino. Sandy, who I’ve gotten the pleasure of knowing over the years. Sandy, thank you for joining.

Sandy Zannino 

Oh, thank you for having me. It’s so great to be here.

Ilana Shabtay 

Yes, and I get to actually see you in two weeks at NADA, so I’m so excited.

Sandy Zannino 

Yes, and I always love spending time with you.

Ilana Shabtay

Yes, you as well. It’ll be nice. And I’m sure we’ll see all of our, everyone in the industry. It’s like a little family. I can’t wait. Sandy, you’ve been with the industry, the automotive industry for 25 years, passionate about protecting profits through compliance programs, training people, process, and you opened IAHR in 2017. So it’s been seven years. I just did the quick map. Wow. Congratulations.

Sandy Zannino 

Yes. It’s been seven years, the seven year itch. Maybe hitting me. Ha ha ha.

Ilana Shabtay 

No, it’s amazing. I want to hear about it. I want to hear about the transition to entrepreneurship. We know that anyone who’s followed you, we know you’re deeply passionate about diversity, you know, inclusion. You’re involved in a lot of different programs that we’re going to talk about today. And you like dancing. Anyone who follows you on LinkedIn would know that you love dancing. So any day is going to be a party with you.

Sandy Zannino 

You know, I have this idea to do, to try and get like a, what’s it called, a flash mob. Count you in, because I was thinking this morning, I was like, you know what, maybe I should do a video. There’s a really simple dance.

Ilana Shabtay 

We should do it at NADA. I would love that. We only have like one week to practice. Anyway, I’m really serious. I’ve never been part of a flash mob. I want to be part of a flash mob so badly.

Sandy Zannino 

Well, that’s it. We’re, it’s all, we just got one, yeah, we gotta figure the place and we need to find how we’re gonna do the music. So.

Ilana Shabtay 

Great. OK, I’ll leave that to you and I’ll just come with the moves. Awesome. OK, so yes, we’re excited for NADA. Tell us a little bit. Let’s go back, though. How did you get into automotive? And then I’d love to also know how you got into the HR business and just what it’s been like launching that.

Sandy Zannino

Okay. So, like many women that I hear from, I fell into automotive by accident. It was pure accident. I was working for a commercial real estate appraiser, which was very interesting work actually, by the way. And behind me, a dealer group, a dealer principal in the office right behind ours, had just opened their first corporate office. And me being me, I got to know people just in and out, right? And one day they asked me if I would…

consider taking on another role and I talked to them, we interviewed, I said I gotta give them two weeks, they said we’d like that and that’s really kind of where it started. I had no idea what I was getting into and that role ended up… They really… It was the wild automotive group, about a year and a half ago, they sold all their stores. The Florida stores sold to Morgan and all the Wisconsin stores are with Lithia. Yeah, I’m pretty sure that is, that’s the deal. You know, I’m still friends with Mark Wild. Couldn’t, I’ve never had a better boss. Really. Just let me grow and like… Yeah, it really was. I mean…

I learned so much because what I ended up doing, I was his assistant, I ran the corporate office so any communications from OEMs, anything like that, I had my experience is broad probably for an HR professional. However how I got to HR, I mean I was always that employee who read the I-9, all the directions and all of the small print, right? Like all the small print, I read it.

Ilana Shabtay 

You have it in your blood.

Sandy Zannino 

And I had always had an interest. And the way that it just kind of grew was I started with benefits, cause I was like, you know, I don’t think people are getting their benefits when on time or Cobra. And then I think what everybody realized the office managers would send me, if something came and it was something to read, they sent it to me, right?

Ilana Shabtay

Yeah, it’s always good to have someone like that. I would say I’m the exact opposite. I would send everything to you.

Sandy Zannino 

But you know, and so, and by nature, I’m a person who likes to help people. Right? So, and I love finding solutions, right? And I really just kind of fell in love with automotive.

And that’s really my value as a consultant in retail in particular, is that I get it. I get what the sales managers are looking for. I get what Fixed Ops is doing. And I also get what employees are doing. I think my success, in particular with Wylde, was about my view of HR, which is customer service. Which, I don’t think a lot of people think of HR as customer service, but all of my customers are internal, right? Including the dealer, including the managers and the employees, right? And when you can create win-win-win situations, it’s pretty awesome.

Ilana Shabtay 

Yeah, that’s great. So you were there and then you ventured off to open up your own practice, your own company. Was that after a while or?

Sandy Zannino 

I ventured almost. After Wild, in 2016, I was actually recruited with a larger group. And at this point, I wanted, I was lured by the promises of, and I had a ball. I will tell you this, I had a ball. One thing I love is learning. And for example, one of the things I got to do with this group, I spent a short time with.

But one of the things I got to do was go through an acquisition and it was amazing. Um, I created an onboarding. I’m really proud of this. Like I created an onboarding for like 250 new newly acquired employees. We got them all onboarded in a day and a half. Right. And they had everything that they needed and it was pretty cool. Pay plan, like everything was done. Um, so.

Ilana Shabtay 

Did you use, I mean, did you, you must have had certain, do you use any software to help you with that at the time? Or was it manual? What? Wow. Incredible.

Sandy Zannino 

Excel, pretty much all manual and folders. You know, I mean, the DMS, and in a lot of dealerships, it’s still this way, you know, the DMS is the information system. Some organizations are using the payroll HRIS system, but we don’t talk to each other. So everything’s got to be…two places anyway. So, yeah, it was, it was fun. It was a lot of fun. All the background screens done. Like there’s a lot to an acquisition on the employee side, you know, making sure that what if there’s somebody that’s out on FMLA, that’s a big one, right? For the acquired employees that transfers to the new system. All of their time worked. Just because they’re new employees doesn’t mean that their FMLA clock starts over, meaning that they don’t have to work for a whole year again before they’re eligible. So it’s fun.

Ilana Shabtay 

Right. Well, it’s nice because you know all the intricates of this. So you can really help dealership groups and really understand this and make sure that it’s a smooth, whatever it is, transition, acquisition, whatever it might be. So it’s just amazing how you know this.

Sandy Zannino

You know, in thinking about that, about what helps make an acquisition a smooth transition, especially for the employees being acquired, is allying or allying their fears, right? Because they’re scared. They’re scared. And I think the communication with them before close, right? Like before the close, um, is really, really important letting them know who they’re coming to work for. What’s the value proposition of them, you know, being acquired and, and how great it’s going to be, right? You need to go and be in a cheerleader for, uh, and, and training. If there’s a DMS, if you’re changing DMS is, oh my gosh, I think my, my best advice for that is to have due training for at least a month, especially in service. Service will fall apart, right? Anyway, so I’ll talk.

Ilana Shabtay 

No, it’s great. I think also that’s just like, it’s amazing because you’re so embedded in the processes that it’s not just about the people and HR, it’s about actually how you can just operate at a really smooth level. And I think that’s something dealerships can really take advantage of when they talk to you. So it’s great to hear that. I know you’re also very passionate about diversity inclusion. You’re a part of Wocon. Solera, am I saying that correctly? Yeah.

Sandy Zannino 

Uh-huh. Yeah, I mentioned this to you. We’re getting ready to announce, I can’t give you all the details, but it is, there is a leadership program that we’re getting ready to roll out for Wocan. It’s for Solera. They have, it’s specific for Wocan. It’s powered by Solera, right?

I mean, it’s going to be a really amazing leadership program. It’s going to touch on all different aspects of leadership. There is a, there’s going to be pre-work and homework. I mean, it’s going to be pretty intense. And I think that the participants are just going to get a lot of value out of it. So we’re pretty excited about that. There’s a lot of things happening with Wocan. Wocan, you know.

Ilana Shabtay 

That’s incredible. Tell us a little bit about WOCAN. Not everyone knows what WOCAN is. Yeah.

Sandy Zannino 

Well, Wocan was created by the four founders, Carrie Wise, who many of us know, Erica Tiffany Wells, who also many of us know, Amanda Gordon, who are many, every, they’re really, you know, well known, and Patrice Banks. And so it’s a wide range. You know, Patrice has a pretty amazing shop, you know, like a mechanic shop in Philadelphia. So we have Amanda’s retail, Carrie’s on tech side, and as we know, Erica is now a GM with Walser, right? So we have all different spectrums, and they got together.

Because there’s not a place for women of color right, um, there’s a Specific place and women of color experience something different Than something more right? It’s actually called intersectionality. There’s a whole long story I could tell you about the how that word was created But what why a women of color because if that was one of the pushbacks well like aren’t we all women right from white women

Aren’t we all women? Yes, we are. But women of color experience a different level as far as because of race that is in there, right? We’ve all heard the tropes, the angry black woman. We’ve had, you know. And so one of the things about Wocan that I’ve always said, I was like, wow, because especially when ERG’s employee resource groups kind of became a thing and there’s a lot of them.

I was like, wow, because automotive, find me an organization that has enough women of color to have an ERG. They’re just starting. So Wocan can act as your, you know, like an industry ERG. And I have been able to experience some of the most, as a witness, right, some of the most beautiful connections of not, one, I get to experience being the only one, which is not often, right? Unless I am at Wocan. And also watching the joy, the unspeakable joy that happens in a room when there’s 100 plus women of color together.

Ilana Shabtay

They did an incredible job. So I’m really happy that you got to tell us a little bit about the organization. And then what is the connection to Solera?

Sandy Zannino 

So, Wocan has a lot of sponsors, right? There are a lot of organizations. Wocan is a 503C, right? All of us that work, that do things for Wocan, we’re all volunteer. So, Solera approached us with this idea and we were like, yeah, let’s do it, right? Like we have, Wocan’s got a lot of sponsors.

Ilana Shabtay 

That’s wonderful. Is Wocan doing anything specific at NADA that we know about? Okay.

Sandy Zannino 

Keep an eye out on social media. And we’ll be, you know, there’s a possibility that we’re gonna, you know, that we’ll have during the show at various booths. Hey, there’s.

Ilana Shabtay 

Okay. Yeah, great. I mean, it’s a very powerful organization, so I think it is important for us to know where we can find you, how we can know more about it. Thank you for sharing that. And then you also spoke to me about the Inclusion Council that is happening. Did I miss it?

Sandy Zannino 

Oh man, that’s the most exciting thing for me and it’s not… It really is because um and oh I just got my first retail member, right? Like yeah that’s like so amazing. It’s um…The way that the council, and it evolved, right? At first it was gonna be just like a round table. And I at first thought it was just gonna be vendors, right? Because when I first started, there was a retail round table.

And that’s kind of gone away. And I guess what I’ve realized is, and I have about 12 members, woohoo. And it’s funny, I think in, you know, DEI has been so mischaracterized lately. And that’s hard to combat. Sometimes I think even those people who really believe that diversity, equity and inclusion shows results sometimes stay quiet and want to be Switzerland, you know, especially in the environment that we’re in. But so, you know, I have 12 members, or no, 13 now counting my, counting the retail. And it’s really kind of evolved because in our discussions, what we’ve come to realize and what I realized over the last few years, these, that inclusion is the solution to some challenges that we collectively as an industry have been talking about since I’ve been around and since that’s 1998 turnover, our ability to attract emerging, especially emerging talent and the gender gap, right? Let’s just look at the gender gap. We haven’t moved in three years. According to NADA, it’s 18.8% women in retail.

Like we haven’t moved and we keep talking about it. We keep talking about it. We keep throwing like spaghetti against the wall, hoping something sticks. You know, let, let’s, um, let’s met, let’s do mentorship programs. Let’s help women understand how to navigate the industry. Um,

Ilana Shabtay 

Yeah, let’s launch women in automotive and have a conference. I know. Right. I understand. But it’s not worth it. Let’s move the 18% up though.

Sandy Zannino 

Yes, which are all great things. I’m not saying don’t do those things at all, right?

But if it hasn’t changed anything, we are, it is the definition of insanity, doing the same things over and over and over, expecting a different result. And so I guess what I’ve come to realize is that those three things are symptoms. And what they’re symptoms of are a collective inability to really embrace inclusion and what that means. You know, I’ve read something recently that just really kind of blew me away.

Um, and it is that exclusion neurologically, the neurological response to being excluded is the same as physical pain. Like who wants to do that to anybody? Who wants to hurt someone in that way? Um, you know, so I think that there are certain things that, that we can do. First we have to look at the data and come to understand that this, this really is true.

So the council, hopefully that’s the basis of the council, right. That we want to work on these things and bring inclusion into the industry collectively. There we have some plans for doing some research, which, you know, I hope can happen. I’d love to find some sponsors to help me do this. Right. Because, you know, some things that I want to do, some are simple on the simpler side. Like, for example, do some uh, blind resumes, right? Set the job ad goes out. I send out to exactly the same resume with different names, maybe different schools, right? Um, and see, and, and just do some of that research. I’d love to find a way because this hurts us. This hurt car dealers do really, really well, right? We do great, but the good is the enemy of the best.

Ilana Shabtay 

Yes, without the name. Yep.

Sandy Zannino 

And it’s so easy to not have to think about it, right? It’s not an imperative for dealers. Yeah, April will be one year. I started last year at NADA running around with QR codes and had a whole bunch of exploratory meetings and had enough people who were interested and joined up to go ahead and do it.

Ilana Shabtay 

That’s amazing. I mean, it’s things like this that will actually bring the change. So, I mean, yeah.

Sandy Zannino

You know?

I hope so. I really hope so. I mean, I’m not expecting to change the whole world. Um, just maybe, maybe if I can make one little dent, then I think, um, I’ve done my job in this.

Ilana Shabtay 

Yes, well, I agree and I’m seeing it and thank you for sharing it with us here today on Inside Auto Podcast. You’re doing so much. I mean, really, and you’re having such an impact on how people are feeling and you know the type of inclusion that we want to see in automotive. So thank you so much for that work and thanks for sharing it with us today. And you will be at NADA, so anyone who will be, Amazing! Amazing.

Sandy Zannino

Thank you. I will be there. I’m talking at NADA about inclusion, actually. And if anybody wants to get in touch with me for my consulting offerings, what I do is, the best, my favorite thing to do is IHR on demand. And that’s when I help coach your HR. It’s not designed for dealers who have a seasoned HR professional. It’s easy as one, two, three. We go through your compliance, a little bit more intense for the first couple of months, and then I just monthly work with your who’s on the ground, probably your HR payroll person or your controller.

Ilana Shabtay 

Yeah, but it sounds incredible. I mean, that’s a very great resource for dealers to know about. And you obviously know your stuff, so it can be extremely helpful for them.

Sandy Zannino 

Yeah, I know a little bit enough. I know enough to be dangerous, I guess. I also know when to ask for help. That’s really important.

Ilana Shabtay 

Yeah, that’s great. Well, we know how to find you and on LinkedIn, I know you’re very active. Sandy Zannino, thank you again and I look forward to seeing you. And for those listening Inside Auto Podcast, you can find us on insideauto.com and all your favorite streaming channels. Thank you so much again. Bye, Sandy.

Sandy Zannino 

Thank you, I’ll see you soon.

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