Catalyst.org reports that in the automotive industry, women made up the majority of office and clerical workers in 2018 at 78.4 percent but were underrepresented among higher level positions like managers, which was only 18.1 percent, and executive and senior level officials and managers which was 17.6 percent.
But Rachel Pullen is one of the few women in the car industry who are leading the way and representing women in an industry where they are the minority. Pullen is the president of one of area’s largest automotive groups, which has 16 different locations across Virginia and Maryland.
Pullen has been familiar with the car industry her entire life. “I worked at a Buick dealership in high school. My stepfather was the service manager, and I would cashier for the service department. In addition, my mother was the marketing director for the Fairfax City Auto Mile. I was familiar with the automotive world very early in my career,” she said. “Then I needed a job while I was attending George Mason University. The dealership was a perfect fit. I worked full time at the dealership in accounting and service, while completing my degree in three years. After I graduated, the general manager offered me a job where he would teach me everything about the car business and if in one year, I did not like it, I could pursue the career path that I had completed my degree in.”
Despite obtaining a Bachelor of Science Degree in Administration of Justice and a minor in Sociology, Pullen fell in love with the car business, and has now been working in the industry full time for 27 years and has been working for her current company her entire adult life, and now serves as the president of the company.
The ever-changing car business and working with people daily is what kept Pullen in the automotive field for so many years. “Initially, I worked at the dealership to earn money to help pay for my education with the goal of becoming a juvenile probation officer. As I learned new aspects of the dealership and was exposed to each department, I became invested,” she said. “I love that the automotive industry deals with people, real people trying to find a transportation solution. I loved that we could solve their problems. I also saw that the automotive industry is a technology-driven field. As technology advances, automakers are following closely behind. It allows me to advance my skills every day.”
Getting where she is today in a male-dominated field was not an easy feat, but Pullen has many mentors to thank for her success. “I’m lucky that I’ve come across many male managers and the owner of our dealership group that have continuously supported and mentored me to reach my potential and become successful in my field,” she said. “Outside our dealer group and management team, I felt like I had to prove that I am capable and deserve to be in my place of work to men at a manufacturer meeting or conference, whereas that respect is inherently earned by my male colleagues. Typically outsiders would assume I was related to the owner of the dealerships because I was a female in a leadership role.”
While women are becoming more predominant in the automotive industry and Pullen is happy to see progress, she hopes to continue to see further improvement. The challenges she has faced have helped her learn how to become more comfortable with being the minority gender in her field of work. “There were not many women mentors in the automotive industry when I first started. I think women need to see the growth and inclusion of women in leadership ranks. Without really having those women leaders to guide me, I have had to forge my own path to success. I am happy to see that women are being promoted to leadership positions more and more now,” she said. “You have to acknowledge that it is a constant learning process. It takes time to realize what you do not know and enlisting support from trusted colleagues where necessary. There is a tendency to hide your weaknesses or lack of knowledge on a subject matter as a female in a male-dominated industry. I have learned and with maturity in my career, I have become comfortable reaching out for help.”
Pullen wants women and girls to see the possibilities and feel inspired to join the automotive industry, varying from a range of career opportunities including sales, administration, marketing, finance, accounting, service, parts and body shop. Pullen hopes women can feel encouraged to explore the automotive industry.
The president of the car company also has advice for any women looking to enter the automotive industry, as well. “Network in your industry and find a team of colleagues that support your vision and help promote your ‘personal brand’. You need to find like minded individuals who will learn, grow and hold you accountable,” Pullen said. “Never stop speaking up. Say what you really believe in, because your perspective is valuable, you have to remember that. The world is changing incredibly fast, and future leaders will be challenged to keep up, you need to embrace change, learn new technology, stay agile and be open to new ideas.”
With hundreds of employees and 16 dealerships under her, Pullen certainly keeps busy at work. But she always finds time to appreciate her employees and reflect on their hard work. Her favorite part about her job comes down to those she works with and her interactions with them. “My favorite part of my job is seeing career growth around me. I’ve had the privilege of seeing employees rise through the ranks of our dealerships and create careers,” she said. “I think it’s important for employees to hear their efforts matter. I try to actively provide this vision to our staff and make them feel appreciated for their performance and participation.”