Responding to reports of extensive and “gut-wrenching” sexual and racial harassment at two large Chicago plants, Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Hackett sent an open letter to company employees this week advising harassers, “We don’t want you here.”
Problems at the Ford Chicago Assembly Plant and Chicago Stamping Plant were the subject of a detailed report by the New York Times this week. Women at the facility said they received little support and essentially no resolution when they tried to get the carmaker to address their concerns.
“On behalf of myself and the employees of Ford Motor Company, who condemn such behavior and regret any harassment as much as I do, I apologize. More importantly, I promise that we will learn from this and we will do better,” wrote Hackett, who assumed the CEO post at Ford in May following a management shake-up.
Such activities have been spotlighted in the wake of the accusations leveled against powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and others in the entertainment industry. But automotive insiders say that discrimination in the auto industry, both sexual and racial, has existed for decades.
Ford founder Henry Ford didn’t even hire women in the early days of his company, believing their role was in the home. The automaker paid $22 million to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1999 to settle a sexual harassment case, and another $10 million fine more recently. It is now facing a new lawsuit.
(Tesla plant called “hotbed for racist behavior.” Click Here for the story.)
Other automakers have been accused of accepting, or at least ignoring, problems in their own plants, including Tesla which is facing several lawsuits involving both gender and racial discrimination at its assembly plant in Fremont, California.
General Motors CEO and Chairman Mary Barra, the first woman to head a major automaker, spoke out on harassment earlier this month, declaring, “We want a harassment-free workplace.” Barra called it “unacceptable” for any company to tolerate any form of harassment. “I want to create an environment where everyone feels welcome and is able to achieve their potential.”
(Click Here for more on Barra’s comments about harassment and a wide range of other issues.)
But that doesn’t appear to be the situation today. A total of 874 women in the auto industry responded to a recent survey by trade publication Automotive News. It found:
- Over 60% said they were exposed to unwanted sexual advances at some time during their careers;
- 68% were advised by men that they were “too aggressive”;
- 57% said they had been excluded from networking and social events because of their gender, and
- 58% felt that did not have the same opportunity for advancement as men in the auto industry.
Ford’s Hackett letter to employees echoed the comments Barra made earlier this month, asserting that “There is absolutely no room for harassment at Ford,” and warning harassers, “We don’t want you here, and we will move you out for engaging in any behavior like this.” Looking forward, he declared, “We have zero tolerance for any behavior like this, and we will stamp it out together.”
Even before the Times story was published, Ford went on the offensive, airing a nearly three-minute video addressing the issue of harassment on video monitors at all 24 of its North American plants. The automaker says it also has added new personnel to oversee efforts to address the problem.
Hackett said he will visit the two Chicago plants early in the New Year. He said he wants to tell employees that, “when they leave for work in the morning, they and their families can expect that they are coming to an environment that is safe, respectful and motivating them to do the best job possible.”
(Facing a series of issues, including racial and sexual harassment charges, is it too late for Uber? Click Here for that story.)