Ford Motor Company recognized for diversity progress

RP news wires, Noria Corporation

For the third time, Ford Motor Company has been named one of the top five companies for diversity by the business magazine and Web site DiversityInc. It's the seventh year in a row that the publication has recognized Ford as one of the top 50 companies in the United States.

"These are companies that demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of diversity management and the differences in people," said magazine co-founder Luke Visconti. "They are better prepared to compete globally and with our rapidly diversifying market."

Also in the top five are Bank of America, Pepsi Bottling Group, The Coca Cola Company and AT&T.

While Ford has received more than 200 awards from organizations that recognize the value of an inclusive corporate culture over the last several years, the company's strategy for employee diversity goes back a lot further. In 1913, to meet production demands and increase its workforce, Henry Ford began offering the innovative $5-a-day wage.

"By more than doubling the industry average of the era, thousands of African-Americans and other minority populations joined the company," said Tiffani Orange, Ford's diversity manager for the Americas. "As a result, Henry Ford helped create a new middle class and establish Ford as one of the first American companies to reflect the growing diversity of the United States."

Today, Ford remains a leader in workplace inclusion, in part, because of the programs and in-house organizations that have been designed to bring together employees of similar interests, ethnicities, races, religions, disabilities and life experiences.

"Ford has a variety of groups to address employee's needs," said Allison Trawick, Ford manager for corporate diversity and work life. "Some of them are more recreational or social, and others also help us support the company's business initiatives and objectives."

Included in those organizations are the 10 Ford Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) worldwide, which not only help to create a pipeline between the company and its employees but also work as a liaison between the company and the customers that each group represents.

One such organization is Ford Employees Dealing with disAbilities (FEDA). With more than 180 members, the group includes not only people with disabilities but family members and coworkers whose goal is to make the public sensitive to the issues of the disabled.

"There are a lot of stereotypes about this segment of the population," said FEDA member Joseph Cueter. "Not everyone who needs a specially outfitted van is a paraplegic without a job. For instance, I have a child with a neuromuscular disorder that necessitates a minivan with a slide-out ramp. I'm a 30-something professional, and I'm in the market for that kind of equipment."

Besides sponsoring and promoting special events, FEDA provides resources such as information on parking and entrance areas that help disabled employees more easily navigate through Ford facilities. It has also supplied the company with marketing research that shows people with disabilities are a viable and growing market that needs to be addressed and understood.

The FEDA research, as well as the group's support of a sales program called Mobility Motoring, which offers customers a reimbursement for specialized medical adaptive equipment, has helped to make the Ford E-Series the number one selling vehicle in the full size van segment.

Ford GLOBE, the employee resource group that supports gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees and allies has also helped the company with marketing efforts to the GLBT community.

Starting as a social group of seven employees in 1994, GLOBE has grown to more than 400 members with chapters in the U.S., U.K., Belgium and Germany.

Suzanne Wait, a product design engineer remembers the group's first board meeting in 1996.

"We talked about domestic partner benefits, and many of us agreed that we'd probably be retired before something like that would ever happen," she said. "We never could have imagined that within four years all Big Three automakers would offer benefits. It's a real testament to this company and to society at large."

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a Washington-based organization that promotes pro-gay legislation, has given Ford a 100 percent score for the last 3 years based on its treatment of GLBT workers, customers and investors.

"The HRC score is something that we as a group respond to when we are deciding who we want to do business with," said Wait. "Just having the Ford name out in the community says that Ford is not just trying to make money off gay consumers but is willing to give back. Believe me, that support does not go unnoticed."

For Julie Dimopulos, a licensing analyst for Ford IT, the Ford Parenting Network (FPN) was the resource group that fit her needs perfectly. A few years ago, when her children were 2 and 3 years old, she was able to attend parenting classes during her lunch hour. FPN also gave her the opportunity to connect with other parents throughout the company that she might not have otherwise met.

"The group has been a great help for parents who are trying to find the right balance between work and home life," she said. "The fact that a company the size of Ford has a network like this is a big draw for a lot of prospective employees with families."

Even as Ford continues to set the standard for corporate diversity, experts in the field say the company's efforts must persist. Roosevelt Thomas, an author and corporate consultant on diversity issues, says he's seen cases where employee resource groups have become a victim of their own success.

"It's not uncommon for resource group members to have to work hard to get new employees to join,” he said. "Often, new employees only see the progress that has been made and the end result. It's up to veteran employees to explain that without support they run the risk of losing those gains."

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