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Ford is auditing 188,000 employees: What it's asking

Detroit Free Press logo Detroit Free Press 7/16/2020 Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press
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Ford Motor Co. is currently "auditing" an estimated 188,000 salaried and hourly employees worldwide to see where the 117-year-old company stands on workplace attitudes about diversity.

The effort involves employees from the factory floor to executive suites in an aggressive attempt to address institutional bias and issues that may hinder employee performance, company officials confirmed to the Free Press.

"I believe the audit is very necessary because I think if you would ask different people at different levels they have a different perspective of where we stand," said Linda Cash, 58, an industrial engineer who went from being a plant manager of the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne to becoming Ford's top female Black executive two years ago as vice president, quality and new model launch program.

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Cash, who has been with Ford more than three decades, plays a key role in the audit. CEO JIm Hackett is leading the initiative.

Their efforts come on the heels of the May 25 death of 46-year-old George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill and protests in cities throughout the U.S., including Detroit.

For its audit, Ford is surveying its employees about race and equity overall, with a goal of determining what the company can do to drive diversity and equity and make Ford a better workplace for everyone.

The so-called audit will be done through a combination of online and in-person exchanges. A question, for example, might ask for behaviors and attitudes that are company strengths or company weaknesses.

This effort is just beginning now, and taking shape. The goal for Ford is to have answers in coming months, and share the results with employees. Feedback allows the company to establish a baseline and help determine what needs to be done to get better.

'This time in our lives'

"I believe these times will go down in history as the real change, that’s what I call it, the real change," Cash told the Free Press. "There’s been so much, so much, so much. And what I believe over the last several decades is there’s been an attempt, and sometimes a quiet attempt. But for me, this is the loudest the voice of racial injustice has ever been. And so I believe we will classify this time in our lives as the time when we made the real change. That’s really what I’m looking for."

Bill Ford Jr., Ford executive chairman, joined a handful of Detroit leaders who called for social justice during a news conference in the days following the Floyd death. In addition, the Detroit Three's CEOs sent letters to their employees

"I think finally the truth is out. Sometimes we really have a problem with social media, but I think in this case, boy has it made it crystal clear what’s happening out there," Cash said.

"More than ever, I think it’s actually helped to raise the awareness, to heighten everyone’s sensitivity to what really is going on and how tragic it is and how we actually need to, once and for all ... change the way we deal with all the diversity among us," she said.

a group of people around each other: About 4,000 mostly black demonstrators gathered in downtown Detroit on Sept. 23, 1971, to protest the Detroit Police Department © Joe Lippincott, Detroit Free Press About 4,000 mostly black demonstrators gathered in downtown Detroit on Sept. 23, 1971, to protest the Detroit Police Department

"We don’t need to have separate perspectives. We need to have the actual truth," she said. "So when you get back the audit, everyone will be very clear — this is where we are as a company. There’s no guessing. There’s no ‘I know a little bit in my space.’ There’s no  'Last year, I looked at something and it said this.’ We just have to stop and get ourselves together and say, 'Hey, everybody, here is where we stand now, what do we want to do about it?'"

Cash, who oversees all aspects of getting new vehicles launched on time and meeting quality standards, works with every aspect of the company — from engineering and manufacturing to suppliers.

She is also executive sponsor of the Ford African Ancestry Network, which represents an estimated 700 salaried workers who have signed up as part of the employee resource group and up to 1,000 voices overall, she said. Prior to that, she led the company's initiative that involved mentoring women in manufacturing.

Ford has 11 employee resource groups meant to build support for specific affinities including Asian employees, Hispanic employees, gay and transgender employees. Services include counseling for workers directly affected by racial trauma or anxiety.

a person standing in front of a television: Linda Cash, vice president, global quality and new model launch programs at Ford Motor Company, reports directly to Chief Operating Officer Jim Farley. She is the top Black female executive at the car company. Here she is speaking February 27, 2020 at a Black Histoy Month celebration as chairman of Ford Employees African-Ancestry Network. © Ford Motor Co. Linda Cash, vice president, global quality and new model launch programs at Ford Motor Company, reports directly to Chief Operating Officer Jim Farley. She is the top Black female executive at the car company. Here she is speaking February 27, 2020 at a Black Histoy Month celebration as chairman of Ford Employees African-Ancestry Network.

She is a mentor, a coach and these times create unique pressures, Cash said. 

"I will say to you that the pressure reliever, though, is that the whole company is engaged," she said. "I would imagine it would be worse if I were trying to climb that hill alone. But, for sure, what we have more now than ever is everybody listening, everybody talking, everybody raising their hand to know more and to help."

Faces behind numbers

Ford's board of directors has 13 members: nine white males, two white females, one Black male, and one Hispanic female.

In the U.S., three of the company's 37 officers are Black in addition to Cash: 

  • Bradley Gayton, chief administrative officer and general counsel
  • Frederiek Toney, vice president, global Ford customer Service Division
  • Ken Washington, chief technical officer

In addition, there are four additional top-tier Black directors:

  • Jonathan Jennings, executive director, purchasing
  • David Cook, executive director, human resources business operations
  • Lynn Tyson, executive director, investor relations
  • Cynthia Williams, director, sustainability, homologation and compliance

Some employees are pressuring Cash to move quickly, she said.

"I believe it’s necessary to take the time so that we know exactly what we’re trying to fix," Cash said, noting she's already seeing a positive impact.

"I believe the conversations that we’ve had over the last two or three weeks have already started to move and improve the experience in the workplace."

While the whole workforce is involved, Ford decided it "had to start somewhere" and saw "the biggest gaps" with Black employees. Still, sustainable change benefits everyone, Cash emphasized.

"It’s the conversation, it’s the data, it’s looking at things to say, 'Here’s all the things you do, but are they targeted and are they actually going to move us?' " she said. "As you know, certainly from listening to all the announcements from the various companies, you can get busy doing things — busy busy busy — doing things and saying things. But when you put all that together, have you done the right thing for your employees and your company to move yourselves forward?"

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Earlier this month, Hackett gave an interview as part of Essence magazine's annual Essence Festival of Culture, which Ford has sponsored for years, to discuss his commitment to workplace equity and providing Black female employees opportunities to rise in the company.

"In an effort to impose structural change in the corporation, Ford is doing an audit to get a sense of the work life experience their Black female employees face," says an Essence website headline dated July 5.

a person talking on a cell phone screen with text: During the ESSENCE Festival Of Culture, Richelieu Dennis, then-ESSENCE Ventures CEO, (left) and Ford CEO Jim Hackett (right) discussed how companies "can design a template that benefits their Black employees while simultaneously servicing the Black community as a whole," Essence wrote on July 5, 2020. © Phoebe Wall Howard During the ESSENCE Festival Of Culture, Richelieu Dennis, then-ESSENCE Ventures CEO, (left) and Ford CEO Jim Hackett (right) discussed how companies "can design a template that benefits their Black employees while simultaneously servicing the Black community as a whole," Essence wrote on July 5, 2020.

Hackett said during the interview that acknowledging inequity is important and honest discussions with Black female employees is essential: 

  • "You’re observing and understanding — you seek and understand."
  • "What is it about your life as a Black women at Ford that we somehow just don’t have any clue? Our problems begin with gender difference.” 
  • “A lot of it has to do with ‘How do I get into the networks to be considered for a promotion.’ If you asked me, 'How do Black women feel?' They have all the talent in the world. I just want to be considered. That’s the inspiring part about it. Just give me the consideration, I’ll make my own way. I’m not asking for something I don’t want to earn."

'Be excellent'

This is hard work, said Cash, the daughter of a teacher's aide and a union material handler at Hercules chemical. She loved math and science so much her parents sent her to nearby Georgia Tech.

After she worked in a plant in Georgia, Ford brought her to Detroit.

"I worked hard and I worked hard to be excellent," Cash said. "I want employees to recognize that if you have the desire and you put in the work, it’s possible."

Ford is leading the way in a critical area motivated by these volatile times, said Melissa Bradley, a business professor at Georgetown University.

Melissa Bradley wearing glasses: Melissa Bradley, a business professor at Georgetown University, says corporations must address diversity issues to remain competitive and recruit top talent. She is pictured here in February 2020. © Melissa Bradley Melissa Bradley, a business professor at Georgetown University, says corporations must address diversity issues to remain competitive and recruit top talent. She is pictured here in February 2020.

"Corporate America is beginning to take note and explore the internal changes needed to promote an anti-racist work environment," she said. "Fortunately most corporations have started the journey. However it is important to note that you can’t change what you can’t measure."

Audits, Bradley said, help institutionalize change and "sustain an anti-racist culture."

Many companies throughout the U.S. currently require diversity and sensitivity and inclusion training to tackle serious issues such as unconscious bias – which may involve actions such as making assignments to workers based on assumptions because they are married or parents or gay or Black.

Trainings may, for example, include reminders that married employees deserve merit increases as much as single parents or that parents are committed to their job even though they have a child’s play to attend.

In many situations nationally, these improvements may be driven by the legal team trying to avoid litigation based on claims on harassment or racism. But the Ford audit is motivated by the George Floyd death and a crescendo of discussion about civil rights and understanding.

a group of people walking down the street: Over 200 people gathered to listen to speeches and marched down 8 Mile from Dequindre to Woodward on June 27, 2020. There were several speakers before and after the march that had Detroit Police providing assistance for safety. © Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press Over 200 people gathered to listen to speeches and marched down 8 Mile from Dequindre to Woodward on June 27, 2020. There were several speakers before and after the march that had Detroit Police providing assistance for safety.

Fact is, "business as usual" simply can't continue, Ben Hecht wrote in the Harvard Business Review June 16.

"In just a few days, countless companies that don't talk about racism publicly have spoken out to condemn racism in their own institutions," Hecht wrote. "On this critical issue, neither consumers nor employees are looking for vague platitudes about change; they want to see companies committing to action within their own walls. Achieving racial equity in the workplace will be one of the most important issues that companies will tackle in the coming decade."

'Afraid'

After interviewing nearly two dozen executives of Fortune 500 companies, he determined that while most executives "affirmed that racial equity was an obvious business imperative," the path to reach the goal was "less obvious" and leaders felt "ill-equipped, even afraid, to act." 

Hecht, whose nonprofit organization Living Cities focuses on closing income gaps in America, confessed to being challenged by his own staff. He pointed to a tendency to dismiss personal experiences as "too emotional" and not realize that racial violence in the news can paralyze workers with anxiety when affirming discussion is discouraged. 

a man standing in front of a building: John Thorn secures one of the crosses he has put the front yard of his Detroit home on June 17, 2020. Thorn has turned his front yard into a display that pays tribute to all African-Americans who have lost their lives to violence. © Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press John Thorn secures one of the crosses he has put the front yard of his Detroit home on June 17, 2020. Thorn has turned his front yard into a display that pays tribute to all African-Americans who have lost their lives to violence.

"People need the ability to work with the dignity of having ... their life experience valued," Hecht wrote. "Only then will companies be able to recruit and retain the thriving, diverse workforce that leaders and customers want — and need. ..."

More: Automakers earn top ratings in how they embrace LGBTQ employees

More: 1,800 companies wanted to be on this Top 50 list. Only 2 automakers made it.

Who gets promoted

In the U.S., Ford said Wednesday:

  • The representation of Black employees in Ford’s salaried workforce has grown over the past two years, from 8.4% at the beginning of 2018 to 8.6% currently.
  • Among approximately 4,000 individuals added to Ford’s salaried workforce since 2018, 9.2% have been Black. 
  • Among approximately 6,300 Ford salaried employees who have moved up by at least one salary grade since 2018, 8.7% have been Black. 
  • Among all Black employees who work in Ford salaried positions, 20.4% have received promotions involving an increase of at least one salary grade since 2018, compared to 20.3% of employees of other races.

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard at 313-222-6512 or phoward@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid. Read more on Ford and sign up for our autos newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ford is auditing 188,000 employees: What it's asking

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