Henry Ford is known as the man who put the world on wheels. This visionary inventor also saw the wisdom in creating a diverse workforce -- long before such concepts were embraced by other business leaders.
Since its founding in 1903, Ford has established itself as a premier American employer by supporting equitable and inclusive employment practices years before the law required it.
Today, Ford continues to attract a highly skilled committed workforce that reflects a broad spectrum of culture, ethnicity, race, perspective, age, religion, physical ability and sexual orientation.
The Early Days
From the beginning, Ford Motor Company has taken steps to ensure that its workforce has reflected the communities in which it does business. Within its first five years, Ford had established production or sales operations in the United States, Canada, France, the United Kingdom, parts of Scandinavia, Eastern Europe and Russia.
- 1913: Henry Ford’s offer to pay $5 a day attracts thousands of immigrants and African Americans drawn to the prospect of earning twice the typical daily wage. The $5 day is credited with helping to create the black middle class.
- 1916: The growing automotive company employs people who represented 62 nationalities, as well as more than 900 people with disabilities.
- 1918: The company takes early steps to ensure that the work environment will accommodate a diverse population of workers. Long before race relations was a common concept, the company hired race relations experts to promote a tolerant work environment.
- 1919: Many people of Middle Eastern descent come to Dearborn and Detroit to work for Ford, which leads to the creation of a local mosque -- the first built in the United States.
- 1919: Ford begins to hire disabled veterans returning from World War I, making the automaker one the first companies to hire people with disabilities and to adapt work environments to their specific needs.
1920s - 1940s
Through next three decades, Ford continued its policies of equal opportunity and treatment. Significant events included the company’s first official non-discrimination clause.
- 1920: Ford Motor Company has more African American employees than any other automotive company. These employees are placed in all hourly job classifications. During this period, the company also hires its first Asian-Indian employee, who went on to establish Ford of India, opening the door for many Asian-Indians in the Ford workplace.
- 1924: The company hires its first African American salaried employee and promotes the first African American to plant foreman.
- 1941: Ford negotiates its first collective bargaining agreement with the United Auto Workers. The agreement was particularly groundbreaking because it explicitly prohibited discrimination based on “race, color, national origin or creed,” a clause that has remained in every subsequent agreement.
Rose Will Monroe
- 1944: Rose Will Monroe, a rivet gun operator, was working at Ford Motor Company's Willow Run plant when actor Walter Pidgeon chose her to appear in a promotional film for war bonds. Rose became the live personification of the already created fictional "Rosie the Riveter," as depicted in the colorful "We Can Do It!" posters showing a determined woman factory worker. Read more about how women at Ford were integral to the war effort, including Rose Will Monroe.
- 1946: Gender is added to the UAW-Ford non-discrimination clause. The change was prompted by the entry of women in the Ford workforce during World War II.
1950s, 1960s, 1970s
The middle decades produced a number of firsts, including the first African American and the first woman executive. Under the direction of Henry Ford II, an outspoken advocate for minority rights, the company experienced progress in its diversity efforts throughout the mid-century.
- 1950: Ford hires its first African American senior manager.
- 1956: Ford publishes a manual for salaried employees called “Going Places with Ford.” It includes language that articulates non-discrimination policies.
- 1959: Ford receives the Booker T. Washington Trade Association Merit Award for “its pioneering in the inclusive use of human resources.”
- 1968: Henry Ford II issues a personal letter to company management stating, “equal opportunity is one of Ford Motor Company’s oldest, firmest, and most basic policies.”
- 1969: The company’s first plant “forewoman” is promoted to head the shock-absorber line at the Ypsilanti, Mich. plant.
- 1970: Approximately 20 African American dealers from Ford brands formed the National African-American Dealer Association. Later, several of these dealers were influential in establishing the National Association of Minority Dealers.
- 1970: Several women join the company in salaried positions. They ultimately are the first to move up the executive ranks, including the first woman to enter Ford’s Marketing and Sales Management Program.
1980s, 1990s and Today
Efforts throughout the latter part of the century expanded the definition of diversity and focused on respect and inclusion. The majority of Ford employees worldwide have participated in training that teaches and encourages sensitivity, respect and communication in the workplace.
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) were endorsed by the company in the early 1990s and began to receive financial support. The ERG network now includes thousands of employees in 11 active organizations throughout the world:
In early 2003, the company included an expanded definition of diversity to include not only race, ethnicity, age and gender but also many things that make people unique: backgrounds, opinions, experiences, perspectives and life situations. It also put an emphasis on fostering an inclusive culture that is free of barriers, and in which all employees are included, respected and appreciated.