Signs of Change for Women in the Auto Industry

Tiffany Hsu of the New York Times writes that Debbie Manzano “holds the rare status of being a woman at the helm of a major U.S. production facility,” overseeing the manufacturing of Ford’s F-150 truck at a large plant in Dearborn, Michigan. A Ford employee for twenty-four years with broad education and experience, Manzano faces typical challenges. She reports the following:

  • People who have never had a female boss are skeptical of her abilities.
  • People who have always wanted a female boss have very high expectations.
  • Her desire to hire more women goes against Ford’s reputation as a hostile work environment for women, as described in a 2017 Times article.

Manzano acknowledges that sexual harassment has been pervasive in many Ford factories but she notes that she is now “in a position to do something different about it.”

Hsu writes that women are underrepresented in every level of manufacturing because of prejudice, pay inequities, and lack of supportive family-leave policies. This is an old story, so why does the representation of women in manufacturing matter at this time in history? In addition to the demand for more opportunities for women, the current tight labor market in combination with an aging factory workforce means many skilled jobs are vacant and in coming years millions may potentially go unfilled.

            Manzano acknowledges that the dearth of women in manufacturing, especially at the leadership level, means that women do not have enough “safe spaces.” She explains that while men can be excellent mentors, women, especially those working in male-dominated industries, need other women to go to with concerns, like harassment, that they may not feel comfortable bringing to a male boss. They also need to be able to share their successful experiences with other women in male-dominated industries as a form of support. To encourage women to hire on at Ford and stay, Manzano has:

  • Provided more networking opportunities for female workers.
  • Pushed managers to incorporate women into succession planning to prepare more female leaders.
  • Developed initiatives to encourage women and girls to get the skills and education for advanced operations and manufacturing positions becoming available.

Manzano agrees that Ford’s internal culture needs to continue to improve and that pressure from the #MeToo movement is helping.

The process of change may truly be underway.

Photo courtesy of Long Zheng (CC BY-SA 2.0)


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