Ford Motor Co. is under siege on more legal fronts than the tire front. Several lawsuits charge that the company discriminates against white males in its promotion practices.
On one level, the claims are baseless. Ford has a long way to go to diversify its upper management ranks. But the complaints suggest Ford must re-evaluate how it reaches its goals.
Eight individual reverse discrimination cases and one class-action suit are pending. In one of them, John Kovacs, a 36-year-old human resources manager at Ford Motor Credit Co., is suing the finance arm and Ford CEO Jacques Nasser. Kovacs, who earns more than $100,000 a year, says Ford systematically excludes white males from promotion opportunities. He was suspended with pay after airing his complaints.
White males disadvantaged? Not quite. The company has 53 executives at the vice president level or above. Of them:
Eight are white females.
Two are black males.
Forty-three are other males - including 14 European natives and one each from Taiwan, India and Argentina.
With a record like that, it's hard to argue that blacks and women who reach Ford's highest ranks have it easy.
That said, the company can't dismiss Kovacs' suit or other lawsuits as frivolous. Ford must realize that the pursuit of management excellence and diversity isn't enough. The strategies to reach those goals must be excellent, too.
Under its controversial manager evaluation program, Ford is required to give a small percentage of its managers a 'C' rating in their annual review. Grading on a curve can leave good managers with bad marks. Mix that with a diversity initiative that could appear to have different standards, and you have a recipe for some ticked-off employees.
Ford must assess thoroughly how those programs are communicated and carried out. The company's goals are right and noble. But if they are executed poorly, they can end up doing more harm than good.
Fish or cut bait
The auto industry made hay during the six good years (no increases in corporate average fuel economy). Now, it appears that the six lean years are about to begin.
The winds have shifted in Washington, and some usually business-friendly Republicans are open to raising CAFE. And, in the words of a former chief lobbyist for a Big 3 maker, 'the case against it is not being made effectively.' If the industry plans to fight a higher average, especially a hike in the truck CAFE, it had better line up its troops. Congress is ready to act.