Friday, January 21, 2011

Women teach Ford a lesson on CSR

You have to watch these trailers. View them here. Please watch the trailers. They are from a BBC Films movie called Made in Dagenham, directed by Nigel Cole.  The movie, funny, sad and  well-written, carries a very very important message, telling the true story of 187 female machinists employed in the Ford car plant at Dagenham which also employed 55,000 men, who took unprecedented strike action in 1968. Ford Management at the time downgraded the machinist jobs to "unskilled" and reduced pay to the women by 15%. Little did the Ford management realise at the time, but this would spark outrage amongst the women who eventually brought the plant to a standstill as cars could not be made without the leather fittings made by the machinists, who demanded not only reclassification as semi-skilled workers, but also equal pay. Reaching the highest echelons of British politics and earning the intervention of the incredible and unbeatable  Barbara Castle, Secretary of State for Employment at the time, who resolved the women's issues and led through the Equal Pay Act of 1970 which became a template for similar legislation around Europe, the women of the Ford Plant at Dagenham changed history. 

Whilst the Ford management's approach at the time (we can't give them equal pay, they're women! ) seems totally pathetic and the women's claim for equal pay may seems obvious today, we still live in a world where women are not paid equally for equal work, and where women are not given equal opportunity to advance. However, this step by a group of fearless, principled women put equal pay squarely on the political and social agenda for the first time in the UK. Ford, who resisted with all their might, supported by corrupt union leadership, learnt the hard way that, sooner or later, management by values and social responsibility serves their business more effectively. This is what Ford say today about Equal Opportunity :

"Made in Dagenham" should be compulsory viewing for anyone in business. It shows us the value of CSR, introduces us to people willing to take a stand for principles and demonstrates the potential of anyone, anywhere to change the world. It's also a wonderful, entertaining movie (my 12 year old daughter also enjoyed it!)

I should also add that I was privileged to see Made in Dagenham at the invitation of another inspiring women who is always at the forefront of  advancing women's rights and the position of women in society, Sybil Goldfiner, founder and CEO of comme il faut fashion house, who held a private screening for all comme il faut employees.

Get the movie. Watch it. Share it. It's an important lesson for all of us.

elaine cohen, CSR consultant, Sustainabilty Reporter, HR Professional, Ice Cream Addict. Author of CSR for HR: A necessary partnership for advancing responsible business practices  Contact me via  on Twitter or via my business website  (BeyondBusiness, an inspired CSR consulting and Sustainability Reporting firm)

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