Ford fails to find equality of the sexes

An internal study of female employment at the car maker Ford shows that women are concentrated in low-paid jobs, despite more than 25 years of equal opportunity policies.

Representation among some manual trades is virtually non-existent, with no women working on the shop floor of the company's two biggest plants in south Wales, which employ more than 2,700 men. Where women do reach significant numbers they are confined to unskilled and semi-skilled manual jobs or low-grade administrative and clerical work. Of the 500 most senior managers, just five are women.

The position at Ford, one of the more active manufacturing companies in equal opportunities, is likely to be reflected across British industry.

Ford is one of the country's largest manufacturers, with a workforce of 38,000, of whom 2,000 are women, representing 5.4 per cent.

The Equal Opportunities Commission said about a third of working women were classified as manual workers and suffered from 'institutionalised attitudes'. A spokeswoman said: 'There are a lot of people who still think there are 'men's' and 'women's' jobs.'

Maureen Rooney, national women's officer for the AEEU engineering union and a former machine operator, praised Ford for taking the initiative in some places, such as the Southampton van plant, where the first women workers have been appointed. 'You have to look at the areas where the plants are located and at what type of industry is around,' she said.

Ethnic minorities are similarly under-represented in senior jobs. They make up 2.1 per cent of the total white-collar population, but 18 per cent of hourly paid grades.

The only factory with a large proportion of women manual workers, in Enfield, north London, makes electrical components - traditional 'women's work'.

Ford's engine-building plant at Bridgend in South Wales and the axle, brake and crankshaft manufacturing factory at Swansea did not employ a single woman in 1991. The plants recruited 100 staff, all men.

Women made up 4 per cent of workers at Dagenham's assembly plant, Ford's biggest factory, but only 1.1 per cent at Halewood on Merseyside.

The highest proportion of ethnic minority workers was at Dagenham, where they made up more than 45.5 per cent of the 6,861 hourly paid employees.

There is little promotion to management from the shop floor or basic administrative grades. One of the main barriers is Ford's graduate level educational requirement for progression to more senior jobs.

'The absence of significant numbers of women and ethnic minority personnel at the management feeder level suggests that redressing the balance will be slow,' the report, by the company's equal opportunities department, says.