Will Ford Lose Female Customers Because of Broad Sexual Harassment Story?

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Does Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) want to sell cars to women? Presumably yes, but a recent story in The New York Times may make that effort difficult with some female consumers. The massive piece of journalism accuses Ford of doing too little to stop decades of sexual harassment at two of its plants. The published analysis is unusually damning.

Some of the most scandalous accusations are that women were treated as “property or prey” by their bosses and coworkers. Problems like these that occurred two decades ago have changed little, the article shows. Ford says the problem is “episodic” and not “systemic.” The article clearly shows otherwise. It gives example after example of specific cases of severe abuse.

It is staggering that Ford management did not do enough over the years to solve the problems so that an article like the one in The New York Times could never have been published.

The article comes at a particularly vulnerable time for companies and nonprofits that face a torrent of sexual harassment claims. Many of these have created headlines across the country, and those headlines are likely to continue for the unforeseeable future. The backlash of reactions by women across the country has only just begun.

Ford, and other large consumer products companies, are vulnerable to very broad and public reactions to accusations that in many cases are clearly correct. A public airing of the situation is bound to cause a tremendous reaction, and it almost certainly will affect that company’s public image. Ford has to enter a period of damage control to combat the problem. And no amount of damage control can completely offset it. Ford faces some level of problems with female car buyers.

Google News showed a large number of articles that used The New York Times piece as their base. Ford stuck back with a statement that said:

We take those claims very seriously and investigate them thoroughly, We have a comprehensive approach to prevent and address sexual harassment and discrimination at our facilities.

The media was not sympathetic.

Ford has a serious sexual harassment problem, which is probably the most extensive one any company has faced so far. Management has not done enough to impress most observers that it has handled or can handle the issue. One has to wonder if Ford can do anything to prevent some level of backlash by female consumers.