Made in Dagenham in 2010

I saw and enjoyed the feel good film Made in Dagenham recently and came away wondering if things have really changed all that much since 1968 for women and those working in the UK motor industry.

Yes of course factory conditions are more female friendly nowadays but women still haven’t earned wage parity and seem just as stressed, overburdened and short of time in 2010 whilst we juggle work, career, family and personal lives.

I don’t know all there is to know about Ford, Dagenham and working practices in the UK motor industry in the 60s, nor do I know how much of the film’s commentary is authentic but I am assuming that the important bits are true. Important bits like Ford US sending their oxymoronic industry relations guru to the UK who threatened the then (female) Secretary of Trade that if she didn’t sort out the female strike at Dagenham, Ford would take its assembly plant elsewhere. What a bully.

But thanks to a combination of factors including the determination of real life battleaxe union leader Rose (a million miles removed from the film portrayal of the quietly spoken and pretty Rita apparently), PM Harold Wilson being out of communications range (no mobile phones or internet communications then remember) and HM Government’s representative being feisty Barbara Castle, the female workers got a settlement at 92% of the male wage. 100% would have been too much for men to stomach at this stage, apparently, but the action did herald the 1970 Equal Pay Act and all that promised for the future.

Yet 40 years on, in 2010 women working full time in Britain still earn on average 16.4 per cent less per hour than men. How can this be justified?

I listened to the real female strike leaders in a recent Woman’s Hour programme. They explained that it wasn’t equal pay they started fighting for; what they wanted was equal recognition for their machinist skills alongside the men. Of course they soon learned that the only way to measure this was financially, hence the massive significance of this battle for women worldwide in future. Just think of it – in 1968 they were earning less than half the wage of men whilst doing the same job for the Ford Motor Company.

I find it interesting that the UK motor industry is still such a male dominated environment where more than 80% of the workforce is male. Is this the case for machinists nowadays I wonder? Could it be that this widely publicised strike deterred women from joining the motor industry and encouraged testosterone fuelled male union leaders to recruit in their own male likeness – both things could have contributed to the male dominated and distinctly un-female friendly image of the industry today.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Ford Motor Co reacts to the film to remind women how it is a female friendly business today. Like most manufacturers they seem to feel the need to treat men and women customers the same in franchised dealerships which is missing the point – men and women are different, with different needs and expectations.

I think Ford UK would do well to look at ways to satisfy these different gender needs. Time saving services (their Direct internet offering with female friendly extras perhaps?), Female Business Ambassadors, moneysaving and preferential deals in female friendly garages and franchised dealerships – these will all attract the female purse if packaged correctly and ahead of other brands.

Needless to say (sales plug coming…) FOXY can help because it’s a female brand meaning shrewd, canny and astute; exactly what women need to be to get a fair deal in the male dominated motor industry today.

And ‘female friendly’ has to be the future for leading businesses in the motor industry because women influence c80% of car and garage sales, because the industry has such a poor image in female minds, because women trust women in such a male dominated world and because female job applicants (that the industry needs many more of) want to work for a female friendly employer knowing there are many of the rest out there…


FOXY Choice subscribers sign the female friendly FOXY Promise to ‘never overcharge, patronise or sell women services they don’t need or want’. They are then introduced to members of FOXY Lady Drivers Club in bi-monthly Member Newsletters. Women wanting to work in the UK motor industry would do well to choose a FOXY Choice subscriber as evidence of their female friendly employer credentials.