Ford Interfaith Network

This data was last updated on 5 May 2016.

Address: 1 American Rd, Dearborn, MI 48126, USA

Overview: “It’s the right thing to do, and it’s good for business,” said Jim Dosdall of Ford at the 2004 Parliament of World Religions.[1] The Ford Interfaith Network (FIN) is an interfaith employee organization supported by Ford Motor Company. Its mission is: “to assist the company in becoming a worldwide corporate leader in promoting religious tolerance, corporate integrity, and human dignity. We strive to act in accordance with our beliefs and out of love for human beings and all of creation, promoting understanding and respect for the various faiths. We help management to increase and maintain religious diversity, attract, develop, and retain talented employees of faith, and be more aware of religious consumers' and investors' needs.”[2]

Ford Motor Company employs over 350,000 people around the world, with over 100 plants in Thailand, Brazil, South Africa, Germany, across the US, and eighteen other countries. The Ford Interfaith Network began at Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, which also has one of the oldest and largest Arab populations in the United States. Ford’s competitive wages (instituted to allow employees to become consumers) and policy of non-discrimination (established in 1941) made Dearborn a good site for new Arab immigrants, Christian and Muslim alike. One of the first mosques in America was built in 1919 in Dearborn, and by the 1960s, 3/4 of the Arab population in Dearborn were employees of Ford.[3]

Supporting Employee Diversity: Ford sees employee diversity as a way to strengthen the company, either through improving the workplace or allowing a niche-marketing approach. In order to support this, employees suggested particular groups to the Diversity and Worklife Office, which then established Employee Resource Groups within Ford. These groups include the Ford Interfaith Network, the Ford African Ancestry Network (FAAN), Ford Professional Women’s Network (PWN), the Ford Parenting Network, and six others.[4] Employee Resource Groups “must support company goals and objectives; provide voluntary and open membership to all Ford employees; conduct all social events and membership meetings during non-working hours; comply with company policies and procedures; and request formal management approval from the local Human Resources function before using company property.”[5]

The company sponsors these groups by providing a small budget and access to company facilities such as meeting rooms and email networks. Membership is voluntary. Each group has an “executive champion”, an upper-management person such as a vice president, who acts as the group’s liaison to the higher management of the company[6] and who assists the group in drawing up guidelines and business-related objectives for the year.[7]

Bringing Employees' Religions Together: Informal religious groups such as evangelical Bible study meetings, Catholic prayer groups, and a Muslim resource group had all existed before the establishment of FIN in 2000, and had sought recognition as individual diversity groups. Ford instead established an interfaith network to connect these existing groups. Jim Dosdall states that the purpose of FIN is to create interactions between faith, rather than to champion any one particular group: “We are not interested in forming groups that are so heavily dominated by one faith that they end up being platforms for that faith alone and not stimulating dialogue.”[8] The individual groups then had to work out a set of guidelines and bylaws for the Interfaith Network that would allow for interfaith dialogue, strengthen the company, and support the individual informal groups.[9]

No less than eight faith traditions are represented on the board of FIN: four kinds of Christianity (Evangelical , Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Latter-Day Saint), Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Representatives from these groups (or "affiliates") vote on a board, which then approves joint activities and sets objectives for the year. Other faiths (or non-faiths such as atheism) are welcome to join the board as long as they have at least twenty members within the Ford community.[10] Many faiths have joined since FIN began, and the various faith statements recorded on their internal website includes faiths “from Asatru to Zoroastrianism.”[11]

FIN is a network that simultaneously is independent of the company and also sponsored by the company. The "affiliates" operate independently as informal groups, and may hold Bible study meetings, Diwali celebrations, or Buddhist meditation sessions. FIN acts to bring these groups together for larger initiatives. The board meets every few weeks to sponsor a particular event, coordinate volunteering, discuss any issues, and generally work to support and improve religious diversity at Ford.[12]

Promoting Dialogue, Improving the Workplace: Ford views diversity as a “competitive advantage in a global economy”, and the many religions represented in FIN are valued not only as part of the employee as a person, but also as ways to make Ford more successful at attracting and retaining talented employees.

FIN describes its objectives as the promotion of understanding of various faiths: not proselytization but dialogue. By inviting dialogue and tolerance, the workplace as a whole is made more appealing. To that end, they have organized a series of “Faith 101s”, or introductions to the various faiths. These are hour- or half-hour-long presentations which can be used in any location in the company. Special discussion forums have been organized as well, most notably a session on Muslim beliefs after September 11. FIN also participates in the National Day of Prayer, including all faiths on the board.

On the Ford email network, FIN is involved in several initiatives. Morning headlines for the company may include religious messages such as wishing all Jewish employees a happy Rosh Hashanah. Religious holidays are offered for Outlook calendars to allow managers to schedule according to employees’ needs. The email network of the company is available to announce speakers, and a smaller email list receives a monthly newsletter discussing religious topics.[13] An intranet website, accessible to Ford employees, is also maintained by FIN.[14]

FIN works to bring concerns of its member religions to Ford management, resulting in the establishment of meditation and prayer rooms, as well as washing facilities for Muslim ablutions in several of Ford’s company buildings in Dearborn.[15] The combination of corporate sponsorship and the 'executive champion' means that Ford can address these issues more quickly and effectively. In addition, FIN provides perspectives on issues of religious pluralism that can inform Ford's decisions. As an example, when Ford wanted to support relief efforts after the tsunami in December 2004, FIN was consulted about whether contributing to a particular charity with Christian roots would be seen as discriminatory or biased. Due to the many voices within FIN, it can offer multiple views of a situation and help inform the corporate leadership.[16]

Peace Be With You: An Interfaith Celebration with Corporate Funding: Recently, FIN produced a larger cross-community celebration with the intent of building both person to person and group interaction and understanding among different faiths. A planning group suggested a celebration of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday commemorating the willingness of the Prophet Abraham to sacrifice his son to Allah. The planners scheduled the celebration for January 28, 2005, in order to not conflict with local and family celebrations of Eid al-Adha. The theme for the event was set as “Peace Be With You,” a message that all faiths could address, and the event itself was to involve many different faiths.[17]

People outside the company and local resources were involved in the planning and were invited to create displays for the celebration. Imam Achmat Salie offered the prayer to open the event, accompanied by a PowerPoint slide show explaining the prayer. Various speakers presented, including a member of the civil government, a representative of the corporation, and faith representatives from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu traditions. Keynote Muslim speakers explained the origin and celebration of the festival of Eid. Forty different displays were present in the hall and included information on mosques, churches, Jewish organizations, Pagan traditions, Hindu groups, ethnic organizations, Muslim cultural traditions, social services, interfaith groups, and entertainment for children.[18]

FIN’s corporate support provided several advantages in the planning process. The corporate backing of Ford allowed the celebration to be free of charge for attendance or exhibitors. At the initial planning stages, FIN participants were encouraged to network outside of their primary organization, sometimes by contacting religious groups that were not usually involved in interfaith work. The planning meetings were opened by a different invocation each week, and the planners sent a letter inviting many organizations to have displays for the exhibit floor. FIN hopes that this event and others like it will become the seeds for future interaction and understanding.[19]

Plans for the Future: FIN hopes to hold a similar large-scale event in the spring of 2006. Its current concerns are questions about increasing participation among blue-collar workers who have less flexible schedules, and offering assistance to other companies seeking to create similar programs.[20] New chapters of FIN are also starting. The guidelines created in the formation of the Ford Interfaith Network in its first chapter in Dearborn also serve as the guidelines for other chapters. Currently, one exists in California, and one is underway in Kentucky. These chapters face a challenge of remaining true to the interfaith nature of their guidelines and the goal of including a variety of faiths in their work.[21]

Diversity, Struggle, and Success: This variety of faiths, according to Ms. Alison Trawick of the Diversity and Worklife Office, was both the source of the greatest obstacle in the formation of FIN and the greatest success. By sponsoring an interfaith network rather than different religious groups, Ford required people from many different faiths to work together despite their conflicts. Forming the structure and the guidelines was a definite challenge, which took some time to overcome, as people considered how to work with their own faith and yet support others. From that challenge, however, has come an understanding that goes beyond tolerance and acceptance to active support and great potential for positive change.[22]

  [1] “Ford Interfaith Network”. Presentation by James Dosdall and Imam Achmat Salie at the 2004 Parliament of World Religions. Audio recording.↩︎ [2] “On the Team: Valuing Diversity.” Ford Motor Company, 2003. Retrieved October 11, 2005. [Editor's note 2016: 2003 website no longer available. See "Employee Resource Groups," for mission statement.]↩︎ [3] “Ford Interfaith Network.”↩︎ [4] “On the Team: Valuing Diversity.” Updated: Ford Employee Resource Groups. ↩︎ [5] “Employee Resource Groups are Finding Support in ECD.” February 19, 2001. Ford Communications Network. [Editor's note 2016: Retrieved October 11, 2005 from Website no longer available] .↩︎ [6] “Ford Interfaith Network.”↩︎ [7] Telephone interview with Ms. Alison Trawick of the Diversity and Worklife Office, 11/10/05.↩︎ [8] “Ford Interfaith Network.”↩︎ [9] Telephone interview with Ms. Alison Trawick.↩︎ [10] Ibid.↩︎ [11] “Ford Interfaith Network.”↩︎ [12] Telephone interview with Ms. Alison Trawick.↩︎ [13] “Ford Interfaith Network.”↩︎ [14] Telephone interview with Ms. Alison Trawick.↩︎ [15] “Ford Interfaith Network.”↩︎ [16] Telephone interview with Ms. Alison Trawick.↩︎ [17] “Ford Interfaith Network.”↩︎ [18] Ibid.↩︎ [19] Ibid.↩︎ [20] Ibid.↩︎ [21] Telephone interview with Ms. Alison Trawick.↩︎ [22] Ibid.↩︎

Related Articles

“Faith at work poses unusual challenges: Progressive policies help Ford accommodate workers.” Anne Thompson reporting for NBC News, March 23, 2005. Retrieved October 11, 2005.

“Faith at Work: Redrawing the line between religion and business”  Theodore Kinni, Across the Board [The Conference Board Magazine], September 2005 issue. Retrieved October 11, 2005. [Editor's note 2016: Across the Board resources are no longer available online.]