The Ford Motor Co. and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced yesterday that the company has agreed to spend $23 million on training and back pay to settle a race and sex discrimination complaint against it.

The agreement, signed last week, is one of the largest monetary awards ever won by the EEOC, and settles a complaint that goes back seven years.

The agency's largest settlement, $52 million in back pay and other adjustments came in 1973 in an action against the American Telephone and Telegraph Co.

Ford, the nation's second largest automaker, denied race and sex discrimination charges in resolving the dispute. Instead, Ford's labor relations vice president, Peter J. Pestillo, said yesterday that the company accepted the settlement because it "provides an opportunity to eliminate longstanding areas of disagreement between Ford and government agencies charged with administering federal equal employment opportunity laws."

The settlement also "avoids the possibility of prolonged litigation," Pestillo said. He added that the "EEOC acted very professionally" in handling the case and that both the company and the federal agency now recognize that "each . . . is committed to equal employment opportunity."

These are the highlights of the Ford-EEOC agreement, implementation of which will begin no later than January 1982:

About $13 million of the settlement money will go to individuals claiming race or sex discrimination at the company. Of that amount, $8 million will go to about 5,000 women who had applied but were rejected for employment at Ford in the early 1970s.

Ford must hire the women who were rejected in the period cited in the settlement. In order to qualify for the settlement money, the women must reapply and remain on the Ford payroll for at least one year. (Company spokesmen say 80 percent of the women in the affected class are expected to reapply.)

About $3.5 million of the $13 million in individual award money will go to salaried minority and female employes -- mostly clerical workers -- who began working for the company before 1975. Approximately $1.5 million of the individual award sum will go to women in hourly jobs -- mostly lower skilled -- who were employed before 1972.

Ford will spend $10 million of the total settlement amount "for special training and affirmative action programs to help employes develop job skills and enhance their qualifications for promotional opportunities," according to a company statement on the agreement.

Nothing in the agreement will affect the "recall rights" of the 50,000 Ford employes currently on indefinite layoff and the 1,050 who have been laid off temporarily because of a downturn in the auto market, according to Pestillo.

"We can't do anything that will hurt the interests of those people . . . . They have the right to return" to their jobs if and when circumstances permit, Pestillo said of the laid-off workers.