Public service needs better data to measure diversity, says task force

I have a mixed reaction to the task force report and its 44 recommendations.

On the one hand, I sympathize with the members in trying to provide practical and implementable recommendations on how to increase inclusion in the public service; on the other, I find so many of the recommendations either ignore or downplay the significant overall progress to date with the employment equity groups, advocate new structures rather than fixing the existing mechanisms, and proposes adding layers onto a public service already having difficulties managing existing obligations.

After all, historic and current numbers suggest self-identification and annual reporting have largely worked for the existing groups, particularly women and visible minorities.

The list itself reads more like a laundry list than a carefully thought out list of priorities.

Of the recommendations (and sub-recommendations), the following strike me as more important:

  1. preparing demographic and WFA (workforce availability) projections to reflect Canada’s diversity;
  2. collecting Census data on LGBTQ2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans(gender), queer, and two-spirit)+ people to determine;
  3. the proposed D&I (Diversity and inclusion) lens be developed further as the tool that the public service will adopt to (but the issue of possible duplication with  GBA+ needs to be addressed):a. support cultural transformation in the public service
    b. inform program design
    c. support policy development
    d. design and evaluate practices for people management
  4. the focus on unconscious or implicit bias in training, even if the pilot showed no evidence of bias in hiring, is nevertheless helpful across any number of areas;

The most questionable ones, IMO, are:

  1. reviewing the lexicon for identifying groups to modernize terminology for visible minorities and Indigenous peoples (allow public servants to spend endless amounts of time debating words rather than focussing on practical issues)
  2. developing a methodology to update employment equity WFA (workforce availability) estimates between censuses (too costly and not needed – we can live with the lag);
  3. including in WFA (workforce availability) estimates citizens and non-citizens who are living in Canada (hiring preference is granted to Canadian citizens and why should we set up a system that essentially suggests a greater representation problem than there is);
  4. Greater emphasis on departmental champions (how effective have existing champion networks been at effecting change, are we just adding another layer of talk shops?)


  1. establish a Commissioner for Employment Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, modelled after the Commissioner of Official Languages (more thought needed given the potential high cost – $20 million for OL – against other priorities as well as how it would interact with existing albeit imperfect reporting and mechanisms such as EE,  multiculturalism, disability)

Hill Times article below:

Planning the future of diversity in the public service is not possible with out-of-date data, leaving certain groups unintentionally sidelined, a joint task force studying equity initiatives found, after a months-long examination of inclusion and diversity in the public service.

In its final report released Dec. 11—Building a Diverse and Inclusive Public Service—the joint union-management task force on diversity and inclusion made 44 recommendations surrounding four themes: people management, leadership and accountability, education and awareness, and the consideration of diversity and inclusion.

The demographics of Canada’s population are drastically shifting, but the workforce availability (WFA) estimates, which compare the percentage of minorities in the Canadian population to their percentage in the public service, use data from the census, which is only completed every five years.

Waheed Khan, a member of the Professional Institute of the Public Service (PIPSC) and a co-chair of the task force’s technical committee, said because of the old data, diversity goals could often be drastically skewed.

“Right now, the [estimates say there is] about 12 or 14 per cent visible minorities [in Canada]… but if you look at the current data it is over 22 per cent,” he said, adding that this means deputy ministers may think they’re doing fine if their department is 13.5 per cent, for example.

Projections say the visible-minority population could reach 37 per cent in the future, he said, meaning suddenly 13.5 per cent doesn’t cut it.

The workforce availability estimates also don’t track LGBTQ Canadians or permanent residents working as bureaucrats.

Outside studies indicate that between five and 13 per cent of the population identifies as LGBTQ, but 54 per cent prefer not to disclose their sexual orientation in the workplace for fear of retribution or rejection from their colleagues.

Therefore, the report recommends having WFA estimates updated between the censuses, collect census data on LGBTQ people, track the WFA for non-citizen bureaucrats, and prepare demographic and WFA projections to reflect Canada’s diversity. Departments should then establish diversity goals based on that data.

The task force was created in November 2016 and included representatives from PIPSC, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the Professional Association of Foreign Service Officers (PAFSO), as well as Treasury Board, Health Canada, and Justice Canada, among others. It had a one-year mandate to study ways to “strengthen diversity and inclusion in the government,” according to the Treasury Board’s website.

Diversity and inclusion policies “enable the public service to leverage the range of perspectives of our country’s people to help address today’s complex challenges,” reads the report, and creativity, problem solving, and innovation are improved with varied perspectives.

Treasury Board is reviewing the report and determining how it wants to move forward with implementation. It did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.

Put people who understand diversity in top roles: report

Leadership and the way people are managed is the start of the shift, said Mr. Khan. The task force spoke to public servants through 20 focus group interviews, as well as an online survey that garnered over 12,000 responses. It also did research on provincial equity initiatives, as well as the Australian and British bureaucracies. There are about 262,000 public servants in Canada.

Establishing a Centre of Expertise on Diversity and Inclusion will help senior management implement policies to foster a healthier work environment, recommended the task force. It would determine better ways to communicate about equity issues; outline possible challenges or barriers; and work with other related groups to ensure consistency within the bureaucracy.

Mr. Khan said those who can manage diverse teams, such as those consisting of men and women, or different racial groups or cultures, encourages equity and so the bureaucracy needs to value that skill. This could be implemented by making it a job requirement, for example.

Equity groups—which include women, LGBTQ sexual orientations, Indigenous populations, those with disabilities, and visible minorities—are often expected to conform with the majority, he said, but good management can reduce the harassment and discrimination they face, allowing them to speak up more often.

“You should also have this intercultural effectiveness as a competency for people who want to move on to managerial positions,” he said, so that power dynamics begin to shift in an office.

Those who are included in the definition of equity groups often face more discrimination, he said.

Along with valuing the management of diverse teams as a skill set, the task force recommended hiring boards and other sources of authority be staffed with people from diverse backgrounds. As well, it recommends the creation of a Commissioner for Employment Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, modelled after the Commissioner of Official Languages. Accountability ensures action, Mr. Khan said.

Hiring practices were a big focus for the task force, said PSAC human rights officer Seema Lamba, who was also on the technical committee, as equity group members often feel they are included or excluded because of their status.

“Respondents don’t necessarily feel that the staffing process that they’ve experienced has been fair or transparent,” she said. “There needs to be more accountability around the staffing process, as well as oversight and monitoring.”

She added that since 2005, Treasury Board has increasingly delegated its authority in overseeing diversity programs, and what PSAC has seen is inconsistency across departments. One department may do a decent job around accommodation, said Ms. Lamba, but others might not.

Blind hiring practices—where any details about a person’s identity are removed—were recommended in the report. The Treasury Board Secretariat began testing name-blind recruitment between April and October in six federal departments, including National Defence and Global Affairs Canada, although 17 departments ended up participating. In a blog post Jan. 23, Treasury Board President Scott Brison (Kings-Hants, N.S.) said the experiment did not uncover bias, but the report notes that participants were aware they were participating in a name-blind recruitment project, which could have affected their assessment.

Diversity and inclusion lens, mandatory training recommended

When someone wants to develop an infrastructure project, such as a bridge, they have to do an environmental impact assessment, said Mr. Khan. It allows stakeholders to understand the effect of their actions and put mitigation strategies in place, if necessary.

A diversity and inclusion lens would do much the same thing for government policies, programs, and people management strategies. That way they can understand how these policies affect different groups.

The lens is an education tool, but the report also recommends mandatory diversity and inclusion training for all new employees and managers, and for equity conversations to be meaningful discussed in other training. Often it’s not that people are trying to be discriminatory toward equity groups, said Mr. Khan, it’s just that they haven’t been educated to understand other perspectives.

via Public service needs better data to measure diversity, says task force – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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