Disaggregated data key to ensuring representative workplaces, say experts, as PMO skirts Black staff statistic

Partial data on political staffer diversity, with a very low response rate:

A recent Hill Times survey seeking to understand the demographics of staff on Parliament Hill found that, among a small pool of respondent MP offices, 42 per cent of staff identified as a visible minority, while 5.3 per cent identified as Black, but a comparison to cabinet offices, including the Prime Minister’s Office, isn’t possible after a separate survey was circulated by the PMO that excluded a specific category on staffers who identified as Black.  

Instead, results from the PMO, which are said to include responses from a little more than 560 staffers across all cabinet offices and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.), offered an aggregated percentage of staff who identified as “racialized/visible minority/a person of colour.”

But truly addressing gaps in diversity and representation requires being willing to talk about the numbers and breaking them down, “particularly along racial lines,” said York University professor Lorne Foster, as barriers to inclusion—and their solutions—are unique to different groups.

“In education for instance … a large number of the visible minority category are doing quite well in school, but when you disaggregate the data you find that South Asians do well, but Blacks don’t do well,” said Prof. Foster, who is director of York’s Institute for Social Research. 

Moreover, ensuring a truly representative workforce means going beyond just “diversity by the numbers” to look at occupational mobility, who holds senior positions of power, how diversity is being harnessed and empowered, and how diverse perspectives are being integrated into organizational frameworks, he said.

“If you don’t have that disaggregated data, you really don’t know where the gaps are and you really cannot get to any problems or vulnerability, or even develop constructive workplace policies. You know, there’s an old saying, it’s been said a million times but it’s worth noting again: what gets measured gets done,” said Prof. Foster, noting “consistent” calls from the Black community, and others, for disaggregated data across various issues and sectors. “It’s the only way to comprehensively deal with problems that have been with us for centuries.”

“By staying away from those numbers, putting their head in a hole, then they’re actually preserving their own interests, but it really doesn’t do anything for an inclusive and empowering society and the representative society that we all want and we all talk about,” he said.

Recent widespread anti-Black racism and police brutality protests have put a spotlight on diversity and representation among Canada’s public institutions.

Last fall, The Hill Times collaborated with The Samara Centre for Democracy and researchers Jerome Black and Andrew Griffith to analyze more than 1,700 candidates running for the Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Greens, and the People’s Party in 2019. Compiled through candidate biographies, media articles, social media and the like, it found 16.5 per cent of candidates were from a visible minority group, with 2.8 per cent identified as Black, and 3.7 per cent as Indigenous.

Of the 338 MPs elected, roughly 15.1 per cent belong to a visible minority group—within that, five MPs, or 1.5 per cent, are Black—and almost three per cent (10 MPs) are Indigenous. Within Mr. Trudeau’s 36-member cabinet, seven ministers (19.4 per cent) are a visible minority, just one of whom is Black, and one is Indigenous. 

Mr. Griffith similarly spoke to the need for disaggregated data, noting that, through his research, when it comes to political representation, often “South Asians tend to be overrepresented in relation to their share of the population, whereas Blacks are underrepresented and Filipinos are underrepresented.”

While there may be seen to be “less everyday racism in the street” in Canada as compared to the U.S., the story is reversed when it comes to institutional racism and systemic discrimination, said Prof. Foster, with far more instances of Black people in positions of power, as elected officials and otherwise, south of the border.

“It’s really quite remarkable and distinctive in terms of its difference with the Canadian scene,” he said, noting that within Canada’s federal public service, the highest-level Black public servant is the assistant deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, Caroline Xavier, who was appointed in February and stands alone at her level. 

Just as important as elected officials are the staff who support them—the people at the table or behind the keyboard when laws are being drafted, debated, amended, and passed.

Low response rate, aggregated categories cloud survey findings 

To conduct its survey, The Hill Times reached out to a total of 386 offices on Parliament Hill, including all 338 MPs, all opposition leader offices, House leaders, Whips, research bureaus, 36 ministers’ offices, and the PMO. In reaching out, it was indicated responses would be reported on in aggregate with other like offices. 

The survey was voluntary, and based entirely on self-identification by staff. Offices were asked for a total count of full-time staff (both on the Hill and in riding offices), a gender breakdown (male, female, or non-binary), and how many staff identify as a visible minority, Black, or Indigenous. Offices were also asked about their hiring practices, namely: what they’ve done to ensure diversity in hiring and whether approaches were being reconsidered. For ministers’ offices and the PMO, an extra question was included regarding how many EX-level staff—a Treasury Board Secretariat designation that refers to the senior-most level of ministerial staff, like directors and chiefs of staff—identify as Black or Indigenous.

Questions were sent to offices by email on June 16 and 17, with a deadline of June 29 to respond.

It’s important to note that, along with being based on self-identification, the survey did not capture part-time staff, students, or interns—a decision contested by at least one office, noting an increased level of part-time staff due to efforts to provide flexible work arrangements. 

In the end, excluding cabinet and the PMO, The Hill Times received 38 responses from 36 MP offices, the Liberal research bureau, and the Liberal Whip’s office. Among MPs, 26 of the 36 respondents were Liberal, six were Conservative, three were NDP, and one Bloc Québécois, for a total response rate of about 10 per cent.

Based on Elections Canada’s riding assessments, of those MPs who responded, 27 represent urban ridings, five represent urban/rural ridings, and four represent rural/urban ridings. 

One MP office that responded declined to provide a gender breakdown, and another declined to provide a breakdown of Black or Indigenous staff. In turn, percentages for those categories were calculated using modified total staff counts. 

In all, these 38 offices reported a total of 212 full-time staff, of whom 119 identified as women (57.2 per cent), 88 as men (42.3 per cent), and one as non-binary (0.5 per cent), and 89 identified as a visible minority (42 per cent). Eleven staff identified as Black (5.3 per cent of the adjusted total), while five identified as Indigenous (2.4 per cent).

Graph created with Infogram

Reacting to The Hill Times’ findings from MPs, Mr. Griffith said he was “surprised” at the “very high percentage of visible minority staffers,” but stressed it’s hard to draw conclusions as the results don’t reflect “the total universe of MPs and their staff” due to the small sample size and self-identifying nature of the survey. Mr. Griffith also hypothesized that MPs from more diverse ridings—namely, urban ridings, which 75 per cent of MP respondents were—may be more likely to have diverse offices. 

The results are different when it comes to cabinet and the PMO.

Though The Hill Times reached out to these offices individually with a similar set of survey questions, only one minister’s office responded directly, and in doing so, declined to provide a specific breakdown of Black or Indigenous staff.

Instead, The Hill Times understands the PMO circulated a different, voluntary survey among ministers’ offices, with responses collected and aggregated by the PMO before being emailed on the evening of July 3. 

While these findings in ways present more data than was sought—providing insights into language, disability, and LGBTQ2 diversity among political staff—they also lack one of the two key aspects The Hill Timessought to understand, specifically: how many political staff identify as Black. Instead, numbers were provided for staff who identify as “racialized/visible minority/a person of colour” as one combined category. 

“As many of the offices you surveyed have a smaller number of staff, information shared detailing individual’s race and gender by each office could very much identify individual staff. So to ensure the privacy of individuals is maintained, we asked Minister’s Offices to share information in a manner that was both anonymous and voluntary,” said PMO press secretary Alex Wellstead in an email. 

“With that in mind, we sent a confidential survey to staff to help collect information on the diversity of our team.”

Graph created with Infogram

In all, the PMO reported a response rate of 82 per cent to its survey, with a little more than 560 respondents from all ministers’ offices, including the PMO. The Hill Times was only provided the aggregated, total percentages for each category.

Of the total, 24.7 per cent of staff identified as racialized/visible minority/a person of colour and 3.4 per cent identified as Indigenous; 51.2 per cent identified as male and 48 per cent as female; 2.3 per cent identified as a person with a disability; 15.8 per cent identified as LGBTQ2; 68.5 per cent identified English as their first language, while 23.8 per cent said it was French, and 6.2 per cent identified another language as their first.

Graph created with Infogram

Among senior staff in the PMO and ministers’ offices (directors, senior advisers, chiefs of staff) who responded, 19.1 per cent identified as racialized/visible minority/a person of colour and 1.9 per cent identified as Indigenous; 57.4 per cent identified as male and 42.6 per cent as female; 3.1 per cent identified as a person with a disability; 11.7 per cent identified as LGBTQ2; 71.6 per cent identified English as their first language, while 24.1 per cent said French, and 2.5 per cent identified another language. 

Graph created with Infogram

Picking out the PMO specifically, the office reports that 29.9 per cent of its staff self-identified as racialized/visible minority/a person of colour and 1.1 per cent as Indigenous; 52.9 per cent identified as male and 47.1 per cent as female; 3.4 per cent identified as a person with a disability; 12.6 per cent as LGBTQ2; and 69 per cent identified English as their first language, while 25.3 said French, and 4.6 said another language.

“As all our offices are always striving to provide a safe and healthy workplace, and one where employees feel valued and be treated with dignity and respect, this information will also help us continue our work toward a more diverse and inclusive workplace,” said Mr. Wellstead.

“We are committed to creating a workplace that truly reflects the full diversity of our great country and we will continue to recruit, retain, and train diverse staff from across Canada. The current conversations around systemic racism and discrimination in our society have made it even clearer that we need to continue this work,” said Mr. Wellstead. 

“We will be offering opportunities for staff to participate in future confidential and voluntary surveys to better understand our team later this summer. Topics on this survey will include greater granularity on demographics, mental health in the workplace, the impacts of COVID-19, systemic inequalities, education and training, and more,” he said, noting the upcoming survey would use Statistics Canada’s list of visible minority groups. That list includes “Black” as a distinct group.

The Hill Times reached out to Diversity, Inclusion, and Youth Minister Bardish Chagger’s (Waterloo, Ont.) to speak with the minister about diversity on Parliament Hill but was told she was not available by filing deadline.

Source: Disaggregated data key to ensuring representative workplaces, say experts, as PMO skirts Black staff statistic

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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