‘It’s long overdue’: unions, FBEC weigh in on top leadership’s push for greater diversity, inclusion in federal public service

Some reactions (including mine):

Liberal MP Greg Fergus says he thinks the government’s launch of new priorities to increase diversity and inclusion within the federal bureaucracy ‘will make a better, stronger public service—one that reflects the richness of Canada’s diversity at all levels, and that will make more resilient policy choices and provide better options that will reach all Canadians.’

Union leaders and a Federal Black Employee Caucus representative say the steps are “long overdue,” following Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart’s recent “call to action” to senior bureaucrats to diversify the leadership ranks in the federal public service, and Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos’ recent announcement to increase diversity and inclusion within the larger bureaucracy and address glaring gaps in staffing of Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees. 

But both Mr. Shugart’s call to “encourage and support the voices that have been long marginalized in our organizations” as well as Mr. Duclos’ recognition that “too many public servants continue to face obstacles” and it’s “time to close the gaps and eliminate the barriers that remain,” preceded an internal audit conducted by the Public Service Commission showing three equity groups—Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities—aren’t proportionally represented in public service hiring processes.

On Jan. 26, Mr. Duclos and Liberal MP Greg Fergus (Hull-Aylmer, Que.), parliamentary secretary to the president of the Treasury Board, announced a number of key initiatives surrounding diversity and inclusion in the public service, including a focus on disaggregated data, increasing the diversity of the bureaucracy’s senior leadership, a review of the Employment Equity Act as well as possible amendments to the Public Service Employment Act.

“As I’ve said before, I’m committed to achieving this ambitious change, and I know that co-developing our policies and programs with our partners will lead to more innovation, more experimentation, and new way to address the challenges ahead,” said Mr. Duclos in a press release. “In time, we will build a public service that is the true reflection of our pluralism and diversity.”

In an interview with The Hill Times, Mr. Fergus said that the release of these new priorities “have been in the works for a while” and that it’s “great to see it come to fruition.”

“I think this will make a better, stronger public service—one that reflects the richness of Canada’s diversity at all levels, and that will make more resilient policy choices and provide better options that will reach all Canadians,” said the Liberal MP.

“I think the overall aim is bang on, and the way to do that of course is through disaggregated data—you can’t change what you don’t measure—and we want to make sure that you have the right people in place, there will be more mentorship and sponsorship of people with talent throughout the system and making sure that they’re able to accede to leadership roles, there will be a centre for diversity within the public service to continue working on that,” said Mr. Fergus.

“I think Canadians truly appreciate how much the machinery of government is important for collective action—for our health, for income support, for making sure that people are getting what they need,” said Mr. Fergus.

‘These issues aren’t anything new for us’ 

“I think it’s great, I think it’s long overdue,” said Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team when asked about the government’s Jan. 26 announcement.

“These issues aren’t anything new for us, working in this area for a couple of years,” said Ms. Ater. “But it’s a good first step—I think the action comes afterwards, but as an instructive or signaling piece from a central agency, I think it’s a good piece of work.”

Focusing on disaggregated data is a major priority for FBEC.

“What we’re seeing, particularly with these releases and announcements, is that the data reinforces what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from our members, and that’s why data has been so important to our work, particularly in this era of big data and how data is used to drive policy decisions,” she said. “It’s of the utmost importance, and we applaud the direction that the federal government is taking, that they’re taking this seriously, and also sharing the information.”

Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team. Ms. Ater said ‘data reinforces what we’ve been hearing anecdotally from our members, and that’s why data has been so important to our work.’ Photograph courtesy of Atong Ater

The annual Public Service Employee Survey was conducted from Nov. 30, 2020 through to Jan. 29, 2021, and measures employees’ opinions about engagements, leadership, workforce, workplace well-being, compensation, diversity and inclusion, as well as the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Results of the survey are expected later this year.

Clerk of the Privy Council issues ‘call to action’ 

Mr. Shugart, Canada’s top civil servant, issued a call to action on anti-racism, equity and inclusion in the federal public service on Jan. 22.

“The past several months have precipitated deep reflection on the unjust treatment of Black people, other racialized groups, and Indigenous peoples in our society,” wrote Mr. Shugart. “As public servants come forward and courageously share their lived experiences, the urgency of removing systemic racism from our institutions and from our culture becomes more evident.”

In his note, Mr. Shugart called on leaders within the public service to appoint Indigenous employees and Black and other racialized employees to and within the government’s executive group, sponsor high-potential employees within these groups to prepare them for leadership roles, support the participation of these employees in leadership development programs, and recruit highly-qualified candidates from across all regions in Canada.

“This call to action represents specific and meaningful actions. My expectation is that progress will be measured and lessons shared. While senior leaders are accountable, this set of actions demands our collective responsibility—at all levels—and a recognition that the existing equity work underway must continue,” wrote Mr. Shugart.

‘Much work remains to be done’ 

On Jan. 28, the Public Service Commission released an audit report that reviewed the representation of employment equity groups throughout five stages of the recruitment process: job application, automated screening, organizational screening, assessment, and appointment, and found that Black candidates experienced a greater drop in representation than members of other visible minority groups both at the organizational screening stage as well as at the assessment stage.

The report also found that the representation rate of persons with disabilities decreased at the assessment and appointment stages, that the representation rate of visible minority groups declined at the organizational screening and assessment stages, and that Indigenous candidates’ representation rate decreased at the assessment stage.

“While progress has been achieved in making the federal public service more representative, much work remains to be done. This audit is a call to action. All Canadians applying to public service jobs should have an equal opportunity to highlight their unique talents,” according to a joint statement from PSC president Patrick Borbey and commissioners Fiona Spencer and Daniel Tucker.

The events of the last two weeks follows the release late last year of a proposed class-action lawsuit by 12 former and current Black federal public servants alleging that Black employees have been systematically excluded from advancement and subjected to discrimination within the government for decades.

Staffing one of the most common issues raised by PSAC members, according to union president  

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) president Chris Aylward told The Hill Times that his union welcomes the review—and that staffing is one of the most common issues raised by PSAC’s members.

“An overhaul of the federal government staffing system is long overdue to address the systemic barriers that impact our members, especially our members from equity groups,” said Mr. Aylward.

“We hear countless stories from our members who experience racism, sexism, ableism and discrimination during the hiring process, and the recourse mechanisms that are in place are truly insufficient. They are without any enforcement, they are without any teeth.”

But Mr. Aylward said any legislative changes to the Employment Act can’t be made without meaningful consultation with PSAC and with other bargaining agents.

“A lot of it is stemming from several years ago when the Public Service Commission basically delegated the authority to individual departments and managers, and now it’s simply viewed that managers can hire whoever they want,” said Mr. Aylward. “So we think it’s the right step forward, it’s long overdue, these issues are long-standing within the public service.”

Mr. Aylward told The Hill Times that he and other bargaining agent representatives met with the Treasury Board and with the PSC on Jan. 28, where he said he hoped that this was the beginning of an inclusive, consultative, and collaborative approach to staffing issues.

Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) National Capital Region director Waheed Khan echoed Mr. Aylward’s comments.

“Things need to change, this is long, long overdue, and [the government needs] to take action,” said Mr. Khan. “This is not the first time we’re getting excited, I’m still very hopeful that this will lead to some real changes, but I always have to be cautious.”

Mr. Khan said he had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Shugart early in January ahead of his call to action.

“It seems that senior government leaders always want to put their own stamp on things, they want to start a new initiative, and they forget about anything else that has happened in the past,” said Mr. Khan. “Because in government, everything takes time, so by the time you gain momentum and start getting things done, you have new people who want to start new things, so I pointed out to Mr. Shugart: you need to own the work that has been done.”

‘They’ve already moved the bar a fair amount’

Andrew Griffith, a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and Environics Institute keeps a close eye on public service data, and said the ongoing commitments made by the Treasury Board in that area is “a really good thing.”

“I think quite frankly that they’ve already moved the bar a fair amount by actually reporting data broken down by each visible minority group,” said Mr. Griffith. “There’s obviously more that can be done there—it’s always a good idea to have better data—but sometimes you do get to the problem where you have too much data and you wonder whether we have the capacity to analyze it, but better to have too much than not enough.”

Mr. Griffith said he didn’t believe the government is just virtue-signalling on these renewed commitments to greater diversity and inclusion, and that the events of the last week have been consistent with the government’s overall commitment—however it’s implemented—to greater diversity and inclusion in all institutions.

Source: https://hilltimes.us10.list-manage.com/track/click?u=a90bfb63c26a30f02131a677b&id=59998b8fc3&e=685e94e554

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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