Senate survey offers better picture of diversity among Chamber staff

Good to see these data collection efforts and their sharing despite their limitations:

New numbers suggest the Senate’s hiring of women, Indigenous people, and visible minorities is on par with each group’s availability in the workforce, but behind on employing those with disabilities.

An estimated 2.6 per cent of Senate staff are people with disabilities, though they represent 4.4 per cent of the available workforce, according to new data collected from some Senate staff.

At the June 6 Senate Internal Economy, Budgets, and Administration meeting Diane McCullagh, the Senate’s chief human resources officer, reported on her office’s efforts to get better statistics through a voluntary survey of staff in both the administration and Senators’ offices. Because it’s an opt-in survey, the Senate doesn’t have diversity data on all its staff.

The latest push brought in 266 responses, Ms. McCullagh said, and pooled with past efforts, the Senate now has information for 596 people. That represents 81.5 per cent of the 731 employees at the time of the survey, conducted between March 29 and April 26.

Three per cent of Senate staff recorded identify as Indigenous, compared to an estimated 3.4 per cent workforce availability, Ms. McCullagh told Senators. Similarly, among visible minorities, the Senate is a few points off, hiring 12.45 per cent, compared to an estimated workforce availability of 13 per cent. Women represented 60 per cent of those surveyed, well above the 52.5 per cent workforce availability.

Where the Senate is falling behind, it isn’t far, said Ms. McCullagh, but the Senate has “work to do” to hire more people with disabilities.

Breakdown of diversity for staff in the House of Commons, Senate, and public service, according to 2018 data reported by each body. Graph created with Infogram

Ms. McCullagh acknowledged the limitations in the data, noting people are “still fearful” of singling themselves out. But the numbers can still help establish “benchmarks against which we can measure our progress going forward,” she said.

The search for better statistics emerged following a June 2018 report, Diversity in the Senate: From Aspiration to Action, from Internal Economy’s Subcommittee on Diversity.

The new data shows a shift from the 2016 numbers the committee studied, though that report only looked at the Senate’s employees, and didn’t include staff working in Senators’ offices. As of March 2016, among the 354 employees, women represented 59 per cent, visible minorities 15.3 per cent, people with disabilities 5.6 per cent, and Aboriginal people 3.4 per cent.

The new data puts the Senate behind the core public services in all areas, except hiring women, and ahead of the House of Commons only in its hiring of women and Indigenous people.

Of the 192,467 that made up the core public service as of March 31, 2018, women represented 54.8 per cent, according to the most recent report on employment equity. That’s slightly up from the estimated workforce availability of 52.5 per cent for the same year. Indigenous people represented 5.1 per cent of the public service (compared to 3.4 per cent workforce availability), people with disabilities accounted for 5.3 per cent (compared to 4.4 per cent), and visible minorities were 15.7 per cent (compared to 13 per cent workforce availability).

In the House of Commons, as of June 2018, 48 per cent of the House administration’s 2,479 employees were women, two per cent were Aboriginal persons, 13 per cent were visible minorities (up from 10 per cent the previous year), and three per cent were people with disabilities (down from two per cent in 2017).

Senators also asked Ms. McCullagh’s team to start tracking regional representation among staff, and while she didn’t have that data, she said the Senate has a wider reach than it has in the past.

Source: Senate survey offers better picture of diversity among Chamber staff

More women, fewer minorities receive appointments under Liberals’ ‘merit-based’ process, documents show

Interesting. When I requested the information earlier, PCO did not provide the breakdown between applications and appointments for GiCs (in contrast to judicial appointments – see Taking stock of Ottawa’s diversity promises):

The Liberal government’s overhaul of the patronage system has led to gender parity in government appointments, but new figures show few of those women are in leadership posts and visible minorities are being left out.

Documents from the Privy Council Office, obtained under the Access to Information Act, show that as of last year, 55.5 per cent of appointees to federal agencies, boards and organizations were women, slightly above their proportion in the Canadian population.

But the Liberals’ “merit-based” process for appointments has screened out 61.8 per cent of visible-minority candidates as insufficiently qualified, compared with 37.6 per cent of applicants who are not visible minorities.

Visible-minority applicants who made it past that cut and into job competitions were less likely to be recommended or appointed.

“This is one of the reasons why we need to know what constitutes merit,” said Kathy Brock, a politics professor at Queen’s University who has studied the changes in the appointments system.

“What are the criteria that are being used to screen people, and embedded in that criteria are there certain considerations that have a negative impact on those communities?”

Despite the changes, final say still sits with the responsible minister or the Prime Minister’s Office, meaning a partisan lens remains in place on appointments, Brock said.

Months after taking power in late 2015, the Liberals changed how the government makes hundreds of appointments each year to the boards of Crown corporations and tribunals that make decisions on benefit payments and immigration claims, for example. The majority are part-time. They don’t include senators, judges or officers of Parliament, such as the ethics commissioner, who are not chosen with the same process.

Before 2015, governments simply decided who would get what position, often giving posts to party loyalists. The Liberals promised to make appointments based on merit, where applications are open to anyone and selection committees recommend names based on precise criteria.

“The government is striving for gender parity, and seeks to ensure that Indigenous peoples and minority groups are properly represented in positions of leadership,” spokesperson Stéphane Shank said in an email, calling the number of visible minority applicants “encouraging.”

As of April 30, 2019, the Liberal government has concluded 1,100 appointments under the new process, he said, noting that 13 per cent of the appointees self-identified as visible minorities. Another nine per cent identified as Indigenous.

The percentage of visible minorities currently serving in the roles nearly doubled, from 4.4 per cent in November 2015 to eight per cent in May 2019.

About 4.5 per cent of appointees identified themselves as having disabilities, below the 15.5 per cent of people with disabilities in the Canadian population.

The government documents show that eight per cent of female appointees had been placed in leadership positions. But they don’t offer the same information for male appointees, so it’s not clear how the sexes compare.

The figures were smaller for visible minorities and Indigenous people: two from each group had been put in “leadership” positions. Like visible minorities and Indigenous people, only two people with disabilities have been appointed to leadership positions.

“It’s that whole analogy of a big ship that has a big wake and you have to give it some space to move. That’s what we’re seeing here with the appointments,” said Carole Therrien, who worked on such appointments in Jean Chretien’s Prime Minister’s Office.

Although upcoming openings are supposed to be flagged a year out, and recommended candidates vetted by the Privy Council Office within four weeks, the new system has often been criticized for leaving too many positions unfilled for too long.

The documents show that at the end of 2018, the selection processes for 181 positions had yet to start, including for some openings as distant as February 2020. The documents don’t identify those positions.

A similar number of appointments — 183 — were sitting with the Prime Minister’s Office or a minister’s office awaiting approval.

Source: More women, fewer minorities receive appointments under Liberals’ ‘merit-based’ process, documents showThe Record·2 days ago

The Hollywood Diversity Officer’s Dilemma: “Everybody’s in a Different Place”

Some change:

The industry has moved quickly to hire and elevate executives focused on diversifying teams and content — in a changing landscape, the complex role “is tiring, but it’s rewarding.”

When DreamWorks Animation executives wanted a fresh perspective on character designs for one of their TV shows recently, they sent the illustrations to Janine Jones-Clark, senior vp of parent Universal’s global talent development and inclusion department. “They were creating an African American character,” Jones-Clark recalls. “My suggestion had to do with authenticity in hairstyle and texture.”

Her note is one of the small ways in which Jones-Clark — and others in Hollywood with the word “diversity,” “inclusion” or “multicultural” in their job title — are increasingly making an impact on not only who their companies hire but also the content they create. Chief diversity officer (CDO) is a relatively new job title; 47 percent of companies in the S&P 500 index have a CDO or equivalent, and 63 percent of those have been appointed or promoted to the role in the past three years, according to a recent study by executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. It’s a job with growing prominence in a Hollywood rocked by such social movements as #MeToo and Time’s Up, not to mention evolving audience demographics, and it’s one that requires a unique kind of emotional ambidexterity. Publicly, CDOs cheer on their companies’ progress and tout their inclusion programs, while privately they must nudge the most powerful people inside their organizations toward uncomfortable conversations about workforce and creative decisions.

“In any organization, everybody is in a different place when it comes to inclusion, and you have to meet people where they are,” says Julie Ann Crommett, vp multicultural audience engagement at Disney. “You build trust with a leader or employee that you are a safe person to have a conversation with. Then you can get on the real-real and hear something that they might not express in a wider room. It’s tiring, but it’s rewarding.”

The role has evolved, says Tina Shah Paikeday, one of the Russell Reynolds study’s authors and leader of the firm’s global diversity and consulting services practice. “Historically there was a focus on compliance [with federal laws],” she explains. “But today the successful CDO is able to chip away at the problem, to use data to tell the narrative within an organization.”

CDOs rely on a bag of tricks to get their perspectives across. Tiffany Smith Anoa’i, executive vp entertainment diversity, inclusion and communications at CBS Entertainment, has given dozens of her colleagues copies of the book The Hidden Brain, a data-driven exploration of unconscious bias by Shankar Vedantam. Once a publicist at CBS, Smith Anoa’i pitched the idea of her current role to former CBS executive Nina Tassler with a PowerPoint presentation featuring data on who’s watching TV and who’s buying the products advertised. “At the end of my pitch, Nina said, ‘We would be crazy not to make his happen.’ ”

There are triumphs in the job — Crommett points to Disney’s hiring of more women directors and directors of color, Jones-Clark to Universal’s creation of a program for female composers, one of the moviemaking roles in which women are especially scarce. But there can be disappointments, particularly, CDOs say quietly, when virtually the only people of color in a company are those working in the diversity and inclusion departments.

Whitney Davis, who recently wrote for Variety about her decision to leave a diversity-focused role at CBS, says she grew tired of fighting what felt like a losing battle, particularly when inclusion initiatives discovered talent like Tiffany Haddish, KiKi Layne, Kate McKinnon and Hasan Minhaj, but the company ultimately did not hire them. “It became taxing,” Davis says. “I was working to try to introduce my colleagues to these creatives and they weren’t getting jobs at CBS. I started to question my taste. And then I’d see them go to other networks and be very successful.” Davis sees the value of CDOs’ efforts. At CBS, for example, two of last fall’s new scripted series, God Friended Me and Magnum P.I., feature people of color in the lead roles. “I can’t imagine how far back we’d be without inclusion and diversity departments,” she adds. “But just having people in these departments, that’s not cutting it. Not if your board isn’t inclusive. Not if the people in power aren’t inclusive. If that’s the case, what’s the point?”

Source: The Hollywood Diversity Officer’s Dilemma: “Everybody’s in a Different Place”

Diversity Heretics

The contrary view on diversity that focusses on the individual and discounts or ignores broader systemic factors at play, although there is merit to considering other aspects of diversity. Diversity of thought, of course, is the hardest one to measure and manage, including the question of limits:

If recent controversies over diversity hiring practices at Google and Microsoft are any guide, internal company message boards are the new culture war battleground.

This week, Quartz published a story about disagreements over diversity policies among Microsoft employees that were being aired on the company’s internal chatroom, Yammer. One of the posts criticized Microsoft’s diversity initiatives as “discriminatory hiring,” and suggested, “women are less suited for engineering roles.” “Many women simply aren’t cut out for the corporate rat race, so to speak, and that’s not because of ‘the patriarchy,’ it’s because men and women aren’t identical,” the employee wrote.

Source: Diversity Heretics

Tech is “flunking” the diversity test, says activist and venture capitalist Freada Kapor Klein

Good and interesting interview:

On the latest Recode Decode, Kapor Klein says we need to “take a deep hard look at the BS notion of meritocracy.”

In recent years, several venture capital firms in Silicon Valley have made public strides to become more diverse after decades of being predominantly led by white men. But Freada Kapor Klein, a venture capitalist who has advocated for diversity in tech since the 1980s, isn’t impressed by their progress.

“Writ large, flunk,” she said on the latest episode of Recode Decode. “Failing grade.”

Kapor Klein spoke with Recode’s Teddy Schleifer about why well-intentioned initiatives such as All Raise have not yet had an impact. If the tech industry is going to reflect the diversity of the whole country, she explained, hiring more white women isn’t good enough.

“If what we do is count the number of women partners, and if those women partners are white and Asian and went to the same schools and grew up in the same zip codes and now live in the same zip codes as their male partners, that doesn’t get me very far on diversity,” Kapor Klein said. “Every single day I am awestruck, I am inspired by the entrepreneurs that come to pitch us. And they are from every walk of life, from every background possible, every combination of family circumstances, of race, of religion, of age, of gender, of LGBTQ status, disability.”

Along with her husband, Mitch Kapor, Kapor Klein is the co-chair of the Oakland-based Kapor Center, which seeks to diversify tech through a combination of education, community organizing, and impact investing — in other words, only backing startups that “clos[e] gaps of access, of opportunity or outcome for low-income communities and/or communities of color.” Another prominent impact investor, Bill McGlashan, has been implicated in the college admissions scandal, which Kapor Klein cast as “outrageous and not at all surprising.”

“We have to once and for all take a deep hard look at the BS notion of meritocracy,” she said. “This society has moved farther and farther and farther away from being meritocratic for many decades. As one venture capitalist put it recently, that in the last 50 years, there’s been a bull market in inequality. I think we have to look at all of the forces including the ways in which tech has made things worse.”

One highlight:

Big question before we toss to a break, if you were God here and you were designing … I think part of the challenge is that we’re trying to change the venture capital system based on how it currently is, and there’s so many things you can do. If you were God and you were starting over and you were designing how venture capital and how companies were funded to make sure that underrepresented groups were represented, what would it look like?

Well, I think it would have many dimensions. It would have much more concern for, who’s sitting at the table? It would have much more concern for, what are the pathways in for entrepreneurs? There are many practices in VC that are inherently biased. So this notion of a “warm intro,” and we’ve seen many a famous VC make public statements about “if you can’t figure out how to get a warm intro to me …”

Screw you, right?

Yeah, “screw you. We don’t want to talk to you.” Well …

You can see that’s very obvious how that would limit the pool of people?

Completely. Your zip code isn’t close enough to mine. It’s completely biased, and it’s confusing accidents of birth with accomplishment.

You’d get rid of the warm intro.

Get rid of the warm intro. What’s really interesting is we’ve gotten rid of the warm intro. People can send us their pitches directly over the website. We have invested in companies whose pitch decks come in over the website and none of us know anybody who could’ve introduced them to us. And they are businesses that meet our investment criteria.

And our investment criteria are pretty rigorous. And we see, between what comes to us individually and what comes over the website, we see about 3,000 deals a year. It’s the criteria of investing that I would change, and the criteria for those investments, by definition, means you change who the entrepreneurs are and who the investors are.

Source: Tech is “flunking” the diversity test, says activist and venture capitalist Freada Kapor Klein

Fake feminist? Trudeau’s track record for appointing women looks real.

Same data as covered in my earlier Taking stock of Ottawa’s diversity promises, with only GiC data, including deputies and not other appointments, most notably judges:

Among the various ways Justin Trudeau is being slammed for his handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair, the charge that the Prime Minister has revealed himself during this controversy to be no real feminist is the hardest to pin down.

Did he fail to properly respect the independence of the attorney general, back last fall when Jody Wilson-Raybould had the job? On this core question, there are meetings and phone calls and text messages to argue about, rules and codes to interpret, in trying to arrive at an answer.

Did he botch efforts to contain the controversy after it exploded, and ultimately go too far in kicking Wilson-Raybould and her chief ally, Jane Philpott, out of the Liberal caucus? On these issues, political strategists, Parliament Hill veterans, and even pundits, have thoughts about crisis management to kick around.

Did he somehow let down the feminist side, though? This question naturally arises because the two former cabinet ministers testing Trudeau’s mettle both happen to be women. And, to quite a few commentators, that fact alone is telling enough. But it is hardly sufficient.

There’s no solid reason I’ve heard to presume that two male cabinet ministers would have fared differently had they dissented from Trudeau’s handling of a file that brings into play hard questions about the administration of justice, worrying possible economic outcomes, and, yes, potential ramifications in the coming fall election.

What’s needed to give the critiques of Trudeau’s feminist credentials heft are facts that don’t require guesses about the dynamics between men and women in Trudeau’s famously gender-balanced cabinet, or speculations about the PM’s own putative biases.

In other words, does any data show that he’s running the government in a way that’s better or worse for woman than what came before him? In fact, there are at least some numbers, and they tend to bolster his feminist credentials.

Maclean’s asked the Privy Council Office (PCO), the branch of the bureaucracy that supports the Prime Minister’s Office, for recent figures on what are called Governor in Council appointees. These are the fortunate individuals who get paid to work on federal commissions, boards, Crown corporations, agencies and tribunals.

As of the end of 2018, 49 per cent of these appointments had gone to women, according to the PCO data, up markedly from 35 per cent in 2015, the year the Trudeau Liberals beat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in an election. That 14-point rise in the share of these plum federal jobs going to women compares to just a four-point increase, from 31 per cent to 35 per cent, in the previous three-year period.

Those numbers represent—to home in on just one significant segment of them—a shift from women filing only about a third of the seats on Crown corporation boards when the Liberals took power to very nearly half now—up from 34 per cent at the end of 2015 to 48 per cent at the close of 2018. That’s up 14 points in three years of Trudeau rule, compared to six points over the previous three-year span.

Looking more broadly at women in the executive ranks of the federal public service—known to bureaucrats by their “EX 01” through “EX 05” designations—there’s been less dramatic change, but still an uptick. The number of women at that level stood at 2,567 last spring, up from 2,264 in the spring of 2015. That meant women accounted for 49 per cent of the government’s executive ranks, up from 46 per cent over that three-year period.

Arguably even more important, or at least more prestigious inside the government, is the cadre of deputy ministers—the top mandarins in federal departments. Overall the number of women filling these powerful posts climbed to 39 last year from 30 three years earlier. That translates into 46 per cent women at the deputy minister level last spring, compared to 41 per cent three years earlier.

Even taken together, of course, these numbers don’t mean Trudeau’s Liberals have excised sexism from the federal government. Still, weighed against mere impressions of what the SNC-Lavalin affair might signify about his feminist bona fides, knowing how many more women are working in key federal jobs these days has to count for something.

Source: Fake feminist? Trudeau’s track record for appointing women looks real.

Taking stock of Ottawa’s diversity promises

My latest in Policy Options:

Each of the mandate letters given to cabinet ministers by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the past three years has included the following commitment: “You are expected to do your part to fulfill our government’s commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership.”

With three years of appointments under the Trudeau government’s belt, it’s possible to conduct an analysis of its record with respect to judicial, Governor-in-Council, deputy minister, head of mission and Senate appointments, using available data and public records.

The government has largely delivered on its commitment, but with mixed results on its promise to be more transparent on appointments…

Full article: Taking stock of Ottawa’s diversity promises

Diversity of the Black population in Canada: An overview

A really good an in-depth of the diversity in the Canadian Black population. Look forward to the next in the series, contrasting socio-economic outcomes. Important work:

There were almost 1.2 million Black people living in Canada in 2016. The Black population is diverse and has a long and rich history in the country. More than 4 in 10 Black people were born in Canada.

Among the Black population born outside of Canada, the source countries of immigration have changed over time. More than half of this population who immigrated before 1981 were born in Jamaica and Haiti. Black newcomers now come from about 125 different countries, mainly from Africa.

The vast majority of the Black population live in large urban areas. In 2016, 94.3% of Black people lived in Canada’s census metropolitan areas, compared with 71.2% of the country’s total population. Toronto had the largest Black population in the country, with 442,015 people or 36.9% of Canada’s Black population. It was followed by Montréal, Ottawa–Gatineau, Edmonton and Calgary, each home to at least 50,000 Black people.

To illustrate the growth and the diversity of the Black population, a first infographic was released on February 6, 2019. A booklet is now available to provide more information about the richness of diversity among the Black population in Canada. A number of topics are covered in this booklet including population growth, age and sex structure, place of birth, generation status, immigration, ethnic and cultural origins, languages and a few geographical highlights.



This portrait of Canada’s Black population from the Centre for Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Statistics is based mainly on 2016 Census data. It provides a demographic overview of the Black population, as well as key statistics related to their ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity and a few geographical highlights. However, this portrait is not meant to be exhaustive.

Although it highlights the great diversity within the Black population, it does not present any result related to the several challenges and issues faced by many members of Black communities in Canada.

Challenges and issues such as those related to labour market integration, income inequalities, differential access to resources, health conditions, discrimination, school dropout, etc., may impact differently various groups within the Black population. Moreover, although the Black population generally has similar characteristics compared to the overall population, they often present different socio-economic outcomes. For example, the unemployment rate for the Black population is higher than for Canada’s total population.

Disaggregated 2016 Census data tables with selected demographic, cultural, labour market and income characteristics are available on Statistics Canada’s Census program website which can provide insights on similarities and differences within the Black population as well as between the Black population and other populations in Canada.

New analytical products will be released later which will describe in more detail the characteristics of Canada’s Black population, as well as their socio-economic outcomes.

Source: Diversity of the Black population in Canada: An overview 

Hollywood Diversity Report Finds Progress, But Much Left To Gain

While I always find these annual reports interesting and important, particularly enjoying sharing it this year from LA:

Gains have been made for women and people of color who work in movies and TV, but the numbers remain a long way from proportionately reflecting the U.S. population, according to a new study from UCLA.

The annual Hollywood Diversity Report looks at diversity both in front of and behind the camera. It also looks at box office and ratings.

The report states that evidence continues to suggest “America’s increasingly diverse audiences prefer diverse film and television content,” and that “diversity is essential for Hollywood’s bottom line.”

The report found that many top-rated, scripted broadcast TV shows have diverse casts. However, the report also notes that while people of color make up nearly 40 percent of the U.S. population, just a fraction of that number work as film writers (12.6 percent) or directors (7.8 percent).

The report also shows the number of female film directors nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017 — but only to about 12.6 percent of all directors.

Darnell Hunt is a professor of sociology and African-American studies at UCLA and co-authored the study. He notes how industry attitudes toward diversity have changed since his group’s first study, published in 2014.

“When we started to study diversity … it was kind of seen as a luxury, as something that you’d get around to but it’s not what’s driving day-to-day business practices,” Hunt says. “Over time, as it became clear that audiences were becoming more diverse and that they were demanding diverse content, diversity itself was seen as a business imperative. Like, ‘We have to figure out ways to create more diverse products because that’s what today’s increasingly diverse audiences are demanding.’ That’s a relatively new phenomenon that … most people would not have been talking about that, you know, five, 10 years ago. Today, everyone’s talking about it.”

[Multicultural Korea] Military changing to embrace diversity

Interesting (Canada still has challenges with respect to women and visible minority representation in the Canadian Forces):

In a country where the phrase “homogenous nation” was once chanted with pride not long ago, there was nothing strange about a provision within the military law that exempted men of mixed heritage from military service if they were “clearly biracial” in appearance, despite being South Korean nationals.

But the presence in Korea of more foreigners and more international couples is slowly leading the country to a change of attitude. Within the past decade, the military law was amended requiring all men of Korean nationality to serve in the military, regardless of race or ethnicity. (Naturalized South Koreans and North Korean defectors can also enlist, but they are not subject to conscription and can still opt out.) The fact that the number of soldiers had decreased due to low birth rates and the aging population also played a part.

The Ministry of National Defense has proposed measures to encourage the rigid military culture to adapt to the increasingly diverse population, but concerns remain over its capacity to do so.

All able-bodied men of Korean nationality between the ages of 18 and 38 are obligated to serve in the military for about two years. An amendment to the law in 2010 also imposed mandatory military service on Korean men from multicultural households.

When the amended act came into force in 2011, the military enlisted 100 multicultural soldiers in the first year, according to the Defense Ministry. While annual counts of soldiers from multicultural households are not available for privacy reasons, the Defense Ministry estimates that more than 8,500 will enlist annually from 2025 to 2031.

In a step toward embracing diversity within the military, one of the first moves the Defense Ministry took in 2011 was to replace the term “minjok,” or ethnic group, with “gungmin,” or citizen, in the oaths that soldiers take when they enlist or become commissioned officers.

In 2016 the ministry also introduced the Framework Act on Military Status and Service to protect the rights of individual soldiers and prevent discrimination among them. Article 37 of the act states that soldiers have to respect “multicultural values” and that the Defense Minister needs to educate soldiers so that they understand and respect multiculturalism.

The ministry said it is careful not to overemphasize differences between the multicultural soldiers and their peers.

“While life in the barracks is basically a corporate life, the commissioned officers and commanders in the military units will consider the different needs of the soldiers,” an official from the Defense Ministry said.

“We have not been informed of soldiers having difficulties with the diet, or religion.”

In a further step, the five-year immigration reform plan announced in 2018 included a proposal to review compulsory military service for naturalized Koreans.

While the discussion arose in the context of fairness, it also encompassed concerns about security, with some arguing that there would be “Chinese troops,” considering that many naturalized Koreans come from China.

While the inclusion of soldiers from diverse cultural backgrounds represents great progress, said Seol Dong-hoon, a sociology professor at Chonbuk National University, it may be premature to discuss conscription for naturalized Koreans.

“While soldiers from multicultural households are born as Koreans and are naturally imposed with the mandatory military service, the situation is different for naturalized Koreans. Besides, it may not be best to make their duty mandatory, because many of them become naturalized Koreans to pursue their professional careers here — like athletes.”

A year has passed since the proposal was announced, but not much has been discussed. The Defense Ministry said it is reviewing the matter and will comprehensively consider what is fair and what influence such a step might have on society.

More efforts are being made, but society’s fundamental perspective needs to change, Navy Lt. Rhee Keun said. Lt. Rhee, who gave up his US citizenship and came to Korea to enlist as a commissioned officer here, said he had endured numerous discriminatory remarks in his eight years of service.

“When I first joined the Navy here, I had regrets. The senior soldiers would often call me ‘Yankee’ and tell me to go back to my country,” he said. Rhee graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in the United States in 2007.

“They bully you when you come from another country. I did not speak Korean well, did not know much about the Korean culture and I was clumsy at first. So it was very stressful,” he said, adding that the closed military culture revolving around regionalism and school ties should be rejected.

A survey of 131 early-career commissioned officers, undertaken for a doctoral dissertation published last year, hinted that contradictory sentiments about soldiers with multicultural backgrounds have not disappeared.

When asked about the pros and cons of having soldiers from different cultural backgrounds, the officers said their presence could lead to more creative thinking and flexibility in the currently rigid, conservative military and could also reduce discrimination against multicultural families, according to “Officers’ Awareness of Multiculturalism in the Military and Implications for Policy Direction” by Youngsan University researcher Lee Yun-soo.

But they also projected doubts about whether soldiers from different backgrounds could have the same loyalty and devotion to the country, with some saying it would be hard to trust those soldiers in the event of war. Respondents raised concerns that there might be a greater risk of military secrets being leaked, or of Korea making “internal enemies.”

They also said cultural and language barriers could cause trouble inside the military.

“Korea is a country that has a relatively ‘high border’ inside the minds (of our people),” Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon said in announcing the five-year immigration reform plan in February 2018.

Still, Lt. Rhee said, it is important that that more people like him, people from different cultural backgrounds, join the military so that social attitudes can change.

“With more exposure, the sentiments will naturally change. I also believe it is important for everyone to contribute to the society they are in, in any way,” he said.

When it made headlines here that former lawmaker Jasmine Lee, a naturalized citizen from the Philippines, had sent her son to the military in 2016, Lee stressed that equal treatment of multicultural families was important to reduce discrimination.

“While the caring treatment (of multicultural children, by extending military exemptions) is appreciated, making such distinctions could also create a sense of alienation and trigger controversies,” Lee said in a media interview around that time.

For Jung Yeom, a naturalized Korean from China, it is important for her children to fulfill their social duty, even if it is worrying for her as a mother.

“I do worry, but I believe it is always difficult in the beginning, for everything. The country operates (its military system) as it should, and those who do not like it will have to leave,” Jung told The Korea Herald. Jung came to Korea in 1997 to marry her Korean husband and has two sons.

Source: [Multicultural Korea] Military changing to embrace diversity