‘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

‘It’s a lot of lip service’: Black federal public servants hope ‘Floyd effect’ will finally drive change as anti-racism movement grips Canada

Didn’t know that the Public Service Employee Survey allowed this desegregation (not on public site so assume was special request).


Black public servants, already more likely to report being victims of racial discrimination than the rest of the federal bureaucracy, are hoping the “Floyd effect” will help drive the changes for which they’ve spent years trying to gain traction.

“In some ways, this has had a positive effect in the amount of interest that it has generated and, you know, white people being woke for a moment in time about the realities of being Black in Canada and the rest of North America,” said Richard Sharpe, founder of the Federal Black Employee Caucus (FBEC).

Mr. Sharpe and FBEC have been inundated in the last couple of weeks with calls to speak to and help departments generate ideas to address anti-Black racism in their various organizations.

The documented killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., by a police officer has affected white people and moved them to action to a scale Mr. Sharpe said he’s never seen in his lifetime. “We really feel a shift and we’re hoping to take advantage of that to make some progress on this work, maybe faster progress now that there’s some doors that have been opened for us,” he said.

Established in late 2017, FBEC’s primary objectives since its inception have been to get disaggregated employment equity data collected so that employees, employers, and policy-makers can all understand the landscape for Black federal bureaucrats, and to provide an element of support and unity for Black employees who are facing harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

It’s an issue Black public servants have long been raising, but now they’re starting to get some data to back it up. Last year, the annual Public Service Employee Survey for the first time allowed respondents to self-identify as a specific visible minority group, instead of all being lumped in to one category.

In a February interview with The Hill Times, Mr. Sharpe said FBEC had a role to play in making that happen. In the lead-up to the 2019 survey, the group met with 25 to 30 deputy ministers across the public service, he said, as well as the Public Service Management Advisory Committee.

Fifteen per cent of Black employees indicated they had been a victim of discrimination on the job in the past 12 months, compared to 11 per cent of non-Black visible minorities, and only eight per cent of the public service, overall.

Of those who said they had experienced discrimination, 75 per cent of Black employees said it was racial, compared to 52 per cent for non-Black visible minorities, and 26 per cent for the public service overall. A little more than half of the Black respondents who said they faced discrimination (54 per cent) said it was due to colour (30 per cent for non-Black visible minorities, 16 per cent overall). Black public servants who said they experienced discrimination were less likely than non-Black visible minorities to indicate it was discrimination based on national or ethnic origin—34 per cent of Black employees compared to 43 per cent for non-Black visible minorities.

For FBEC, the results were not surprising. Mr. Sharpe pointed to the fact that there are more than 13,000 people who Statistics Canada had said identified as Black who were working with or for the public service (including contractors). A little more than 6,200 of the 182,306 PSES respondents in 86 departments self-identified as Black in the survey, which was conducted between July 22 and Sept. 6, 2019.

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos (Québec, Que.) said the statistics are “proof that more information is not only needed, but is useful.” Speaking to The Hill Times after addressing FBEC’s Feb. 24 annual general meeting, Mr. Duclos said it’s “good news” that employees are now able to self-identify in the survey. “We can therefore work better and more effectively to address the challenges that are revealed by the study.”

Mr. Duclos said the numbers themselves, however, are “absolutely unacceptable,” and that the underlying conditions will be better understood with the data.

“And not only will we understand those conditions better, but we will also have the obvious responsibility to address those challenges, to make sure that things are changing,” he said. “Things have improved over the last years, but there is a lot more work to do and we’re totally committed to do it.”

In his remarks, Mr. Duclos—who hired the Trudeau government’s first Black chief of staff, Marjorie Michel—spoke of the federal government’s “broad policy and legislative framework” to support diversity and inclusion in the public service. Asked if, based on the baseline numbers of discrimination in the public service, there needs to be not a broad policy, but a very specific one for Black employees, Mr. Duclos said that in his current and previous portfolio (he was the families, children, and social development minister in the 42nd  Parliament) he frequently observed that diversity was not only a matter of justice and equity, but also one of efficiency, and led to better decision-making and better implementation those decisions.

“And the fact that Black employees tell us they are unable to be at their full potential is something of great concern to us,” he said. “I will certainly address those concerns and make sure that every federal employee, including Black employees, has the ability to make the fullest impact on our society.”

Black public servants ‘disappointed’ in lack of message from PCO

In the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death and the protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality that have exploded around the world, Mr. Sharpe said there was some disappointment that there hadn’t been any outreach or direct message of support for Black public servants from the top voices—including Privy Council Office Clerk Ian Shugart—despite an ask from FBEC.

FBEC held a general call with about 200 Black employees across the country on June 5. “A large majority of people—because we just let people talk about how they were feeling—felt quite hurt and disappointed that there was no message coming out on the part of the public service in support of them,” Mr. Sharpe said.

Mr. Sharpe said some departments and deputy ministers have taken the initiative and sent out messages, including Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, whose associate deputy minister, Caroline Xavier, became the first Black woman to work at that level of the public service in February.

Mr. Duclos’ office did not respond directly to a question about whether the minister has reached out to Black public servants specifically in the weeks since Mr. Floyd’s death.

Another key member of the deputy minister community, Public Services and Procurement Canada’s Bill Matthews, also communicated his support to Black bureaucrats, Mr. Sharpe said.

Earlier this year, Mr. Matthews was named the Deputy Minister Ally for the UN Decade for People of African Descent within the public service. FBEC approached him for the role, which Mr. Sharpe said is necessary for the work they’re doing to be sustained at the executive level.

“I’ve been in government long enough to know that when the moment is done, and you don’t have presence around senior management tables on a regular basis, then you’re easily forgotten, and there’s another priority or another crisis that comes in and takes your place,” said Mr. Sharpe.

Though Mr. Matthews is “a white dude that doesn’t really have an equity background,” he has been supporting FBEC in a “full-throated way,” said Mr. Sharpe, and as a former comptroller general, he brings a high level of pragmatism to his engagements with the group and its quest for data.

“We’re a government that prides itself on informed decision making, but we have no data on a people that are sort of crying out for supports and addressing issues,” Mr. Sharpe said. “So, he found that to be something that needed to be addressed.”

And despite Mr. Matthews’ full plate as the coronavirus pandemic hit and the scramble to procure millions of pieces of personal protective equipment began, Mr. Sharpe said he has still been “remarkably available” for the short conversations with the group.

The need for better data prompted FBEC to also seek out its own. It launched a survey in May to dig into Black employees’ experiences with discrimination, harassment, and career progression. The 41-question study closes June 30, and is being completed in collaboration with independent researcher Gerard Etienne. Mr. Sharpe said more than 1,000 responses have already been collected, surpassing their expectations.

In a June 11 follow-up response to questions, Mr. Duclos’ office reiterated his commitment to better data collection and analysis. The Treasury Board Secretariat and Mr. Duclos “work with partners such as the Association of Professional Executives to lead shifts in mindsets and behaviours as the public service embraces diversity and inclusion,” his office said.

Earlier this year, FBEC was among a community working with the Canadian Human Rights Commission about its high dismissal rate for race-based complaints. “We’ve since been following up with Canadian Human Rights Commission, directly with the chief commissioner and her people, around ways in which we can use disaggregated race-based data and other processes to address the fact that the system’s not working for Black and racialized people,” Mr. Sharpe said.

FBEC has also been working with the Canada School of Public Service, following up after Mr. Sharpe publicly made comments in February noting that the school has a mandate to educate, but produces white managers and staff who perpetuate anti-Black racism.

They are now developing programming that includes the Black experience, the same way that programming already includes lived experience of other equity-seeking groups—as well as having discussions with executive trainers about including education about anti-Black racism.

“That’s the institutional stuff we’re talking about that departments can do and put in place that would help, we think, over the long term that would make us … more visible and put us in a position where we’re actually a legitimate part of the public service,” Mr. Sharpe said.

Source: ‘It’s a lot of lip service’: Black federal public servants hope ‘Floyd effect’ will finally drive change as anti-racism movement grips Canada