‘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

Cole: What Canada’s public service employee survey is really telling us

The one time that I found the Survey particularly helpful was when I was managing the merger then CIC citizenship and multiculturalism divisions following the 2008 decision to move multiculturalism from Canadian Heritage (reversed in 2015 under the Liberals).

The survey indicated much higher satisfaction from the citizenship side than multiculturalism, a sober reminder of just how hard and how long it takes to integrate different diversions from different departmental cultures.

And of course, like all government surveys and publications, there is a certain amount of sugar coating (we rely on the OAG for more candour!) but the survey nevertheless serves a useful function in providing an opportunity for departments, down to the DG-level in my day, to get an absolute and relative sense of employee views:

Here’s my take on the 2019 Public Service Employee Survey, which was recently made public:

• The published results are unduly positive and actually misleading;

• Meaningful results are not published;

• There is no acknowledgement of good or bad results;

• No one seems to be accountable for the results; and

• No apparent effort is being made to improve on the results.

I have been involved in and reporting on the PSES since it was first implemented in 1999. Here’s the clear message coming out from employees in this survey: “We’re mostly not a happy bunch.”

Yes, the official results overall look fairly good. Look closer. Reports state that 62 per cent have confidence in their senior management. What is not stated is that only 29 per cent have a lot of such confidence. Isn’t this misleading? Results for many other questions are similarly skewed.

Here are some other meaningful responses to some specific questions:

• Only 24 per cent feel their agency does a great job supporting career development;

• Only 21 per cent seriously feel that any good idea they presented would be supported;

• Only 25 per cent think their workplace is very healthy;

• Only 15 per cent think that change is handled very well in their agency;

• Only 27 per cent feel the agency does a great job of explaining what it does; and

• 38 per cent gave their implicit opinion: They did not return the survey.

It’s fairly easy to score the results and rank the agencies on a “best agencies to work for” basis. That list effectively acknowledges the top federal agencies while establishing target benchmarks for the rest.

Agency heads do not appear accountable to achieve positive results nor to take any specific action responding to negative results. Based on my own experience and hearing from a few current employees, there’s a little buzz created with the survey but things rapidly return to the status quo. It’s like the French expression, “Plus ça change, plus c’est pareil.”

There is no evident major effort made to act on the PSES results by improving the workplace. Certainly nothing like that shows up on the Treasury Board website. There used to be a very telling question in the survey asking employees if they thought senior management was going to do much with the results. In 2014, the response to that question showed that just 17 per cent of employees were much convinced. That question has since been removed.

Here are a few suggestions to act positively in response to the survey:

• Give the straight goods when reporting the results. No sugar-coating;

• Officially publish a “best” list. Reward agency heads or not, according to their placement on the list. Heck, put their names on the list too:

• Ensure that agency heads demonstrate care and compassion for employees as a mandatory requirement to being hired;

• Celebrate the top-rated agencies on the list, such as Western Economic Diversification Canada, number one on my list. Tell their story. Reveal their secret to success.

• Publicly describe what the other agencies are doing to improve: what’s working, what isn’t.

• In future surveys, offer employees the chance to suggest ways to improve their workplace, their work or the whole public service. Review all suggestions, pick the best ones, implement them, reward the contributors.

• Add a bit to the survey so employees can confidentially answer a few key questions and get a sense of their health risks with pointers to improve their health. Such tools are already used and available in Canada.

These are just a few strategies that can fire up and empower the 300,000-some public service employees to better use their creativity, knowledge and experience to improve their workplace and, consequently, better serve all Canadians.

That’s what I want to see.

Jake Cole spent 34 years in Canada’s public service working in six different agencies. For his “best” list of all 66 major PS agencies, contact: colejster@gmail.com

Source: Cole: What Canada’s public service employee survey is really telling us

One in five Canadian public servants claims harassment on the job

Seems familiar and little change from when I was in government a number of years ago:

Survey results, at a glance:

Employee Engagement:

– 93% say they will put in the extra effort to get the job done

– 79% like their job, a decrease from 84% in 2008

– 74% of employees report a sense of satisfaction from their work


– 75% of employees feel their supervisor keeps them informed about issues affecting their work

– 47% of employees say essential information flows effectively from senior management to staff

Performance Management:

– 79% say their work is assessed against identified goals and objectives

– 72% say they get useful feedback about their job performance

Training and Development:

– 63% say they get the training they need to do their job

– 52% feel their organization does a good job of supporting career development


– 66% feel they have support to provide a high level of service

– 62% of employees believed that they have opportunities to provide input into decisions that affect their work, down from 68% in 2011

Work-life balance and workload:

– 78% say immediate supervisors supports the use of flexible work arrangements

–70% say they can complete their assigned workload during their regular working hours

–71% of employees say they have support for work-life balance

Respectful and ethical workplace:

– 94% say they have positive working relationships with colleagues

– 80% feel their colleagues behave in a respectful manner

– 79% feel that their organization respects them

–82% believe that employees in their organization carry out their duties in the public’s interest


– 19% say they were harassed in the past two years


– Eight per cent of employees said they faced discrimination in the past two years. (The most common types were: Sex at 24 per cent; age at 23 per cent; and race at 20 per cent.)

One in five public servants claims harassment on the job | Ottawa Citizen.