Annual employment equity reports for the public service show ongoing progress overall in the representation of women, visible minorities and Indigenous people, but lack detailed data regarding those classified as executives: from EX-1s, who hold the title of director, through EX-5s, who are assistant deputy ministers. Data recently released by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and the Privy Council Office on the 5,302 executives (out of 182,000 public servants, or 2.9 percent) and 70 deputy ministers (DMs) in the public service as of March 2016 show the same trend.

The data that go back farthest are for women (including visible minority and Indigenous women). Figure 1 contrasts the overall percentage of women in the public service with the percentages who are executives and deputies. The overall proportion of women has increased by 18 percent (1993-2016, from a relatively large base), the proportion of women who are executives by 27 percent (2005-16) and the proportion who are deputies by 55 percent (2002-16). The Global Government Forum’s Women Leaders Index 2016-17 confirms Canada’s leadership in the representation of women in executive positions.

Figure 2 highlights the dramatic rise in visible minority and Indigenous public servants, both overall and in executive categories. The overall proportion of visible minority employees increased by 279 percent (1993-2016, from a small base of 8,500), with representation among executives increasing by 84 percent (2005-16). The overall proportion of Indigenous people in the public service increased by 157 percent, with representation among executives increasing by 23 percent.

During the period shown in figure 2, data for visible minority or Indigenous deputy ministers were not reported because there were fewer than five of each. Whenever a total is small, giving details about the group might make the individuals identifiable, raising privacy concerns.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3 provides a breakdown by EX level for public service executives. For women, the “normal” trend of greater representation at more junior levels applies. In March 2016, women were 40 percent of the total of 70 deputies, a level comparable to their representation among assistant deputy ministers (EX-4 and EX-5). The most recent data (June 2017) show an increase to 45 percent (of 80 deputies).

For visible minorities, apart from a higher proportion at the EX-1 level, representation across executive categories is essentially the same. For Indigenous people, EX-1 and EX-2 numbers are largely comparable, and the proportion among EX-3s is lower. Numbers of EX-4 and EX-5 Indigenous public servants are not reported.

Figure 3

Figure 4 compares representation of women, visible minorities and Indigenous people at the executive level in 2016 with several other indicators. Executive workforce availability (WFA), based on the 2011 National Household Survey, is a measure of the proportion of Canadians in designated groups who are active in the workforce and who work in occupations corresponding to those at the executive level of the public service. Figure 4 also shows hirings outside the public service, promotions within the public service and separations from the public service. Overall, there are relatively few hirings each year at the EX level; there were only 68 in 2015-16.

In general, EX workforce availability and representation are similar, but the proportion of women executives being hired is lower than their current level of representation. No visible minorities or Indigenous people were hired as executives during 2015-16. Women executives are being promoted at a rate greater than their level of representation, visible minorities and Indigenous people at a rate lower than their current representation. The rate of separations is lower than current representation for all groups but disproportionately lower for visible minorities and Indigenous people.

Figure 4

Figure 5 examines the age profile of executives, compared with all public servants, including the figures for men for comparison purposes. Age categories have been simplified to cover the major cohorts and to ensure comparability between executives and all employees.

The employment equity (EE) groups in figure 5 can be combined to yield an even simpler measure: those over 50 versus those under 50. (Among executives, the age differences are more prominent: only about 8 percent of executives are under 40.)

Across the public service, 65 percent of women are under 50, compared with 60.8 percent of men. Visible minorities are significantly younger: almost three-quarters (72.1 percent) are under 50. Among Indigenous public servants, 64.2 percent are under 50.

Women executives are almost evenly split between under and over 50; a slight majority of men executives are over 50 (53.4 percent). As they are in the service as a whole, visible minorities are the youngest group among executives, with 57.5 percent under 50. Indigenous executives are the next youngest, at 54.4 percent under 50.

Figure 5

Table 1 shows diversity among the executives of the largest 30 core public administration organizations (by number of executives); they are ranked by number of executives and by representation of each of the three employment equity groups. All organizations with more than 100 executives are able to report on the number of visible minority executives. However, the following similarly sized organizations are not able to report on Indigenous executives because of the small numbers, leading to the privacy concerns noted above: Transport Canada, Treasury Board Secretariat, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, National Defence, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Finance Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Canadian Heritage and Shared Services Canada.

This table highlights those departments that deviate by 20 percent or more from the overall diversity numbers for executives in the federal government: green for greater diversity, red for less. Economic and security departments tend to have lower representation of women executives; there is no clear overall trend for visible minority and Indigenous representation by department.

Table 2 compares the representation of the three groups among executives with the representation of the three groups among all employees, for the 30 largest organizations; the difference in representation for each department is shown in the third column, with the figures across all departments shown in the bottom row. Departments with representation among executives that is greater than twice the difference across all departments are highlighted in green; those that have representation among executives that is lower than twice the difference across all departments are highlighted in red. There do not appear to be overall patterns among economic, social and security departments.

The general patterns that emerge include the following:

  • Women: As one would expect from the overall numbers, most departments have a lower proportion of women among their executives than among their workforces overall. Shared Services Canada stands out for the number of women executives, compared with an overwhelming male workforce. A surprisingly large number of departments have comparative underrepresentation of women executives compared with their total workforces.
  • Visible minorities: Among the 24 departments for which comparisons can be made, only one organization, Shared Services Canada, has comparative overrepresentation of visible minority employees among its executives compared with overall employees. In general, those departments with the greatest number of visible minority employees have the greatest gap between representation among all employees and representation among executives.
  • Indigenous people: Among the 10 departments for which comparisons can be made, only Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada has significant underrepresentation of Indigenous people among its executives compared with representation among its overall employees. However, it is also the department with the greatest proportion of Indigenous employees.

Overall, public service diversity has increased substantially and consistently since the passage of employment equity legislation and related reporting requirements for all employees and executives. The dramatic rise in visible minority representation is particularly significant.

The one discordant note is the relative dip in women deputy ministers from 2006 to 2014. Given the degree of interaction that deputies have with political staff, the decrease may reflect the Conservative government’s lesser focus on diversity. The current Liberal government’s emphasis on diversity in government appointments can be seen in the latest deputy appointments (as well with judicial and head of mission appointments).

The younger age profiles for both executives and all employees suggest that diversity will continue to increase for visible minorities (among all employees and among executives) and for women and Indigenous executives.

While some degree of variation between departments is to be expected, given their mandates and historical hiring practices, departments with the high variances highlighted in the tables may wish to consider this discrepancy in future human resource planning. The Treasury Board Secretariat may also wish to consider including reporting on executive diversity in its annual employment equity reporting.

Six departments — Environment and Climate Change Canada, Global Affairs Canada, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, National Defence, Public Services and Procurement Canada and Treasury Board Secretariat — are pilot-testing name-blind recruitment for non-executive positions. These departments have a range of representation of women and visible minorities at both the executive and overall levels. National Defence has the greatest underrepresentation, and it may be the organization where blind recruitment will have the greatest results.

Overall, the historical and current data show that the transparency- and reporting-based approach of the Employment Equity Act has largely succeeded in improving representation of women, visible minorities and Indigenous people both at the executive level and among all employees in the public service. The gaps between among executives and representation overall should continue to shrink, given the demographic profile of these groups. The name-blind recruitment pilots may provide insights on how to further improve hiring practices and representation.

Acknowledgements: The Privy Council Office and the Treasury Board Secretariat were particularly helpful in providing data on deputy ministers and executive-level public servants, respectively, in spreadsheet format, making them easy to work with and analyze.

Photo: Shutterstock, by

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Andrew Griffith
Andrew Griffith is the author of “Because it’s 2015…” Implementing Diversity and Inclusion, Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former director general for Citizenship and Multiculturalism, has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad, and is a fellow of the Environics Institute.

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