The Need for Data: Understanding the Priorities of the Federal Black Employee Caucus

5 minute read

By: Robin Browne, FBEC Communications Lead

Diversity is a fact. Inclusion is a choice.

This was the title of the keynote speech that Stéphane Dion, Canadian Ambassador to Germany and Special Envoy of the Prime Minister to the European Union, gave at the September 2017 Conference,Inclusive Societies? Canada and Belgium in the 21st century. It is also a simple expression of some of the key concepts that frame the work of the Federal Black Employee Caucus (FBEC).

Yes, diversity is a fact. Actually, it’s a lot of facts. One thing we know for sure is that there’s lots of Black federal employees (they’re our members). We also know almost all of them are kept in lower level positions, sometimes for decades. What we don’tknow is exactly how many Black employees there are and exactly what’s been happening to them in terms of getting jobs and promotions and experiencing harassment and discrimination (two very related topics). To know this for sure, we need to get disaggregated data on Black employees. “Disaggregated” means separated out from categories like ‘Visible Minority’.

That’s why FBEC has two priorities: getting disaggregated data from federal agencies and addressing issues affecting the mental health of Black employees.

We’re actually after three types of data:

  1. the quantitative data departments collect, when Black employees self-identify, on how many apply for jobs or promotions;
  2. the qualitative data on levels of harassment and discrimination experienced by Black employees from the Public Service Employee Survey; and
  3. the currently non-existentdata on the experience of Black employees with programs like the Free Agent Program and the Executive Leadership Development Program.

The data will give us, and the government, all the facts.

However, getting the data is the easy part. The hard part is getting managers across the public service to use it to choose inclusion. This is because all evidence indicates that the public service suffers from the same issues as larger Canadian society. The United Nations identified these issues in its 2017 Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, stating:

Despite the reputation for promoting multiculturalism and diversity and the positive measures taken by the national and provincial governments, the Working Group is deeply concerned by the structural racism that lies at the core of many Canadian institutions and the systemic anti-Black racism that continues to have a negative impact on the human rights situation of African Canadians.

A key reason for FBEC’s success to date (and we’ve had lots) is that, in January 2018, Prime Minister Trudeau became the first Prime Minister to acknowledge that systemic discrimination and anti-Black racism exist in Canada. He also cited the lack of support for Black people with mental health issues. Under his leadership, the 2018 and 2019 federal budgets were the first ever to include money specifically to address these issues affecting Black Canadians. But the Federal Public Service (FPS) has been slow to follow the PM’s lead.

That’s where FBEC comes in.

FBEC supports efforts at the national, regional, and local levels to address issues faced by Black federal public servants. We advocate for the collection and analysis of disaggregated data on hiring/promotion and harassment/discrimination rates of Black employees and recommend ways to improve conditions that detrimentally impact their mental health.

We formed after the December 2017 National Black Canadians Summit in Toronto. Since then, we’ve been steadily building up our membership. In January, 2019, we held our inaugural FBEC Symposium at the Institute on Governance. It brought together Black employees and human resources practitioners to come up with solutions to persistent issues faced by Black employees within the FPS. Symposium attendees numbered over 100 and discussed solutions to issues of harassment and discrimination, representation and advancement, self-care and well-being, disaggregated employment equity data, and Black women. Read the report here.

We followed that up in February with a Senior Leaders Learning Day that gave Deputy Heads qualitative data on the realities of Black FPS employees. We also met with the Clerk of the Privy Council, the President of the Treasury Board, Canada’s Chief Human Resource Officer, and senior management from the Public Service Commission, the RCMP, and several other departments.

Our current focus is getting as many Black federal employees as possible to fill out, and self-identify on, the 2019 Public Service Employment Survey that will be conducted from July 22 to August 30. After advocating for the past year, one of FBEC’s big wins was seeing the option for Black employees to self-identify put back in the survey, from which it had quietly been removed some years ago. Getting this data is crucial as the government has made clear that only what gets measured gets managed.

Armed with this data, FBEC plans to make its presence felt by continuing to ask the question: what are you going to do to help Black federal public servants?

About the author

Institute on Governance

Institute on Governance

Founded in 1990, the Institute on Governance (IOG) is an independent, Canada-based, not-for-profit public interest institution with its head office in Ottawa and an office in Toronto. Our mission is ‘advancing better governance in the public interest,’ which we accomplish by exploring, developing and promoting the principles, standards and practices which underlie good governance in the public sphere, both in Canada and abroad.

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