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BC Politics

BC Makes Little Progress on Public Service Diversity Gap

Visible minorities make up 27 per cent of population, but just 14 per cent of government workforce.

Linda Givetash 25 Aug

Linda Givetash is a Vancouver-based journalist reporting on health and human rights across Canada and around the globe.

Visible minorities and Indigenous people are still dramatically underrepresented in the B.C. public service, according to the province’s latest report on workforce diversity.

And the report reveals that little progress has been made in the last five years in developing a workforce that reflects the province’s population.

The report, based on a survey filled out by more than 87 per cent of government employees, found visible minorities made up 14 per cent of the government workforce, up from 12 per cent in 2011.

They made up just 8.2 per cent of senior management in 2015.

Yet visible minorities make up 27.3 per cent of the province’s population, according to the report, and 20.7 per cent of the “available workforce.” (The calculation is based on 2011 Statistics Canada labour force data and the province’s occupational requirements and recruitment area.)

The gap is large. Based on the report data, about 3,300 people who consider themselves members of a visible minority group work in the public service now.

To reflect the province’s population, that would need to almost double to about 6,500 employees.

In the same period, the percentage of Indigenous workers has remained stagnant at 3.1 per cent, although Indigenous people represent about 5.4 per cent of the province’s population.

The number of people with disabilities in the public service has increased from 3.4 per cent to four per cent in the same period – also well below the 5.4 6 per cent of people with disabilities in the province.

Why does it matter?

Employment in other sectors may also fail to represent the population – though visible minorities make up 21 per cent of the total workforce in the province, 50 per cent greater than their representation in government jobs.

But experts argue the public service should be held to a different standard.

“The government should be of the people, or for the people, and it should reflect the people,” says Iglika Ivanova, senior economist and public interest researcher for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “That builds trust and builds confidence in the institution.”

Ivanova says diversity can contribute to a better work environment and produce better outputs.

People of diverse backgrounds “bring different perspectives that will enrich the workplace and get them to make better decisions, design better programs because they actually reflect the needs of the community,” she says.

Why the gap?

While the data clearly point to problems, the reasons for the diversity gap and the best ways to solve the problem are less apparent.

Many factors could be contributing to the lack of diversity, experts suggest, from recruiting and hiring practices to education and skill levels among the different populations.

A Finance Ministry spokesperson says the B.C. Public Service Agency launched a new branch in February to investigate the issue and come up with new recruitment and hiring strategies.

This comes after the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), representing more than 26,000 public service workers, added an article to its 2014 collective agreement that prioritized the need for employment equity.

“One of the things the union is doing is making sure that, where possible, employment is based on merit,” says Paul Finch, BCGEU treasurer. That includes making efforts to accommodate special needs – including religious customs, language barriers or disabilities – of current and prospective employees.

Finch says the union now offers English language training programs to its members.

The B.C. Public Service Agency developed a strategy in 2014 to improve hiring and promotion opportunities for people with disabilities.

The Finance Ministry spokesperson, who wouldn’t be named, says the public service also offers a paid internship program to recruit young Indigenous workers and provides training on diversity and inclusion to employees.

Finch notes one reason for the lack of progress is that the public service hasn’t seen significant growth in recent years. If hiring simply isn’t happening, he says, the impact of actions to increase diversity in new employees will be minimal.

Significant layoffs in 2001 and 2002 would have displaced young workers who may have come from more diverse backgrounds, Finch says.

Finch also notes employees who complete the survey may choose not to identify as a visible minority. Other details – such as country of birth or sexual orientation – are not included.

Ivanova says another, more challenging factor, is unconscious bias in hiring.

Canadian and international labour studies have shown that managers are more likely to hire and promote people like themselves, Ivanova says.

A 2009 study by University of British Columbia professor Philip Oreopoulos found that employers were three times more likely to offer interviews to job applicants with English names compared to those with Chinese, Indian or Pakistani names and foreign experience.

Despite the gaps, the data shows major diversity gains in some geographic reasons and for some groups.

In Metro Vancouver, visible minorities make up 27.3 per cent of the public service workforce – equal to their proportion of the population and greater than their estimated 20.5 per cent representation in the available general workforce.

Women are also overrepresented, accounting for 61.2 per cent of the public service workforce. Women occupied for 46.1 per cent of management level positions in 2015.

The public sector is also making the biggest strides in closing wage gaps for women and minorities.

A CCPA report found that university-educated women only make about 73 cents on the dollar compared to their male counterparts in the private sector.

In the Canadian public sector, women make about 82 cents on the dollar compared to their male co-workers.

Similarly, university-educated minorities in the private sector make 20 per cent less than non-visible minorities, while in the public sector they make 12 per cent less.

Finch says the union has fought for equal pay.

Ivanova says she wants to see the wage gap completely close.

“The provincial government or any government has a higher responsibility than a private corporation... to be a model employer,” she says.  [Tyee]

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