Executive Report

Employment Equity and Diversity in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces

—Historical Efforts to Address Employment Equity


The Office of the Ombudsman for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces (this Office) published its historical review of employment equity on 16 May 2022.

This report examines the history of employment equity in the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) from 1997 to 2021. We looked at how these organizations have dealt with hiring, recruitment and retention for the four groups designated in the Employment Equity Act (EEA): women, persons with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and visible minoritiesFootnote i  ("designated groups").Footnote ii 

We use the terminology “Aboriginal peoples” and “visible minorities” to be consistent with the EEA. The terminology is not meant in a way that disregards preferred terminologies or other genders and gender identities. We recognize that all groups have diverse identity factors that intersect, including LGBTQ2+ communities. Because the LGBTQ2+ communities are not a designated group under the EEA, they are not included in this review.

We also examined challenges identified in employment equity plans, employment system reviews, Canadian Human Rights Commission and Office of the Auditor General audits, and other reports published during the past 24 years. We reviewed how employment equity in the DND and the CAF evolved, the approach taken by each organization to address those challenges, and the level of progress made during that timeframe. Finally, we identified how the barriers impacting designated group members are connected.

This is the first holistic analysis of these plans, reviews, audits, and reports.

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What did we learn?

Employment Equity Governance Framework and Defence Advisory Groups

Historically, the DND and CAF leadership have expressed strong support for employment equity and both organizations made efforts regarding employment equity measures from 2003 to 2020.

The DND and the CAF are separate organizations. Therefore, they publish separate employment equity plans and undergo separate employment equity compliance audits. However, they collaborate on committees, initiatives, and commemorative events for joint employment equity efforts.

There are four national Defence Advisory Groups that provide advice and unique perspectives to the CAF leadership and DND management on issues experienced by members within their communities.Footnote iii  They are:

A fifth Defence Advisory Group, the Defence Team Pride Advisory Organization (DTPAO), advocates for the employment equity interests of LGBTQ2+ members and employees. As the LGBTQ2+ communities are not a designated group under the EEA, this historical report does not review their evolution in the Defence community.Footnote iv

The ongoing consultation with the Defence Advisory Groups has been recognized as a success for both organizations.

This structure was in place at time of publication. However, the supporting committee structure and overall governance for employment equity will be subject to change with the creation of the Chief, Professional Conduct and Culture (CPCC). The CPCC’s mandate is to lead fundamental change in employment inequity, discrimination, harassment, and sexual misconduct in the workplace.


We identified one observation in our report as well as five areas of concern for our reporting period, 1998 to 2021. Our observation highlights the key issues the DND and the CAF face in creating a more diversified workforce and shows how the barriers are intertwined:

The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces have deeply embedded barriers to employment equity representation goals, recruitment, career advancement, retention, and culture, which are all intertwined. Despite their organizational differences, they both face similar challenges. During the past 20 years, the DND and the CAF have adopted initiatives to address the challenges; unfortunately, they have achieved little progress. As a result, barriers persist in several areas of concern which limit the achievement of employment equity for designated groups.

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Area of concern 1: The DND and CAF Employment Equity goals

Representation rates are critical to ensure that the DND and the CAF makeup represents the diversity of Canada.

The DND and the CAF have made some progress in terms of some of their overall representation rates. However, the DND was unable to meet its overall representation goals for visible minorities at any time during the period from 2003 to 2020, while the CAF could not fulfill any of its overall representation goals for any of the designated groups during the same period. In fact, the representation of women in the CAF stagnated for 15 years. Neither organization met its goals in certain male-dominated occupational categories (i.e. scientific and professional categories in the DND and combat arms in the CAF).

Other concerns with the DND and CAF goals included:

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Area of concern 2: Recruitment

Despite numerous initiatives, the DND and the CAF faced challenges and had barriers to the recruitment of designated groups, especially in certain occupations. 

On the civilian side, the DND can recruit from the general population to fill positions at any departmental level. This allows for the opportunity to create a diverse workforce more readily. On the military side, the CAF generally recruits from the general population only to fill entry-level positions. All other levels are filled through promotion. This makes workforce diversification crucial at the recruitment stage. 

One of the most significant recurring barriers to recruitment observed within the DND was a lack of understanding of and a perceived resistance to employment equity among employees and managers.Footnote v  As for the CAF, challenges and barriers to recruitment included:

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Area of concern 3: Career Advancement

While the overall representation of designated groups improved somewhat from 2004 to 2020, the DND and the CAF continued to face persistent challenges in terms of designated group career advancement in certain occupational groups.

Some of the reported challenges at both the DND and the CAF were related to appointment processes, a lack of developmental training opportunities, and a general lack of understanding about employment equity. The challenges resulted in low designated group representation rates in DND’s management, technical, and scientific positions as well as a substantial gap in their representation among CAF General officers. There were few promotions of designated groups occurring at higher ranks.Footnote vii

The DND has filled some positions with retiring military members, in some cases in support of programs like priority hiring for medically released veterans. Because the CAF is not currently diverse, filling DND positions with retiring CAF members who are not designated group members may limit departmental diversity.

In addition, the DND and the CAF shared other challenges such as a lack of designated group representation on selection and appointment boards as well as official language requirements forming an additional barrier to the career advancement of certain designated group members.Footnote viii

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Area of concern 4: Retention

Although the DND and the CAF undertook several initiatives from 2004 to 2019, they faced persistent challenges in retaining members of designated groups in certain occupational categories.

Both DND and the CAF have recognized this as a problem. As a result, they have launched initiatives focusing on areas like recruitment, career advancement, and culture to stabilize and improve retention rates. Where designated group members release despite the initiatives, it counteracts all the other work the CAF is doing to increase representation. Initial results proved that the DND and the CAF must do more to increase retention rates to help them meet their representation obligations under the EEA.

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Area of concern 5: Culture

Despite measures they implemented from 2003 to 2020, the DND and the CAF have continued to struggle to overcome persistent challenges in the building of a culture of employment equity acceptance.

After more than 15 years of diversity training and other initiatives, both organizations faced a lack of fundamental understanding of employment equity among managers, employees, and members. Negative perceptions of employment equity as well as a reluctance to value employment equity and diversity led to challenges with culture within the DND and the CAF. Acceptance of employment equity was a greater problem in the CAF than in the DND. Linked to the challenges regarding culture are challenges both organizations have faced in convincing employees and members to self-identify as a member of a designated group. In 2018, the DND achieved close to but under the CHRC audit criteria of 80 percent response rate for self-identification, while the CAF met the CHRC audit criteria. In both organizations, designated groups were reluctant to self-identify out of fear of potential discriminationFootnote ix  or uncertainty about the use of the information collected.Footnote x

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The DND and the CAF achieved some employment equity successes from 2003 to 2020. These successes included their employment equity governance framework, their shared strategic committee structure, including the creation of the Defence Team Employment Equity Champions, the standing up of the Defence Advisory Groups and Organizations, the formation of the Defence Diversity Council, and their attention to employment commemorative events.

However, during the past 20 years the DND and the CAF’s broader efforts to address concerns identified in this report were ineffective in overcoming the institutional barriers to employment equity for designated groups. The intertwining of all these challenges makes it more difficult for the organizations to implement the EEA because the challenges cannot be addressed in isolation. Addressing only one challenge will not solve the problem. For example, retention cannot be addressed in its entirety unless the barriers around career advancement and culture are addressed. For that reason, a cohesive and coordinated approach is necessary.

Why did we conduct a historical review of employment equity

In 2020, the Minister of National Defence asked the Ombudsman to review employment equity within the DND and the CAF, and in particular, the historical approach to employment equity.

What will we do with the observation and areas of concern in this review?

This historical review provides insight into long-standing challenges to employment equity, diversity, and inclusion in the DND and the CAF. The observation and areas of concern identified in this report will serve as the foundation for this Office’s continued efforts in this area. This report will also give the DND and the CAF's leadership insight into what has worked and what has not worked in the past as well as what considerations should be integrated into their plan moving forward.

The DND and the CAF are collaborating closely on several priority initiatives to fundamentally transform the way they approach systemic misconduct, including employment inequity. Breaking down systemic barriers to employment equity in the DND and the CAF is an arduous process, and a significant amount of work must be done.

How did we conduct this review?

For this historical review, we covered a period of 24 years. We reviewed plans, reviews, reports, and audits that highlighted key successes and challenges faced by both the DND and the CAF in their efforts to effectively implement employment equity. This is the first time that these plans, reviews, audits, and reports have been analyzed in a holistic way. We based our observations on information found in these plans, reviews, reports, and audits.

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For more information

The full report: Employment Equity and Diversity in the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.

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