Remarks from the Clerk at the Government of Canada Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Conference 2022

The time to act is now - Call to action symposium

Janice Charette, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, helped open the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Conference by speaking at the Symposium on the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion in the Federal Public Service on October 27. During her remarks, she took the opportunity to reflect on progress made since the release of the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity, and Inclusion, and highlighted continued areas of focus to accelerate progress.


October 27, 2022
Janice Charette, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet

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Thank you, Nathalie, and hello everyone. Thank you, Elder Wolfrey, for the opening and your inspiring words. I am thinking of you in beautiful Nunatsiavut this afternoon and looking as we have our session today at the Qulliq that’s on our screen. And let us hope we can see the light and the hope that Qulliq represents and that will guide us in our conversations throughout this session today.

Thanks Sonia for your words on behalf of Christine Donoghue and Nathalie for acting as our MC for today’s symposium. I would like to acknowledge that I am speaking to you today from the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people, and I encourage you to take a moment to pay tribute to the land on which you stand.

I would like to thank the Canada School of Public Service for organizing this symposium and the larger Diversity and Inclusion Conference in collaboration with Statistics Canada and the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer and, of course, the planning committee, who did excellent work organizing this today. I also want to thank you all for taking part in this symposium today.

I am really happy to be here and to see all of you. I hope you will stay to hear from our first panel and choose a breakout session that interests you. I look forward to hearing from colleagues in both the public service and the private sector. This is a great opportunity to share best practices and to learn from each other.

I want you to travel back with me a little bit in time to May 25, 2020. This could be difficult for some of you, but you will remember that, on that day, George Floyd was arrested in Minneapolis. A disturbing video showed a police officer kneeling on the back of Floyd’s neck until he ultimately succumbed and died.

His death would serve as a tipping point, not only for the Black Lives Matter movement but for the long-standing fight to end institutionalized racism. It reopened a lot of old wounds and reignited calls for change around the world.

That was true in Canada as well. We saw calls for—we saw demonstrations in support of Black and Indigenous communities, calling for immediate action. Those calls for change spilled from the streets into our workplaces. Sensing an openness, public servants came forward, and they courageously shared their lived experiences, experiences where they encountered systemic racism and barriers to their being able to come and participate in our workplaces. Some spoke up for the very first time. Others reiterated what they had been saying for many years.

Around the same time, we had the finding of unmarked graves at former residential schools across Canada, and that served as a very raw reminder of historic and current injustices towards Indigenous Peoples and a very stark reminder of just how much further we need to go on reconciliation.

Elder Wolfrey encouraged us to make sure that we took the time to learn about the terrible part of our history related to residential schools, and I echo her encouragement. Even as we start to make important progress, too often the forces of hate rear its ugly head. We have witnessed troubling displays of anti-Asian hate, for example, during the pandemic.

I am also deeply concerned about the rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia. The deliberate acts we have seen of targeted violence against families and against communities have absolutely been heartbreaking.

We have been seeing incidents of hate against members of the 2SLGBTQI+ communities, and I am well aware of recent concerted efforts that have been made and taken against trans students.

I know that too many of you are confronted with racism, discrimination and hate in your lives. No one should have to deal with this. That is why I am so committed to the Call to Action.

It has now been almost two years since my friend and colleague, former Clerk Ian Shugart, launched the Call to Action on Anti-Racism, Equity and Inclusion in the Federal Public Service.

When I took on the role of interim clerk, I met with many different groups and communities who wanted to discuss the Call to Action. It quickly became clear to me that the Call to Action was not just a policy paper or words on a website. It helped ignite a long-standing yearning to do more and to do better.

As clerk, I am proud to take on the work started by Ian and to carry it forward. Today, I will outline some specific areas that I intend to focus on as we move forward.

I think it’s important to remember that the Call to Action intentionally adds an anti-racism lens to all public service efforts to be more diverse and inclusive.

It calls on public service leaders to appoint, sponsor, support and recruit Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees and to take specific actions to establish a sense of belonging and trust for all public servants.

The Call to Action was not created to stand alone. It was informed by other public service strategies like the Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada and Many Voices One Mind: A Pathway to Reconciliation. It is meant to complement and accelerate efforts already underway to advance reconciliation and make public service workplaces more diverse, inclusive, accessible and equitable.

Since its launch in January 2021, leaders have taken to heart the need to act. The letters I received from deputies outline some of the actions they and their teams have taken so far. Transparency supports accountability, which is why we shared the letters on the PCO website.

I know deputies are committed to advancing change. There are groups of deputies who are meeting to tackle challenges, and the Call to Action has been an important topic at many DM-level meetings.

It is clear that the Call to Action has generated some positive momentum in the past couple of years. We can already see some of the results of our efforts.

We have seen more Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees appointed to leadership positions. In 2021, there were 43 more Indigenous executives, 29 more Black executives, and 116 more racialized executives than there were in 2020.

The number of anti-racism secretariats and dedicated task teams has more than tripled since the launch of the Call to Action. Departments have also put in place targeted initiatives to support the career development of Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees. I may now be repeating something that Sonia has said, but I think that it’s worth repeating. I’m talking about the Circle, for example. The Knowledge Circle for Indigenous Inclusion launched the Career Navigators Program to support the career progression of First Nations, Inuit and Métis employees across the public service.

Employment and Social Development Canada established a Black Engagement and Advancement Team to develop and implement recruitment, retention and advancement strategies to address the persistent gaps and systemic barriers experienced by Black employees.

The Building Black Leaders initiative sponsored by the Atlantic Federal Council is a two-year leadership program designed to bridge the gap for Black federal employees and created opportunities for participants to gain exposure to leadership networks, mentoring, development tools and language training.

We know that these training opportunities, including language training, are absolutely essential for advancing in one’s career. I know there are similar initiatives underway in other departments and agencies.

Employees, likely many of you here, have been leaders in bringing about change. New and existing employee networks and communities continue to speak up in their organizations and across the Public Service, lead initiatives, and work together to advance the Call to Action and improve workplaces for Indigenous employees, Black and other racialized employees, religious minority employees, 2SLGBTQI+ employees and employees with disabilities.

I can conclude that this is a start. But I know it’s just the tip of the iceberg and that it will take years, indeed generations, to get to where we need to be.

But our objectives are clear.

We have to significantly accelerate the representation of Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees, particularly at the highest leadership levels.

Let me just say I am very aware that representation at the most senior leadership levels is not where it needs to be. I suspect many of you closely watch the changes in the deputy minister cadre and are at times disappointed to not see yourselves and your colleagues better reflected in the appointments to the most senior ranks. That’s on me. I want to assure you that it is very much a priority for me to make better progress faster.

Part of that is taking all the necessary steps to ensure that all of our employees feel a sense of belonging and trust in our workplaces by doing more to tackle racism, discrimination and harassment.

We need to take full advantage of the talents, of the knowledge and the experience of this incredible more diverse workforce in how we design policies and programs and services to best meet the needs of this amazing country and of all Canadians.

It’s time to take an important step forward on the Call to Action. Together.

We must be honest in assessing our progress, and we have got to hold ourselves accountable for achieving results and achieving our objectives. It also means being candid about what we need to do better, owning past mistakes and learning from them. We may not get things right the first time. We may not be moving fast enough, but we need to keep trying until we get there.

Ultimately, I think the real definition of success here is reaching hearts and minds in order for this work to be able to change behaviours and bring about real change that is meaningful and long-lasting. That is going to be my focus for the next phase of the Call to Action—moving from the early actions to sustainable results.

Let me talk about priorities for the next phase.

In all the important work we do as public servants and how we support government and how we serve Canadians, we are very used to the practice of setting clear targets. We talk about them regularly. We measure how we are doing against them, and we use them to hold ourselves accountable. We know how to do this.

The Call to Action should be no exception. The Call to Action sets very clear expectations for leaders to appoint, sponsor, support and recruit Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees with the goal of increasing the representation of these groups.

To understand whether these actions are working, I expect organizations, having learned from the first two years of the Call to Action, to define clear targets. Those targets should be related to increasing the representation of Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees. I am going to be working with deputy ministers to ensure that these targets are in place to drive year-over-year advancement. I will be checking in with them regularly to assess whether and how progress is being made.

I also expect that these targets are going to be sufficiently ambitious to change the composition of our public service. They need to be grounded in evidence, and we have to stretch to meet them. These targets I believe will help us to focus our efforts. A strong focus on ongoing measurement is going to help us to determine if we are meeting our targets, where our energies are best applied and where progress is not occurring in our organizations.

It will not always be easy to measure our progress along the way. I think in many cases we may have to rely on measures that may be imperfect or a proxy, but we need to do this in order to ensure that our workplaces are healthy and inclusive. Disaggregated data is crucial. I know we have the Chief Statistician on the panel right after this. We need to make use of all the data that is available to measure progress in our organizations.

But numbers are just going to tell us part of the story. The other ingredient, which I think is critical to measuring progress, is really to be able to understand people’s lived experiences and that is going to take qualitative data, which would give us insight into the real impact of our policies and practices and help us understand the “why” behind some of the quantitative data.

We are going to have to draw on as many lines of evidence as we can, including listening to experiences from employees to determine if we are creating a culture of trust and belonging in our workplaces because retention has to go hand in hand with recruitment.

I am looking forward to reviewing the results of the upcoming Public Service Employee Survey. The results I believe are going to give us really useful information and will be a key tool in understanding where we need to apply attention as I understand there are some new targeted questions on diversity and inclusion in the survey. I hope and I encourage all public servants to take the time. Be heard. Participate in the survey.

I want us all to be making use of the disaggregated PSES results that are going to allow us to really understand how the specific experiences of employees such as Indigenous, Black and other racialized employees, 2SLGBTQI+ employees, trans employees, employees with disabilities and others may differ on key workplace questions such as mental health, well-being and indicators of engagement and empowerment.

This is going to help us pinpoint issues and target solutions. As I said, I suspect our approach to measurement at the outset may be imperfect. For example, I worry that the data is not currently telling us how to address issues like rising antisemitism and how things like Islamophobia are impacting our employees.

I am also aware that, for many employees, hate and discrimination affect intersecting dimensions of identity. For example, I am concerned that we do not fully appreciate or understand the experiences lived by a Black Muslim employee in our workplace. This has got to change. But we cannot just wait for perfect data. We have to establish clear targets and track against them. And as we continue to disaggregate more data, we are only going to learn more, and we are going to get better.

Last but not least, accountability will make sure that we are doing what we said we will do. We know about accountability in the public service. We have robust mechanisms, such as concrete measures in performance agreements and reporting structures for managers to be able to regularly update on progress against targets. We have to leverage all of these tools for the Call to Action.

I understand that Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship is developing an EX accountability strategy on anti-racism and diversity, equity and inclusion with actions that will reward executives when they get it right and corrective actions when they do not. For example, they are exploring options to adjust performance pay, career advancement, awards and public recognition, and the development of an equity report card as potential ways to reinforce accountability among executives. This is great work. Thank you.

Transparency underpins accountability. We must be clear with employees about what our targets are and what we are doing to meet them. When we miss the mark, we are going to have to be transparent about that too. While specific accountabilities lie with managers and leaders in each organization, all public servants have a role to play in bringing life to the Call to Action.

I want to take a moment to note that, to date, networks and communities and individual managers and employees have done tremendous work in moving us forward, but I do worry that the burden is not equally shared.

I have heard from many groups, from Black employees and Indigenous executives and employees, other racialized communities, members of religious minority groups, the accessibility community, the 2SLGBTQI+ community, and many more. I am really so touched and so struck by the courage of these employees and by the passion and the dedication that each one of these communities has and the great work they have been doing. It is really inspiring. I would love to see the same level of energy and commitment adopted by every single public servant.

It is unreasonable and frankly it is unfair to put the onus on individual communities to solve the problems that they did not create but those that have been imposed on them through our systems and our processes and ways of thinking. The issues are systemic, and so it is a collective responsibility to advance positive change. I know that many of you—because you are here today—are the kinds of public servants who have already stepped up in this area and have taken on a leadership role in addition to your regular duties.

But I understand this work is not always well understood or well supported. These types of efforts need to be valued and to be seen as part of our core business, and I believe recognized in performance discussions.

Over the coming months, I will be setting clear expectations and work with my deputy minister colleagues to bring about this focus on targets, measurements and accountability in order to accelerate the progress on all areas of the Call to Action.

But this is only going to get us so far. I know that many of you have been working very hard to bring the Call to Action to life over the past couple of years and for a long time before that. I deeply appreciate those efforts. I am now looking for everyone to take this on and help to move us forward.

To hiring managers, I want you to consider the full range of talent available and recruit with intention. You must prioritize and invest in employee development if you are going to increase representation and retain diverse employees.

To our human resource professionals, only you can provide the kind of guidance, advice and flexibility that will facilitate different and bolder approaches to recruitment and advancement. It has been encouraging to see your community exploring different approaches. I need you to keep your attention on this.

To all the networks and the communities, thank you. I hope you continue to share your wisdom, your experiences and your expertise. You have called on us to do better. We must listen and act. Keep calling us on this.

To the anti-racism secretariats, to the departments and the regions who have stepped up to take action early, your leadership has been inspiring and remains critical. Please keep sharing your lessons widely so we can all benefit from your work.

To each of you attending the Symposium, no matter your level, classification, or location, you can be a leader in creating environments where everyone is included and where everyone feels comfortable in bringing all their interconnected dimensions of identity to the team.

There are so many ways to do this. Take time to learn, be an ally, call out racism and discrimination, hire inclusively, consider how you could make your policy or program even better by engaging more diverse voices. And these are just a beginning.

We each have something to contribute, and we must all work together as a team to meet the aspiration of the Call to Action. Our success in delivering for Canadians depends on it.

This is a top priority for me as head of the federal public service. Just by taking part in this symposium and in the broader conference over the coming weeks, you are showing that this matters to all of you too.

Our work on this cannot end until we have a public service that is inclusive of everyone and that has a culture of belonging. This is how we will provide the best possible service to Canadians.

Thank you for joining me on this journey.

Merci, thank you very much, meegwetch.

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