Diversity growing fast in senior Canadian jobs, report finds

By on 02/11/2017 | Updated on 25/09/2020
Canada's population comprises nearly 20% visible ethnic minorities

The share of executive posts in Canada’s federal public service held by women and people from ethnic minorities has increased rapidly over the past decade, a new study has found.

Women’s representation in executive grade posts rose by 27% between 2005 and 2016. And those senior roles occupied by people from “visible minorities” increased by a dramatic 84% over the same period, according to the study by the Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy.

The Canadian government defines visible minorities as non-white people who are not from indigenous groups.

Canada leads the G20 in the share of senior civil service posts held by women – a position it’s held for some years, and retained in this year’s Global Government Forum Women Leaders Index.

Progress on proportions

In March 2016, women occupied 47.3% of the 5,302 top posts in the federal public service – a 10-point rise since 2005 – while people from “visible minorities” held 9.4%, the IRPP report states. The share of executive posts held by both groups is now in line with representation in similar positions across the economy as a whole.

The proportion of posts held by people from indigenous communities rose by 0.7 percentage points over the decade. By 2016, they held 3.7% of executive posts, compared to 5.2% of similar posts across the Canadian economy.

Across all grades of the federal public service, women held 54% of posts in 2016, while visible minorities occupied 14.5%, and people from indigenous communities held 5.2%. Across Canada, according to the 2011 census, visible minorities comprise 19.1% of the population and indigenous people comprise 4.3%.

Youth on their side

“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,” states the report, which was published on 16 October.

“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.”

Among all federal public service employees, 31% of men were aged 39 or younger, compared to 39.7% of people from visible minorities, 33.4% of women and 28.5% of people from indigenous communities.

Among executives, men accounted for 46.5% of officials aged 49 or younger, while people from visible minorities made up 57.5%, those from indigenous communities 54.4% and women 50.9%.

Trailblazers and laggards

The study ranks federal departments and agencies by diversity in executive posts. The body with the most female executives is the Public Health Agency of Canada, where 63% are women, followed by Justice Canada on 61.1%, while National Defence has the fewest at 35.8%.

The most highly ranked agency for visible minorities is Shared Services Canada, where they make up 21.8% of executives, followed by Health Canada on 13%. Statistics Canada is ranked lowest, at 6.4%.

Topping the ranking for indigenous executives is Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, where they make up 19.1% of the total, followed by Correctional Services Canada on 7.6%, while Innovation, Science and Economic Development sits at the bottom, with 2.5%.

The report also provides tables comparing the percentage of all employees and executives from the three groups for each department, noting that “departments with high variances highlighted in the tables may wish to consider this discrepancy in future human resource planning”.

“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,” it concludes.

Could do better

Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada

However, Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents some 110,000 federal employees, said uneven progress across departments was an issue, as reported by the Toronto Star.

“There were gaps in the representation,” she said. “That is troubling. Some larger departments have a large pool [of diverse candidates] to choose from for promotion but they are not doing as well as they should be doing.”

Benson said the union had been pushing hard for a review of the Employment Equity Act, which had not been revisited for 15 years. “The act needs stronger accountability,” she said.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.


  1. Lesley Redden says:

    Employment equity, as defined in Canadian law by the Employment Equity Act, requires employers to engage in proactive employment practices to increase the representation of four designated groups: women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities. There are FOUR groups and yet you only speak of three. Very disappointing. No wonder people with disabilities are not achieving representation – no one is talking about them!

    • Mevlyn Steele says:

      It is about time the Employment Equity Act gets revisited and the Federal Goveryment made accountable. The Act does need to be reinforced in many ways, fifteen years is way too long and it’s time for it to be remodified.

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