‘If we’re not representative, why would people trust us?’: GGF’s latest Leading Questions podcast with Canada’s recently retired head of public service accessibility, Yazmine Laroche

By on 02/09/2022 | Updated on 02/09/2022
Leading Questions, with Yazmine Laroche

Global Government Forum’s new podcast is out, featuring Yazmine Laroche who retired from the Canadian Public Service after three decades in a wide variety of roles – latterly as deputy minister of public service accessibility – in June this year.

In this episode Yazmine speaks with compelling honestly about the three main challenges of her career, shares her hard-won leadership advice, and talks fervidly about her fears that civil services around the world will become irrelevant “and have terrible outcomes” should they fail to harness the talent in people who are not the accepted norm.

“Talent comes in every shape, colour, size and we have to be able to tap into that,” she tells podcast host Siobhan Benita.  

Laroche recounts her experiences in a job she felt ill qualified for and was told she would hate, resulting in hostility from her new colleagues and the most difficult six months of her career. “I was terrified, I was scrambling, I was having all kinds of issues with the senior people who reported to me… there was a lot of mistrust at the beginning and I really felt out of my depth,” she recalls. But not one to back out of challenge, she persevered, managing eventually to change mindsets within the organisation and leave it with a client-focused and much improved reputation. She looks back on it now as a “fabulous assignment [that] helped me to grow tremendously”.

Yazmine also touches on her work delivering a programme designed to improve the relationship between the federal government and cities and municipalities – an election promise of the new prime minister – which taught her the importance of cross-government collaboration and the need to manage not just vertically but horizontally.

“How do you drive massive change across the public service when you don’t own the whole thing?… We have to become adept at managing lateral relationships.”

Ending with her decision to take on the role of improving the working lives of public servants with disabilities after decades trying to minimise her own – she was the first visibly disabled deputy minister in Canadian public service history (she has a neuromuscular condition known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy) – Yazmine shares her concerns that bureaucracies are failing to hire people who offer diversity of perspective and lived experience and that “we won’t have great policy breakthroughs” as a result.  

“If we’re not as representative as we can be, why would people rely on us and trust us?” she asks, before calling on leaders to ask employees what they can do to support them to make their best contribution. “If managers saw that their role was to actually remove the barriers and unleash that potential, my goodness, think of the results we could achieve.”

This is an episode brimming with lessons – on the importance of not making assumptions, of allyship, and of creating opportunities for talented colleagues – from a hugely experienced and astute leader who believes her time as a public servant has made her a better person and that the “ability to shape the life of your country is a privilege and a gift”.

This is the fourth episode of Leading Questions Series 2. Other episodes in Series 2:
·      Australia’s governance chief Stephanie Foster who discusses stepping into the unknown, and embracing her strengths – and flaws – as a leader
·      UK civil service stalwart Sir Suma Chakrabarti, who talks of staying sane while
managing change

·      Canada’s former cabinet secretary Michael Wernick on taking the good with the bad
Listen to all episodes of Series 1 & 2 here: Leading Questions podcast: civil service leaders share what they learned from their time at the top.

For this second series, we’re searching the globe to find the best examples of public sector leadership. If you’d like to recommend someone to feature in a future episode, please get in touch.

About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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