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Women’s Leadership Matters: The impact of women’s leadership in the Canadian federal public service


Abstract and Figures

This study was undertaken to determine whether women in leadership positions in the Canadian federal Public Service (PS) have had an impact on policy, programs, operations, administration or workplace conditions, what that impact might be, and how to measure it. The impact of other Employment Equity groups (persons with disabilities, members of visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples) also formed part of this research in a preliminary exploration of how and why representative bureaucracy may work. This report is also Canada’s contribution to the Wilson Center’s Global Women’s Leadership Initiative Women in Public Service Project (WPSP). The study is based on qualitative interviews with 26 female and male, current and retired Executive (EX) and Deputy Minister (DM) and equivalent level managers in the Canadian federal public service. Key findings Women have a significant impact on programs and culture: • The major impact over the past 25 years is on changing cultural norms, establishing an inclusive workplace and influencing leadership expectations. The majority of women and a minority of men interviewed for this study identified their leadership style as a significant contribution they are making to the PS. All of them characterized their leadership style as open, collaborative, and less hierarchical. They emphasized empathy and supporting employees to be their best. This corresponds to the “women’s leadership style” documented in management literature. It should be noted that not all women embody this style and some men do. Although the value of this style is recognized, PS structures and hierarchies do not necessarily facilitate this style. • The cultural change brought about by women has been widespread across government, albeit less so in the central agencies and in those where women are neither half the personnel nor half the leadership, such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). • Through their work in the PS, women also have an impact on policy, programs and operations such as in fisheries, the automotive industry, national security, natural resources, the environment, science, human resources and international relations. In some cases, these public servants may have been among the few or only women in discussions that involved male-dominated industries or sectors, providing an avenue for the representation of Canadian women’s perspectives in these areas. Diversity matters: • All the research participants agreed that having diversity around the table contributes to better policy, program development, operations, public consultations, services and workplace conditions. Most were able to give concrete examples of how women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal people and people from ethnocultural minority or linguistic minority backgrounds were able to bring something to the table from their own backgrounds, experiences or perspectives by being able to see something that was otherwise missed. • The value of this diversity was not limited to gender and the Employment Equity (EE) groups (persons with disabilities, members of visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples), but also included having operations and regional people at the policy development table. • A critical mass was seen as important for members of under-represented groups to feel comfortable and to be able to contribute without fear of marginalization or harassment. Facilitating factors and barriers: • Factors that enabled public servants to make a difference included trust, leadership programs and training, management that is open, supportive and flexible, latitude, a non-hierarchical approach, an open and inclusive workplace culture, openness at the political level, being allowed to take initiative and innovate, role models and mentorship, having intelligent and skilled team members, and determination, persistence, and resilience. • Fear, lack of trust, risk aversion are the primary factors that can constrain public servants from making a difference, followed by system rigidity (including hierarchy, onerous, unnecessary time-consuming procedures and paperwork and structural blocks), the political level and other workplace constraints (such as bad managers and constant changes in priorities). The study also documents the difficulties related to measuring impact and recommendations for the Government of Canada. The appendix contains information about how Canada reached a high level of female leadership in its public service.
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The Impact Of Women’s
Leadership In The Canadian
Federal Public Service
Examining the impact of Women in the Public Service requires a great
deal of collaboration from those who serve or have served in the
Public Service. We were fortunate to have many women and men
who were willing to take the time to engage in a lengthy interview
and to share their experiences and ideas. We are truly grateful for
their eor t.
Thank you to all the leaders who gave of your time to participate
in the Critical Conversation held at Carleton University. Your views
and ideas contributed to a deeper understanding of the role and
impact of women in the Public Service.
We are grateful to the Public Service Commission of Canada for its
support and advice in making this report possible.
Thank you to all the members of the team at Carleton for
their support and to Dr. Marika Morris for all of her work on this
important research.
We are pleased to share our findings widely including through
the network of the Wilson’s Center’s Global Women’s Leadership
Initiative Women in Public Service Project.
Clare Beckton
Executive Director, Centre for Women in Politics and Public
L. Pauline Rankin
Associate Vice-President (Research and International)
Member, Gender Equality Measurement Project (GEM)
Merridee Bujaki
Director, Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work
Susan Phillips
Academic Director, Centre for Women in Politics and Public
Recommended citation:
Morris, Marika. 2016. Women’s Leadership Matters: The impact of
women’s leadership in the Canadian federal public service. Ottawa:
Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership, Carleton
ISBN 9780770905965
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Dr. Marika Morris is an Adjunct Research Professor in the School
of Canadian Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She
has over 25 years of experience in public policy research both directly
in the federal government, and for Members of Parliament, non-gov-
ernmental organizations and as a consultant. She also has signicant
community-based research experience, particularly as Research
Coordinator for the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement
of Women and as a consultant working on Indigenous issues. She was
involved in Metropolis, a Canadian and international network of
researchers, policy-makers and community organizations
interested in issues of migration and diversity.
Dr. Morris helped one of Canada’s largest government departments,
known then as Human Resources Development Canada, establish its
processes to conduct gender-based analysis. She was also invited to
help develop a 4th year/graduate course at McGill University in
Montreal on gender-based analysis of public policy.
Dr. Morris currently heads a research, communications and
training consulting business with several specializations, one of
which is working with governments within Canada and around the
world on how to conduct and utilize gender and diversity
analysis in the development and evaluation of policy,
programs and legislation.
Dr. Morris helped one of
Canada’s largest
government departments,
known then as Human
Resources Development
Canada, establish its
processes to conduct
gender-based analysis.
This study was undertaken to determine whether women in
leadership positions in the Canadian federal Public Service (PS)
have had an impact on policy, programs, operations, administration
or workplace conditions, what that impact might be, and how to
measure it. The impact of other Employment Equity groups (persons
with disabilities, members of visible minorities and Aboriginal
peoples) also formed part of this research in a preliminary
exploration of how and why representative bureaucracy may work.
This report is also Canada’s contribution to the Wilson Center’s
Global Women’s Leadership Initiative Women in Public Service
Project (WPSP). The WPSP seeks to have 50% representation of
women in public services around the world by 2050. Women already
make up 55% of Canada’s federal Public Service (PS), including
46% at the Executive level of management and about a third at the
most senior level (Deputy Minister and equivalent). The question
Canada may be in the position is to answer is, “now that women are
in, what dierence does it make?” This report is aimed at a
Canadian and international audience that seeks to understand the
impact of women’s leadership, and particularly at governments that
wish to make the most of women’s skills, experience and talent.
The study is based on qualitative interviews with 26 female and
male, current and retired Executive (EX) and Deputy Minister (DM)
and equivalent level managers in the Canadian federal PS, striving
for representation of Francophones and Anglophones, executives in
the regions and headquarters, and members of Employment
Equity groups.
Key Findings
Women have a signicant impact on programs and culture:
All of the interviewees said public servants can and do make an
impact, and were able to provide personal examples of how they
had done so. Many said that this is why most people join the pub-
lic service, to make a dierence.
The major impact over the past 25 years is on changing cultural
norms, establishing an inclusive workplace and inuencing
leadership expectations. The majority of women and a minority of
men inter viewed for this study identied their leadership style as a
signicant contribution they are making to the PS. All of them
characterized their leadership style as open, collaborative, and
less hierarchical. They emphasized empathy and supporting
employees to be their best. This corresponds to the “women’s
leadership style” documented in management literature. It should
be noted that not all women embody this style and some men do.
Although the value of this style is recognized, PS structures and
hierarchies do not necessarily facilitate this style.
The cultural change brought about by women has been widespread
across government, albeit less so in the central agencies and in those
where women are neither half the personnel nor half the leadership,
such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian
Armed Forces (CAF).
Through their work in the PS, women also have an impact on policy,
programs and operations such as in sheries, the automotive industry,
national security, natural resources, the environment, science, human
resources and international relations. In some cases, these public
servants may have been among the few or only women in
discussi ons that involved male-dominated industries or sectors,
providing an avenue for the representation of Canadian women’s
perspectives in these areas.
Impact is dicult to measure:
There is no empirical measure of women’s impact in the PS that
would be accurate or unproblematic, including gender analyses of
existing performance measures. The majority view was that a
series of case studies of policy change in which all the players
could be interviewed, including junior and senior bureaucrats, poli-
ticians, and members of NGOs, business, media and other
stakeholders, might yield the best results that could take
context into account.
More than half of our sample did not see any dierence in approach
or perspective between women and men, although an empirical
study of public service leaders in Canadian federal, provincial
and territorial governments did nd gender dierences in priorities,
reflecting gender trends in the wider Canadian public on policy
Diversity matters:
All the research participants agreed that having diversity around
the table contributes to better policy, program development,
operations, public consultations, services and workplace conditions.
Most were able to give concrete examples of how women, people
with disabilities, Aboriginal people and people from ethnocultural
minority or linguistic minority backgrounds were able to bring
something to the table from their own backgrounds, experiences or
perspectives by being able to see something that was otherwise
The value of this diversity was not limited to gender and the
Employment Equity (EE) groups (persons with disabilities, members
of visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples), but also included having
operations and regional people at the policy development table.
A critical mass was seen as important for members of under-
represented groups to feel comfortable and to be able to
contribute without fear of marginalization or harassment.
Facilitating factors and barriers:
Factors that enabled public servants to make a dierence included
trust, leadership programs and training, management that is open,
supportive and exible, latitude, a non-hierarchical approach, an
open and inclusive workplace culture, openness at the political level,
being allowed to take initiative and innovate, role models and
mentorship, having intelligent and skilled team members, and
determination, persistence, and resilience.
Fear, lack of trust, risk aversion are the primary factors that can
constrain public servants from making a difference, followed by
system rigidity (including hierarchy, onerous, unnecessary time-
consuming procedures and paperwork and structural blocks), the
political level and other workplace constraints (such as bad
managers and constant changes in priorities). The interviews were
conducted in late 2014 and early 2015 in a certain political
atmosphere. Although the atmosphere has since changed, it
remains to be seen whether the mechanisms entrenched in the PS
will also change.
Senior leadership lags:
The Deputy Minister level was viewed as lacking a “diversity of
mindset, and was not as diverse in gender or other characteristics
as the Executive level. Where hiring is based on open, merit-based
processes, women do well. When hiring is based on appointment
at the Prime Minister’s pleasure, such as the Deputy Minister level,
women and other EE groups do not do as well.
Some interviewees observed that now that women have made it
to the top, the PS has less inuence than ever, particularly on policy.
Recommendations for the Government of Canada
Flatten the PS hierarchy and support “women’s leadership
style”. This is a non-hierarchical form of leadership described by
many of our female and some of our male research participants,
which corresponds to the “women’s leadership style” documented
in the academic literature as being particularly successful for
organizations with a substantially professional workforce. This
leadership style is characterized by respecting staff and “getting
out of their way”, gathering information and viewpoints from sta
and making decisions based on these, and coordinating and
facilitating the work of staff rather than dictating it.
Lessen fear through developing an approach to taking calculated
risks and making mistakes. Publicise this approach, so that the
media and most Canadians can recognize that basing decisions on
evidence and “due diligence” is what is important, as well as
acknowledging and correcting any unintended consequences.
Streamline accountability paperwork to free up the time and
energy of managers and employees. This could involve the better
use of electronic systems so that information need only be entered once.
Reinstate and modernize past successful programs or develop
new leadership development programs to build and strengthen
leadership capacity in the PS.
Re-examine the process of appointing by Governor-in-Council to
ensure that the criteria being used are not disadvantaging women
and other EE groups. Questions to consider in particular would be,
how are people’s leadership skills and abilities being evaluated? Is it
based on years in certain positions, which might disadvantage anyone
with signicant family responsibilities or who started further down? Is a
background in economics seen as more of an advantage than a back-
ground in other areas? Is a policy background favoured over an
op erational or administrative one? Is there a premium placed on people’s
reputation or what they say about themselves, which may not capture the
skills and abilities of people who may be more modest? Is there an
“image of leadership” that is considered, and is this image based on
evidence, or on what has been the practice in the past?
Promote an inclusive workplace culture in the pockets of the
PS where it has not yet taken root.
Routinely include the feedback of employees in promotion
considerations for managers. Bad managers should be retrained
or moved to a non-management position.
Play a greater role to help other countries improve gender,
diversity and inclusion practices in their public services. Many
countries are watching Canada’s progress and may welcome greater
Canadian participation in the Worldwide Women Public Sector
Leaders Network.
Many countries are watching
Canada’s progress and may
welcome greater Canadian
participation in the Worldwide
Women Public Sector
Leaders Network.
Executive Summary
Research Findings
How Public Servants Have An Impact On Policy, Programs, Operations,
Administration And Workplace Conditions
  TheAttractionOfPublicServiceAndMakingADierence
Factors That Enable Public Servants To Make An Impact
Factors That Constrain Public Servants From Making An Impact
Measuring The Impact Women Have Had
Impact Of Equity Issues And Beyond
Gender And Leadership Style
  GenerationalDierences
It Is Important To Have Equal Representation Of Women And Men At The Top
Diversity Is Greater That Employment Equity Groups
Aboriginal Cultures And Realities
Racial, Ethnic And Linguistic Minorities And Immigrants In The Public Service
People With Disabilities
  GenderAndCulturalDierencesInCommunication
  IdenticationWithAndRepresentationOfDemographicGroups
Perceived Lack Of “Diversity Of Mindset” At The Top
Appendix A: The Canadian Model - Why Canada Has Gender Parity In
Its Public Service
Canada is ranked number one in the world in terms of women’s
representation in public service leadership by Ernst & Young (EY, 2014).
Most countries in the world are trying to get more women into their
public service, whereas 55% of Canada’s federal Public Service (PS) is
made up of women, including 46% at the Executive level (Treasury
Boa rd, 2014) and about a third of the Deputy Minister (senior
leadership) level.
The Washington, D.C.-based Wilson Center, as part of its Global
Women’s Leadership Initiative, launched the Women in Public Service
Project. The aim of this project is to have women make up 50% of
public service leadership around the world by 2050. There are many
studies about the barriers to women in the PS, and this is what most
countries are concentrating on. This research paper is Canada’s
contribution to the Women in Public Service Project, not another
study of barriers, but a preliminary investigation into the impact of
women’s leadership in the PS. The research question is: Now that
women are in, what dierence does it make?
Although some of the evidence is conicting, mounting data indi-
cates that women in key leadership/management roles and on
boards of directors in the private sector are associated with an
improvement in performance in general (Dezso and Ross, 2012),
nancial performance in particular (Catalyst, 2004) and higher
scores on nine organizational dimensions (including leadership,
work environment and values, coordination and control) that are
positively associated with higher operating margins (McKinsey,
2008). Most research on the impact of women’s leadership in the
private sector focuses on the bottom line. In Canada’s PS,
departmental and agency budgets are set by Parliament, and senior
public servants are expected to spend what has been allocated,
certainly not more, and not much less. The bottom line cannot,
therefore, be used as an indicator. Twenty-one female and ve male
current and former Canadian federal public servants at the top two
ranks of management were interviewed about how best to measure
the impact of women in the PS, as well as what making an impact
meant to them and how public servants in general and senior public
servants in particular can have an impact including their personal
experiences. Further inquiries related to observations of how
women and members of other EE groups have had an impact, what
enables and constrains public servants from making an impact, and
how women and other groups are viewed within the PS when
speaking about issues related to their demographic groups.
Although most of the interviews were a half hour long, some gave us
over an hour of their time discussing their experiences and insights
with us about these topics. This research paper is the only known
study of the impact of women’s leadership in the public sector.
In Canada, women are one of four Employment Equity (EE)1
groups, which also include Aboriginal Peoples, Members of Visible
Minority Groups and Persons with Disabilities. We have taken into
account in this research the other EE groups because women are a
part of the other three, and because it is important to understand
how a diversity of women can have an impact.
Canada’s Employment Equity Act applies to federally-regulated
businesses with 100 or more employees and the federal public
sector. It requires those organizations covered by the Act to report
annually on the representation of the four designated groups and
also on what measures, if any, the organization has taken to
improve representation. The data are compared not to the presence
of these groups in the population, but their presence in the labour
force. It is not a quota system.
The research generated a great deal of data, not all of which is con-
tained in this report. The purpose of this report is a practical one –
to be used by governments and anyone interested in understanding
the impact of women’s leadership and let them know how to support
women’s leadership if they so choose.
Although this research was a preliminary qualitative foray into
how to measure the impact of women in the PS, ndings emerged
about how public servants (male or female) could have an impact in
general, and what supported women in management.
The Canadian federal PS did not start out as welcoming toward
women. Women were red upon marriage until 1955. The 1990 Task
Force on Barriers to Women in the Public Service found widespread
discrimination and obstacles to women’s advancement. Twenty-ve
years later, Canada rose to the top PS in the world in terms of the
representation of women in management. Considering the many
international users of this report who may be interested in removing
barriers to women in management, or simply to the entry of women
into the PS, and the fact that some of our research ndings were
about this topic, we address this issue in Appendix A.
Canada is ranked number one in the world in terms of women’s
representation in public service leadership by Ernst & Young
(EY, 2 014).
1 Canada’s Emp loyment Equit y Act applies to f ederally-r egulated bus inesses with 10 0 or more employe es and the fede ral public sec tor. It re-
quires th ose organiz ations cover ed by the Act to repo rt annuall y on the repres entation of the fo ur designat ed groups and a lso on what m easures , if
any, the organ ization has ta ken to improve re presentati on. The data ar e compared not to t he presence o f these group s in the populati on, but their
presenc e in the labour fo rce. It is not a quo ta system.
Twenty-six Executive (EX) and Deputy Minister (DM) and equivalent
level managers in the PS2 were interviewed for this study between
October 2014 and March 2015. These are the two most senior catego-
ries of public servants in the Government of Canada. The sample
was identied by various means. A list of suggested inter viewees was
provided by the Public Service Commission of Canada, some of
whom were contacted for an interview. Some other potential
interviewees were approached because of their known work on
issues of leadership, gender or diversity. Some were chosen from
the Government Electronic Directory Services (GEDS) to ensure
regional representation. Using a snowball sampling method,
interviewees were also asked to provide suggestions of others to
interview. We attempted to ensure representation of other EE groups,
Francophones and public servants based in regional oces and
agencies as well as the National Capital Region (Ottawa-Gatineau)
where the PS is headquartered.
An optional demographic questionnaire was administered to the
interviewees. The interviewees included 21 women and ve men.
Nineteen were currently in the PS, ve were retired PS managers
and two had left the PS to work in another sector. In terms of
current or last rank or level in the PS, Figure 1 shows that there was
good representation of all levels. Fourteen interviewees spoke English
as a rst language, six spoke French, ve had a mother tongue that
was neither English nor French, and there was no data for one. Of the
interviewees who provided the data, 20 were born in Canada and ve
outside Canada, a ratio similar to the Canadian population as a
whole. Three interviewees identied as a person with a disability 3,
one as an Aboriginal person, ve as visible minorities, and three as
members of sexual identity minorities. Five interviewees came from
family socioeconomic backgrounds which were in the upper third of
society, ten from the middle, eight from the bottom third, and there was
no data for three. The age range of our interviewees was 38 to 68,
reecting the fact that managers tend to be older than 30. All had at
least one university degree, reecting the value of education in
the PS, and most had degrees beyond the Bachelor level. Only 24
interviewees provided information about number of children. Of 20
women who did so, two had no children, three had one child, 12 had
two children, and three had three children each. Among the four men
who provided this information, one had no children and three had two
children. Eight female and one male manager currently had
children under 18.
2 For example, GCQ-level heads of federal agencies.
3Thete rmsanddeni tionsforper sonswithdi sabilities ,Aborigina lpeoplesandmem bersofavisiblemin oritygroupareta kenfromtheGov-
ernmentofC anada’semployeese lf-identicatio nform(TreasuryBo ard,2002)andcorre spondtoEmploymentE quitytermsandde nitions. These
are:“Apersonw ithadisability(i )hasalong-termorre curringphysical,mental,sensory,psychiatricorlearningimpairmentandconsiderhimself/
herself to be disadvantaged in employm ent by reason of t hat impairme nt, or, believes tha t an employer or pot ential employer is likely to consid-
erhim/hertobedisadvantagedinemploymentbyreaso nofthatimpairment ,andincludespers onswhosefunction allimitationsowin gto
their impairment have been accommodated in their current job or workplace”; “An Aboriginal person is a North American Indian or a mem-
ber of a First N ation or w ho is Métis , or Inuit. Nor th American In dians or memb ers of a First Nat ion inc lude s tatus , treat y or r egiste red I ndians ,
aswe llasno n-stat usandnon-re gisteredIndian s”;“Apersoninav isibleminorityi nCanadais someon e(othert hananA borigin alpers onas
dene d…above)whoisnon-whit eincolour/race,reg ardlessofplaceofb irth.”
Typically, managers in the PS move around to a number of
departments and agencies, gaining experience. Our sample
wa s no exception. Interviewees had worked in a wide range of
departments/agencies4 during their careers. Only ve of our
sample had neve r worked outside the PS, and all of these were in the
top or middle thirds in terms of family socioeconomic background.
Those with work experience outside the PS had an eclectic variety of
occupations, from call centre operator, restaurant server and retail
clerk, to university professor, private practice lawyer and corporate
vice-president. There were also teachers, consultants, political sta.
people who had worked in not-for-prot organizations, the private
sector and provincial governments.
We aimed for a full range of perspectives and a good diversity of
interviewees as we were looking for insights from ever y possible
angle, and we succeeded in nding these. Other demographic
information collected will be outlined where relevant in the
Of 37 EX and DM level individuals who were approached to
participate in the study, 30 accepted, 1 declined and 6 did not reply.
This is a positive response rate of 81%, although scheduling conicts
prevented four of these from participating before the end of the
study. There was a lot of interest about the topic. Interviews were
conducted by telephone or in person.
On behalf of researchers from Carleton University’s Faculties of Pub-
lic Aairs (Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership), Arts
and Social Sciences, and the Sprott School of Business
(Centre for Research and Education on Women and Work) with the
strong support of the Public Service Commission of Canada,
Carleton University’s President invited senior public servants,
academics, members of the private sector, media representatives
and other interested parties to a Critical Conversation held on
February 24, 2015 to discuss and give feedback about the study’s
preliminary ndings. This feedback helped us gain further insight into
the ndings.
As a qualitative study meant to explore ideas about how to
measure women’s impact, we also collected information about the
impact women had in the PS. Although this is not a quantitative
measurement, the ndings are put in the context of existing, related
literature about women’s impact in the workplace and on
EX-01 &
EX-03 EX-04 &
DM &
Figure 1: Rank /level of interviewees
This bar chart shows that there was good representation of all levels of management-category public servants.
4Weadvisedo ursamplethatifadep artmentoragencyh adbeenrenamedorama lgamatedwithanother,tochoos ethedepartment/
agencythatmostcloselycorrespondedwithittoday.Ourintervieweeswereworkingi norhadworkedin:Abor iginalAairsandN orthern
Development, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Canada Border Services Agency, Canada
Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Canada Revenue Agency, Canada School of Public Service, Canadian Heritage, Canadian Hu-
man Rights Com mission, Canadi an Radio-televis ion and Telecommunications Commission, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Correc-
tionalSe rviceofCanada,D epartmentofFina nce,Employmentan dSocialDevelopme ntCanada/Servic eCanada/Labour Progra m,
Environment Canada, Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, Fisheries and
OceansCa nada,ForeignAa irsCanadaandInt ernatio nalTrad eCanada,HealthCanada,IndustryCanada,InfrastructureCanada,Justice
Canada,N ationalDefence ,NaturalResour cesCanada,Oceoft heCommissionerofO cialLanguage s,OceoftheSuperi ntendentofFi-
nancialI nstitutions,Priv yCouncilOce,Pub licHealthAgencyofCa nada,PublicSafe tyCanada,PublicS ervantsDisclo sureProtectionTribu -
nal,Pu blicServic eCommissio nofCanada,P ublicServ iceStangTribun alCanada,PublicWo rksandGovernmentS ervicesCanada ,Royal
Canad ianMounte dPolice,S enateofCa nada(sta ),Statisti csCanada,Sta tusofWomenCanada,Tra nsportCanada,Tre asuryBoardofCanada
Secreta riat,VeteranAair s,WesternEconomi cDiversicationC anadaandtwodepa rtments/agenci esthatnolongerexis t.
The research ndings are divided into three main areas: impact,
gender and diversity. The rst section documents the ndings on
whether public servants in general and senior public servants in
particular can have an impact and how they have an impact on
policies, programs, operations, administration and workplace
We asked our par ticipants what having an impact meant to them.
A good encapsulation was “contributing to a positive change for
Canada though policy, program or regulatory development,
operations and provision of service and workplace conditions.
Research participants were very proud of the contributions they had
made, and ever yone was able to name examples of where they had
personally made a dierence.
This section discusses the impact public servants make; the
perception that making a dierence is part of what attracts people,
particularly women, to the PS; the factors that enable and constrain
public servants from making an impact; and whether it is possible to
measure the impact women have had in the PS, or specically in PS
leadership, over the years.
How Public Servants Have An Impact On
Policy, Programs, Operations, Administration
And Workplace Conditions
It is very rare in research to have 100% of a sample of people say one
thing. In this case, every single participant interviewed for this study
said that individual public servants can and do have an impact, that they
make a dierence. Many even said that this was the reason they joined
the public service. The following were a few of the many examples that
were given:
Introducing health and safety regulations that saved lives.
Having a major, positive financial impact on some of the most
vulnerable Canadians through improvements to pensions,
Worker’s Compensation, Wage Earner Protection Program, and
other programs.
Protecting ecosystems and habitats.
Aligning federal, provincial and territorial systems so people in need
could have access to the suppor t they needed without having to ll
out multiple forms for dierent levels of government operating with
dierent criteria.
Coming up with policy options in a crisis, one of which was
Hearing the words one wrote coming out of the Prime Ministers
mouth on a major international issue.
Starting a program with three people in one region, and having it
become so successful it became a national program.
Doing a program review involving 22 million tax les and
recommending policy changes that were carried out to benet
Stakeholder relations – being the face of the Government of
Canada and knowing that stakeholders’ perceptions of
government were improved.
Building trust and relationships with provinces and stakeholders in
order to introduce solutions or measures that benetted Canadians.
Exceptional service – such as putting a lot of eort and creativity
into coaching unemployed people on how to find work, and
ma king a substantial dierence to them and their families because
they found work.6
Changing a recruitment test that seemed biased to allow for a
greater diversity of people to be recruited. This had an impact on
the lives of all those who were recruited, as well as the government
agency, which beneted from increasing diversity.
Negotiating a security agreement with foreign governments.
Providing cultural awareness training to front-line service providers
to ensure all Canadians are treated with sensitivity and respect.
Modelling a collaborative style, appreciation of others and
openness to ideas that became the cultural norm at the
Inuencing workplace conditions through participation in
departmental committees, such as Occupational Health and
Safety, Equity, etc.
Mentoring others to succeed.
Many Canadians do not realize how much the PS permeates their
lives, and how the PS can have a life and death impact on
Canadians, such as through food inspection, drug regulation and
search and rescue.
I’m in a regulatory organization with service delivery. If we don’t do
our job, people get hurt and people can die.
There are many ways to have an impact, and many levels at which
impact can take place. Impact can be large in scale, such as
developing legislation or a program in eect throughout the country
or working on an international initiative, or having a positive eect on
colleagues and sta in a workplace that better enables them to do a
good job. Although some people were able to point to particular
initiative s that had been their idea, most felt they contributed
something valuable to a team. The dierence many public servants
make is not necessarily what someone outside the public service in
an individualistic culture might expect. By definition, public
ser vants work with many others both inside and outside the PS:
6Thisexamp lecamefromanAssi stantDeputyMini ster(ADM)whostart edoutatamuchlowerleve l(CR-03)intheregi ons,andtalkedabo utthe
impact she h ad had at every l evel of her care er.
There’s no end to the good you can do in the world if you’re not
worried about who gets the credit.
Sometimes the true impact of their work cannot be seen for many
years, and sometimes it is hard to ascribe full credit. Policy
development is a complex process inuenced by many dierent
factors inside and outside government, and often relies on windows of
Most of the female managers and some of the male managers
interviewed overwhelmingly spoke of an individual public servant’s
impact on workplace conditions and other people as the major
impact any public servant, and especially managers, could make.
Creating good workplace conditions facilitates public servants to
work at their best:
Leading by example. That is the single most important thing you do,
and the higher up you go, the more important it becomes. It’s like
you’re always on display, and you really need to be conscious of the
The Attraction Of Public Service And Making
A Difference
The reason I’m a Public Servant is a really simple one. I want to make
Canada better. It’s as simple as that, and I don’t think there’s a better
place to do that than within the Federal Public Service.
I think that’s why Public Servants join the Public Service, is they want
to make a difference, they want to have an impact, and they stay
in the public service because they feel that they are making that
that difference.
Lina Nilsson, Innovation Director at the Blum Center for Developing
Economies at the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that
women are drawn to elds and organizations where they can make a
dierence. Nilsson, herself a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering, cites as
an example the low numbers of female engineers, except in programs
focussed on having a positive social and economic impact. When U.C.
Berkeley began oering a new Ph.D. minor in development
engineering for students doing work to design solutions for low-
income communities, half the students enrolled in the inaugural class
were women (Nilsson, 2015). Whether women are naturally drawn to
areas in which they can make a dierence, or whether they are
socialized to work primarily for the good of others rather than
themselves, it could explain in part why women are drawn to the
public service.
In terms of a rewarding job versus what you see in the private
sector, it’s clear, night and day. In the private sector it’s all
economics, all bottom line. For us, it’s about helping people,
making people’s lives better. Making the country better.
My mother, as a nurse, was in the service area and I think that she
Factors That Enable Public Servants To Make
An Impact
Empowering and enabling workplaces were the number one set of
factors cited by our research participants as enabling public servants
to make a dierence, over and above personal qualities, skills and
Leading by example. That is the
single most important thing you
do, and the higher up you go, the
more important it becomes.
The following were the qualities most identied as contributing to an
empowering and enabling workplace, in order of frequency:
Trust, leadership programs and training, management that is open,
great/suppor tive managers, exibility, latitude, a non-hierarchical
approach, an open and inclusive workplace culture, openness at
the political level, being allowed to take initiative and innovate, role
models and mentorship, having intelligent and skilled team
members. Also mentioned to a lesser extent were: Being able to
connect with colleagues in other countries, being permitted to
speak outside the organization, clear direction, commitment to
work-life balance, culture of creativity, exchanges with NGOs, the
private sector and other governments, good morale and
collaboration among team members, mentorship, role models,
rewards and recognition, sucient tools and resources to do the job,
and support from the top.
Determination, persistence, and resilience were the personal qualities
most often cited as enabling public servants to make a dierence,
followed by creativity, courage/boldness, ability and willingness to ask
for and take responsibility and challenge, curiosity, motivation, open-
mindedness, credibility and an entrepreneurial or innovative bent.
In terms of skill sets that enabled public servants to make a dierence,
the most frequently cited was communication or interpersonal skills,
followed by analytical skills. In terms of background and experience,
exposure to dierent places, people and things were important to
our research participants, and two found being close to retirement
empowering for being better able to say what one thought and push
In addition to asking what enabled public servants in general, we
asked our sample of managers what enabled them in particular. Work
experience was most important, followed by family background and
education. Interestingly, in terms of personal qualities, two of our male
interviewees oered things like “arrogance” and “knowing I’m right” as
factors that had personally enabled them, whereas one of our female
interviewees cited “the right amount of humility” as an enabling factor.
Some context and texture are given to these results below.
Empowering And Enabling Work Environments
Trust was the number one enabling factor cited by our participants.
Related to this was management openness and latitude to let
people do their jobs and exercise judgment and creativity. A number
of managers talked about creating space for their employees, and
mentioned that they themselves had great managers who did this
for them and from whom they learned:
0 10 20 30 40 50 60
Empowering and
enabling workplaces
Personal qualities
Background and
Figure 2: Factors that enabled public servants to make a dierence
Note: Numbers do not add up to the numbers of interviewees because most inter viewees named several factors.
Team dynamics were inuenced
by managers, who both set the
tone and established trust, but
also dealt effectively with any
problems arising from
personality issues or mismatches
between what people were
assigned to do and what they
were capable of producing.
I’m an energetic person and I was excited about it [the initiative the
So I had to let them do it. And it can be hard for me sometimes, or
at least it was for me at that stage of my career. I was just a new DG
at that point. To sort of step back and let them have it. Guide them
as you would a ship – from way back.
Great managers that I worked for said, “That’s a great idea. Why
don’t you go do it?” And you’re like, ‘What?” But they create the
space in your job or your assignment of duties for you to go either
And another time would be at Service Canada under the time of [a
particular leader] which was just a wonderful heady time. You could
do anything, and if you could sell her with the idea of change and
pushing the envelope, she would support you. And the last example
it. So if you’re at the right place at the right time with the right
management structure, you can actually do a lot. But, if that space
isn’t given for you then you’re marking time. You know, I think overall
in my career I’ve been pretty lucky to have a lot of opportunities
where I’ve had good managers who have given me that space.
get out of the way.
Latitude is not the same as lack of direction. It is clear direction
that employees who want the responsibility can shape a project
or initiative. An empowering workplace was also described as one
in which hierarchy did not matter, that people’s abilities were used
and recognized no matter what level they were at. A manager felt
he accomplished most when:
the door.
Good team dynamics were important to doing a great, rather than a
good enough, job. Team dynamics were inuenced by managers,
who both set the tone and established trust, but also dealt eectively
with any problems arising from personality issues or mismatches
between what people were assigned to do and what they were
capable of producing.
We had fun doing it, and we did a good job. We liked each other,
and we delivered.
Leadership Development Programs
Canada has now had two female Clerks of the Privy Council,
Canada’s highest PS position. Jocelyne Bourgon, the rst female
in the position held the oce from 1994 to 1999, and was
mentioned as having made a signicant impact in the PS.
how we do leadership development in the Public Service. And it’s
actually thanks to her that I became an ADM [be]cause I’m not sure
that I would have otherwise. She created a program called the ADM
and say, “I think I might like to become an ADM.” Now, you still had
to get the approval of your Deputy Minister to actually go through
behavioural tests and you did a very deep dive into your CV, and
then you went through a really scary inter view with a bunch of
Deputy Ministers. And if you did all of these things, and you had the
suppor tofyourdeputy,youwouldbepre-qualiedattheADM
Determination, persistence, and resilience were the personal
qualities most often cited as enabling public servants to make a
difference, followed by creativity, courage/boldness, ability and
willingness to ask for and take responsibility and challenge,
curiosity, motivation, open-mindedness, credibility and an
entrepreneurial or innovative bent.
If you really want to see
something change, you really
have to show the leadership
and change it yourself.
level, so that anybody could pick you up. And I decided to do that,
and it was thanks to her. She also created a great Accelerated
Executive Development Program, which, allowed people who
might not normally have come up to self-identify and then to be
put through really intensive development to help them get ready f
lot more women coming up through that. A lot more people who
self-identified as being visible minorities, and a few more people
The Accelerated Executive Development Program was mentioned by
a number of managers who credited this program for much of what
they learned about leadership, and for creating a mutually supportive
community of leaders. At one point, it was also used as a way to
attract qualied managers from outside the PS who were already in
mid-career, so that they would not have to start from the bottom in the
PS. This helped to bolster the ranks of managers who were members
of visible minority groups. This program no longer exists. Some
managers also identied the Direxion program as having a major, positive
inuence on their ability to lead:
ion program [was] really critical and instrumental in helping equip me as
a manager and as a leader, to be able to work towards those kinds of
collaborative environments and being mindful of how you deliver things,
and the importance of a quality work environment from a people
perspective. I really fundamentally think that the training I received
Dirextion does not exist anymore either. The Canada School of Public
Service now oers a leadership course called ConnEXion, for EX-02s
and EX-03s. The Management Trainee Program (MTP), which also no
longer exists was also cited as being helpful:
I came into government through the management trainee program so
I’ve been trained from the beginning, through the School of the Public
think, from “old school” management. Much more focused on
leadership, and much more focused on empowering people, and
supporting people, and coaching and mentoring, and achieving
results in a way that’s respectful, and thats engaging, that’s
supportive of people.
In some ways, the successor to the MTP is the Recruitment of
Policy Leaders (RPL) program, also cited as successful. This
program seeks to identify and bring exceptional candidates into
the PS:
I do have a bias towards those kinds of programs that shake up the
system a bit, because it will bring new ideas and new perspectives.
I found that they provide value-added. And they are different,
andofcou rse,Directorswerecondentandhappyhavingthose
kind[s] of people.
The cost of leadership programs and the time away from work were
identied as reasons why these are scaled down and some managers
never get to do them. The shorter required training focuses on
understanding nancial authorities and paperwork, and ver y little
time is spent teaching people the skills of leadership. As a result,
the PS does have managers who do not know how to be good
Organizationally, we need to make sure managers are equipped to do
who come up through the ranks because they’re being promoted
because they’re good at their job. They’re good policy analysts,
they’re good engineers, they’re good whatever the heck they are,
and then they get promoted to management positions without the
suppor t they need to become good managers.
Personal Qualities: Persistence, Optimism,
Flexibility, Initiative
If you really want to see something change, you really have to show
the leadership and change it yourself.
Persistence, optimism and determination were cited as a way to
deal with bad experiences without becoming discouraged. A
woman who rose through the ranks to become a senior leader, and
had many examples of where she had developed and implemented
major successful initiatives, was not always encouraged by her
managers on her way up:
no more interested in helping that guy succeed in his goals than to
This is a hard thing about Public Service is that the impact of what
we do is often very indirect and often very distant. I do something
here and it becomes something over there and it goes over and it’s
part of something else, and sometimes ten years later something
happens. It’s hard for people to stay motivated when the results of
what you’re doing are so far away it’s so hard to see your impact. So
part of what is enabling is the capacity to stay motivated, the sup-
ports around you to keep you and your colleagues motivated, those
become really important to allowing a person to have a positive im-
pact, in terms of the factors being the same for members of the ex-
ecutive ranks.
Although some perceived these qualities as innate, others stated
that they could be learned:
Lots of this has to do with personal and individual empowerment
and enablement. Whatever those capacities are that allow us as in-
dividuals to say, I have something to say, I have a right to be heard,
all of those kinds of capacities that we either developed early in
childhood or developed as we go through life.
Work Experience And Family Background
Work experience was most cited as a personally enabling factor for
the managers in our sample, followed by family background.
Within the category of work experience, varied work experience
and experience outside the PS (in NGOs, the private sector and pro-
vincial governments) were most helpful to the managers, followed
by political experience, working in the regions and working
Family background had also made a signicant impact on
managers’ ability to make a dierence. The experience of growing
up in a lower socioeconomic context motivated a number of manag-
ers to make a dierence, or to succeed as individuals. One credited
her character, resilience, work ethic and ability to handle unexpect-
ed challenges to growing up doing hard work on a farm. The immi-
grant experience was also signicant for a number of interviewees.
When they [interviewee’s parents] came here they left every thing
they knew and everything they had and they came here and really
we had nothing. We had absolutely nothing, but we had really good
values. They instilled some really good values and an excellent work
know that many of my colleagues talk about the rural reality making
adierence.Andotherslikemypartnertalksaboutpover tymaking
doesn’t matter what you have. It matters who you are, and what
you do with who you are, and how you extend who you are to others,
in order to move communities forward.
Regardless of socioeconomic status, the values instilled by parents
came up as an enabling factor, particularly also a commitment by
parents to community service and helping others. In an organization
as large as the PS comprising hundreds of thousands of employees,
the likelihood of some public servants not coming from a supportive
background is assured. This underscores the need for mentorship
and good role models in the PS, so those who did not have the
benet of good parental values can learn if need be how to make a
positive dierence and that they and their work matter.
Factors That Constrain Public Servants From
Making An Impact
Fear, lack of trust and risk aversion were overwhelmingly named as
the number one factors constraining public servants’ ability to make
a dierence (see Figure 3). This category also included “culture of
blame”, “lack of respect” and “managers who are too controlling”.
The second most common set of factors was grouped under
“system rigidity”: hierarchy, structural blocks, turf issues, lack of
sharing information within and between depar tments, onerous
time-wasting procedures and paperwork, size and complexity of
government, and budgetary constraints. The political level and other
workplace constraints were tied. Comments about the role of the
political level are found below. Other workplace constraints include:
bad and/or unsupportive managers, constant changes in priorities
or lack of clarity and inconsistencies in priorities, harassment,
incompetence and mediocrity that is not dealt with or removed, lack
of clear accountability, poisoned workplace or hostile work
environment, and revolving leadership – where leaders do not stay
long. Personal constraints included disillusionment, assuming one
can’t do something so one doesn’t try, family responsibilities,
becoming too attached to one’s work, and lack of varied experience
with dierent kinds of work and people.
In terms of gender and diversity in particular, departmental
culture and the culture of individual work units could either be
enabling or constraining for public servants. Commitment to
inclusion was not found across the board.
At Canadian Heritage, you can have fuchsia hair. People are tolerant
of creativity. At DND [Depar tment of National Defence], not so much.
There are spots of [depar tmental] culture which are supportive and
helpful and then there are places that aren’t. And there are spots of
culture that don’t yet accept women, and places that don’t accept
gays, disabled, and First Nations, and then there are others that are
more welcoming and will use those talents as much as they can.
Lack Of Trust, Fear, Risk Aversion, And A “No
Mistakes” Environment
Lack of trust, risk aversion a culture of fear were at the very top of
the list of factors that constrain public servants from making a
Fear. Fear of failure.... There’s a culture-risk aversion in the Public
Service that’s grown up in the past 10-15 years. As we’ve moved to
a much more 24-7 news cycle, where decision-making gets ques-
tioned all the time, there’s a decline in deference for political institu-
people who are afraid to take risks [and] you get delegation up.
People don’t want to be held accountable, and you get a culture of
the single biggest thing inhibiting public servants, particularly senior
public servants from being bold.
Lack of condence among managers was seen to contribute to risk
Leaders or people in the system who don’t have a good view of
Lack of trust increases the time and paperwork required to get
anything accomplished, and sometimes is a barrier to
accomplishing anything.
Some mentioned constraints on managers in particular:
As I got higher and higher, you’re allowed to say less and less. You
couldn’t have a real conversation with somebody.
I remember at one point in my career, having to do some consultations
[with stakeholders external to the PS] and realizing that I used to do
this all the time, but it’s been 10 years since I’ve had to consult with
anyone because we weren’t allowed to consult. Now we’re being
allowed to consult, but everybody’s got such constraints on
because theyre afraid you might say something wrong. And then it
became you had to have media training before you would be allowed
to talk to a reporter. So it just narrowed to the point where no one
below knew how to talk to anybody, and the people above didn’t
know anything about the detail they were talking about. It’s
broken therelationshipsinmanyways.…Sotherehastobetrust,
believe that our lack of involvement with Canadian citizens and
understanding how their government works is not helpful at all.
Shortly after the October 2015 election, scientists in the PS were
once again given the authority to speak to the media about their
area of expertise. However, the issue of the quality and nature of
public consultations and what public servants are allowed to say is
yet unknown.
Seeking feedback – its an underrated thing. I think that we often
think we know a lot, but you should just ask more questions of the
people that you’re trying to ser ve.
No one interviewed in the study attributed the greater risk aversion in
the PS to an increased presence of women in management. In fact,
all who mentioned risk aversion as a constraining factor perceived it
from coming from above, from the political and PS senior leadership
levels, both of which continue to be dominated by men. Other factors
were the “24/7 media cycle”, social media on which small errors
could become major public relations problems, and an increased
public cynicism about government. The academic literature does
imply that at this cultural and historical moment, women tend to be
more risk averse than men (Coates and Herbert, 2008). A major study
of female senior corporate leaders found that they are in fact less risk
averse than their male counterparts (Caliper, 2014), perhaps because
these are the women who make it into senior levels despite the barriers
they face.
Whatever the case with risk aversion, it is seen by many of our
interviewees as a constraining factor in public servants being able
to make a dierence. This is a dicult problem for the PS to deal
with, as many of the factors contributing to risk aversion are
external. It does underline the need for a national conversation
Figure 3: Factors that constrain public servants from making a dierence
Note: Numbers do not add up to the numbers of interviewees because most inter viewees named several factors.
0 5 10 15 20 25
Fear, lack of trust,
risk aversion
System rigidity
Political level
Other workplace
Personal constraints
about collaborative governance. It may be worth studying
processes in countries in which there is greater collaboration
between political parties and between the public service and all
elements of society to see how issues of risk and error are handled
Rigid Hierarchies And Systems
Rigid hierarchies were identied as destructive to employee morale
and wasteful of their talent.
If you have a culture where ideas only come from the top, you waste all
of the energy, creativity, great ideas and hard work of people below.
“Leaving hierarchy at the door” was seen as a way to make the
most of the skills and ideas of the whole team, even when operating
in a large department.
Back in the [name of particular] Secretariat we had the team of
about 12 people and we had regular team meetings once a week
and everybody went. It wasn’t just people at a particular level and
hierarchy, everybody went and were encouraged to provide ideas,
ownership, leadership and we’d discuss it as a group. And one of
the people who emerged as a serious leader was the lowest person
in the group, even though she received the lowest pay. She was a
woman, with nothing more than a high school education and yet
because of her personality, intelligence, willingness to take risks
and because of the willingness of the group to listen to her she
The amount of time taken up with multiple layers of paperwork,
reporting and approvals was seen as distracting public servants
from their actual jobs. Onerous accountability mechanisms resulting
in multiplied paperwork was also frequently cited as a barrier to
making an impact, as some managers particularly in high-prole
areas felt they spent more time accounting for the same work in
various dierent ways than in actually doing the work. Processes
and paperwork were also identied as an irritant in the Blueprint
2020 initiative and a team has been put together to suggest
solutions (Wouters, 2014).
I was reporting on a weekly basis to three separate central agencies
single reporting system.
We are constrained by procedural pressure, I mean the hoops. You
used to have to jump through six and now you do actually have to
jump through 18.
If you have a culture where
ideas only come from the top,
you waste all of the energy,
creativity, great ideas and
hard work of people below.
As a senior manager, my God! The MAFs [Management
Accountability Framework], RBAFs [Risk-based Audit Framework],
Once in my sleep, I did a poem. I was going to send it to [the Clerk of
the Privy Council] about all of the acronyms and all of the ways that
repor tondelegationandDSR[Depar tmentalStangReport]…The
bottom line is that there’s a hell of a lot of reporting that you don’t
have time to do.
I have no hesitation in being accountable for taxpayers’ dollars... It’s
important for us to be accountable, although the Travel and
Hospitality thing is a little over the top.
The Travel and Hospitality Policy mentioned above involved the
generation of additional paperwork and approvals to hold events,
for example, even if the funds for the event were already set aside
by Parliament. Every time a document is changed, it must be re-
approved by many layers of managers, which takes time, and the
time of public servants costs money. In addition, this vertical
approval structure was a signicant barrier in working on any
initiative requiring the participation of multiple departments,
because of the sheer numbers of managers involved in the
approval process.
The classical challenge of us working in very vertical structures when
bring people together. We can create communities of practice, but we
actually need communities of action.
I mean, never mind the greater public service, as a department [we]
are huge. We’ve got currently, two ministers, four ministers of state,
four Parliamentary secretaries within a portfolio, four deputy heads,
twenty ADMs that drive an organization of some twenty-three thousand
people. So, that in itself is really complicated, but you have to get past
those constraints, and understand those constraints. Which means
we’re not going to be as nimble as you would like, so the constraints of
A number of research participants spoke of being able to have a
bigger impact when they worked in smaller agencies, as there was
less bureaucracy, a atter hierarchy and better access to senior
decision-makers. Examples were given of working at the Privy
Council Oce (PCO), Treasury Board and Finance, where because
of the smaller size and fewer signatures between analysts and the
Prime Minister, Treasury Board President or Minister of Finance,
even analysts had more inuence than in larger departments. Although
not in the same league in terms of power, the same experience of being
able to get things done because of atter hierarchies was said of small
agencies such as Status of Women Canada and the Canadian Ra-
dio-television and Telecommunications Commission.
So I can have an impact and can change the lives of people by virtue of
having a conversation with one of my managers. Now he has that [idea]
in the back of his head. And who knows where he may share that?
Being in places where there were few sta, such as some foreign
posts, was also experienced as a way to inuence policy-making, by
being able to provide undiluted advice. Flatter agencies were also seen
as places in which incompetence was less hidden or less tolerated:
I now run an agency of 230 people. There’s nowhere to hide. If you’re
not good, everyone knows it.
The business literature contains analyses and case studies of organi-
zational attening, also called delayering, which usually means cutting
out middle management and reducing the distance between sta and
decision-makers. Organizational attening has been found to improve
organizational exibility, creativity and eciency, reduce time required
for decision-making, and save money (Li and Chen, 2013), although
the caveat is that optimal organizational design is contingent on the
organization’s environment and strategies (Colombo et al., 2012). In a
comprehensive quantitative review, Colombo and his colleagues (2012)
found that organizations with a workforce of mainly skilled
professionals are good candidates for organizational attening.
Reducing layers of managers, particularly those doing the same thing
at dierent levels, while empowering and trusting sta to make more
decisions should have the eect of improving morale, reducing
paperwork and duplication, encouraging innovation and speeding up
the decision-making process. Should the task of delayering or
organizational attening be undertaken in the Canadian PS, care would
have to be taken, as women are concentrated in middle management.
The Political Level
A complex view emerged of the eect of the political level of
decision-makers (Prime Minister, Cabinet, Members of Parliament).
The Deputy Minister’s relationship with the Minister was seen as
playing a key role in how much public servants in a given depar t-
ment were able to make an impact. The personality and orientation
of the Minister was another factor. An example was given of a Minis-
ter and his political sta who did not trust or respect his public ser-
vants and insisted on putting in place an initiative that was a failure,
even by the Minister’s own standards. Examples were also given of
good relationships with Minister’s oces which facilitated translat-
ing the needs and priorities of the political level into eective action.
The political level was seen as the main source of risk aversion.
However, there was also some compassion for and understanding
of the challenges to the political level which would be blamed for
any mistakes made by public servants. On balance, the problem
was seen as deeper than this.
I think the Public Service is facing a huge trust issue, and part of that is
this Government who doesn’t trust the Public Ser vice. That’s been an
issue since they’ve come into power. It’s been ve ry clear i t’s kind of the
“elephant in the room”, that there’s no trust f rom the politi cal level,
and that kind of cascades down to every single level given that the
[are] super risk averse, and that cascades down. There is very little
trust in these organizations. So that’s a huge issue, and I think that is
sustainability of our workplaces.
Some research participants found aspects of the relationship at the
time this study was undertaken particularly dicult, especially when
public servants were publicly blamed for advice when in fact they had
given the opposite advice. The need to maintain the scientic integrity
of the PS and the democratic principle of making government open and
accessible to Canadians were also important to some participants. The
research participants had enormous respect for the democratic process
and were happy to implement decisions made by the duly elected
government. However, there was a malaise about the shutting down
of conversations between Canadians and the PS, the move away from
evidence-based decision-making, and concern that the current
situation was generating a great deal of fear and mistrust within the
PS which was hampering the work.
Some managers talked about the courage to give evidence and
advice even if it is not what the Minister wants to hear. Some concern
was expressed about “careerists” in the PS who censor crucial advice
in order to please the people above them, and how this was a greater
problem wherever a lack of openness was expressed by the political
Paradoxically, there has both been a politicization of the PS and a
de-politicisation. There used to be a direct absorption of political sta
(people who had worked in the oces of Ministers and Members of
Parliament) into the PS. This was stopped. Even though the PS has in
recent years been asked to do more activity that some see as
partisan, it has pushed back in terms of encoding non-partisanship
in the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector. However, this
may have had the eect of casting suspicion on political sta or
those active in politics becoming a part of the public service, when
this experience of how policy is made is extremely valuable. A se-
nior manager who had political experience said it was possible to
have political views and be engaged in political activity while still
taking your job as a public servant seriously and doing it impartially.
People who are interested in policy and making change will naturally
be attracted to the PS and to
political activity.
Other Constraints
Negative work environments could involve individuals who were
hostile and made their colleagues’ lives miserable, or whole units in
which the morale was generally low.
I’ve worked in several of those places and also other microcosms
where there’s so much negativit y—the messaging that the Public
ourselves that the government won’t let us; and we can’t move; and we
can’t do this and can’t do that - gets really debilitating for everybody.
On the negative side of things, I’ve worked in units where the mood,
the morale of the unit was utterly negative because of the attitude of
one or two people who would bring everyone down.
This is not an issue that is unique to the PS, but good leadership
was seen as key to setting the overall tone:
A lot of that has to do with people who are leading those organizations,
because regardless of what you do, you can either walk into an
environment that feels positive and welcoming, or you can walk
into an environment that [is] very tense and stressful.
Many of the research participants talked about how the brightest and
most competent people they had ever met were public servants. The
PS does attract a high caliber of talent. Retaining some of the talent is
another matter, and overburdening the talent because of incompetent
or hostile people who continue to be paid and take up positions was
cited as a barrier to getting things done. A new performance
management system is supposed to make it easier for managers to
nudge underperforming employees to improve with training or
clearer direction, and if these do not work, to be able to re them.
Bad managers, particularly those with poor interpersonal skills, were
identied as a constraining factor that could have a profound, rippling
eect in the workplace. One manager talked about as one rises through
the ranks, “the gloves come o,” referring to her experience of how all
pretence of caring about employees can drop:
We no longer care that much about who you are, we just want you
to deliver.
Another perspective was that although excellence is often lauded in
the PS in theory, it is undermined in practice:
She [a senior leader in the PS] always talked about excellence, and I
couldn’t stand it, because we’re not about excellence. We don’t have
particular person], [they get] pushed out because they’re too
challenging for the system. We’re more stewardship or
management consensus building but it’s not really excellence.
Another manager expressed skepticism about the awards and
recognition program because of the inconsistent process, lack of
thought, and perception that it is mainly a popularity contest. She cit-
ed the example of a public servant who was tasked with writing her
own award nomination because the manager could not be bothered to
do it. However, the public servant was too busy actually completing
the work for which she was being nominated and never got the
application in.
Some public servants become demoralized when issues they have
worked on for years come to nothing. What seems to separate the
managers from the more junior levels is persistence and acceptance
that not everything will go your way all the time. It is also dicult to
separate yourself and your views from issues that you have invested
time and eort in and to which you may develop a personal commitment.
The need to consider alternate views and solutions, the realization that
now may not be the time for your work to come to fruition but that it may
do so at a later date in some other form, and to let go of your work are
key to not becoming discouraged in an environment where you do
not own your work.
Research and evidence are an essential par t of policy analysis within
the PS, so knowing what the evidence says sometimes creates a
personal commitment to initiatives or courses of action that make
good policy sense according to the available evidence. Convincing
others that these courses of action would make good policy is
sometimes dicult because of political considerations, risk aversion
or a lack of familiarity with or belief in the evidence.
Some public servants are constrained by their own personalities
and fear, by critical perspectives that see all the reasons why
something can’t be done rather than potential solutions, or as
described above, demoralizing experiences within the PS that
convince them that having an impact is impossible.
Everybody can impact on the Public Service. But you have to see
yourself being able to do that, and not everybody does.
In one manager’s view, existing motivational initiatives were simply
empty messages written by communications sta, although other
managers were hopeful about initiatives like Blueprint 2020,
particularly the commitment in Destination 2020 to deal with
roadblocks to collaboration and innovation.
Constraints With A Gender Dimension
Gender was not raised as a constraining factor, although family
responsibilities was. One participant discussed the fact that some
women and some cultures may still retain more of a fear of speaking or
challenging authority. Although research does show gender
dierences in communication (Basow and Rubenfeld, 2003), this
was not a barrier for the women who made it into management.
I think that if women still retain the fear of speaking out that can be
a restraint. And there certainly is still some of that. If you have more
male-dominated departments where it’s harder for women to speak
up and be heard, that is a constraint. It’s still there in some areas. Not
majority of senior women who are Deputies, or Assistant Deputy
Ministers, they probably don’t have those constraints, because they
will speak up or they probably wouldn’t have become an Assistant
Deputy Minister or cer tainly not a Deputy. You have to be able to
hold your own in any environment.
I’ve worked in several of
those places and also other
microcosms where theres so
much negativity—the
messaging that the Public
Service is not effective and
can’t be effective; our own
messaging to ourselves that
the government won’t let us;
and we can’t move; and we
can’t do this and can’t do
that - gets really debilitating
for everybody.
...we’re always redening
success so that we don’t
really have to measure it….
It’s hard because we’re
working at such a high level that
in order to measure the impact
we have, it can only
be measured over a long time.
Measuring The Impact Women Have Had
We asked research participants about how to best measure the
impact made by women and other members of employment equity
groups on shaping policy, improving programs, operations or
administrative procedures, or through improving workplace
conditions. The most frequent answer was that there was no
suitable measure. Some suggested that we should not try.
What are you actually trying to measure? Is the advice better? Are
There’s no bottom line. You can’t say that our ROI [return on
investment] is better. How do we know? Are we going to measure
GDP per capita the more women we have? I just don’t think we can
dothat.So,tome,Ihavetolookatit…fromaver ydierent
perspective which is we are the Public Service of Canada and
therefore we have to represent Canada, and if we’re not representa-
tive then we’re failing.
A controlled experiment is not possible. One cannot set up a PS that
is entirely made of white, able-bodied men and another made up of a
diversity of Canadians and see which one produces better policy.
Although Canada’s PS was once led only by white, mainly
Anglophone men, the political, social, international and economic
context were so completely dierent, this cannot be used as a
Some took a stab at empirical measures, such as a gender analysis
of existing measures such as the Management Accountability Frame-
work (MAF), Reports on Plans and Priorities (RPP), Departmental
Performance Reports (DPR), leadership competencies and the Public
Service Employee Survey (PSES). This type of suggestion involved
looking at performance ratings by the gender of the leader, leadership
team or in female- versus male-dominated departments. Problems
with this included the fact that leaders frequently move around, so
problems may be inherited and solutions may take time to implement
and measure; policy impact may not be immediate; policy is by
denition the product of many hands; the political, social, economic
and international context of departments in which women dominate
(social policy departments) may dier from the ones in which men
dominate; and that particularly with the MAF, RPP and DPR, the
indicators and results can be massaged.
Well, there’s a bit of a game with the MAF.
Performance indicators have come a long way in the Public Service
wants to measure something, and second, let’s measure something
that we’re going to look good doing. So they’re not real storytellers of
miserably [be]cause we were lazy bums”. It will be, like, “we narrowly
missed this target due to these 17 extenuating circumstances.” You
have to do a lot of work again to eliminate all kinds of caveats before
valid results if you use them.
I really don’t think there’d ever be a one to one impact between an
individual leader and some kind of outcome, because it’s
complicated. Especially if being successful policy-wise meant that
you had to herd cats, as is often the case.
Another suggestion was to look at the output of male-dominated
versus female dominated departments. However, the problem with
that is that these are very dierent types of policy areas and the
political level of government may lean toward some types of policies
and resourcing certain types of activities over others. It is the Prime
Minister that sends a mandate letter to each of his or her Cabinet
Ministers with expectations about what should be accomplished,
and the resources for these activities set by Parliament. The
measures then focus on whether the department or agency has
achieved the politically set goals, rather than whether women or
members of other EE groups inuenced the outcomes in any way,
perhaps by making a stark policy less harmful or contributing some
major plank.
Another issue in measurement is that most of the impact may be
in the long-term and be entangled with a myriad of other inuences.
There are also dierent perspectives on what “success” is, which
would play a role in what measures one would choose. So for one
government a measure might have been successful if the budget
was balanced, but for another government the same measure might
be viewed as unsuccessful if it was associated with an increase in
economic inequality.
One of my colleagues said many years ago, and I loved it, he was
level that in order to measure the impact we have, it can only be
measured over a long time. I think we can do qualitative assessments.
Others suggested qualitative measures and case studies, such as
tracing the trajectory of certain policies and programs, conducting
interviews both inside and outside the PS to see who contributed
what, and looking at the role of gender. An example was how the
change in Employment Insurance (EI) policy was made, whereby
women who had quit because they were sexually harassed on the
job were no longer deemed ineligible for EI benets because it was
considered a “voluntary quit”. Policy development is complex and
multi-faceted, so this may have involved interactions between the
political level, the media, individual complainants and both junior
and senior public servants. Some research participants gave
examples, reported in the impact of gender section, that suggest
that women public servants were key players in a number of equity
issues that aected the nation. What is less known is if there is a
measurable gender impact on issues that are not considered on the
surface to be equity issues.
The last section discussed the impact PS leaders had both when
they were junior sta and when they were in management. This
section discusses gendered impacts in particular.
Appendix A outlines how Canada achieved a 55% representation
of women in its PS, drawing on historical documents and the
insights of our research par ticipants. By denition, given that we
have established all the many ways in which both female and male
public servants have an impact, having an equal number of women
in the PS in general and PS leadership aords Canadian women the
opportunity to have an impact on important policy issues. We then
move on to what women bring that is dierent and valuable. In
particular, we discuss the nding that most women who participated
in this research identied their leadership style as their primary
contribution to the PS. We look at this in the context of the academic
and business literature on “women’s leadership style” which they
characterized as open, collaborative, non-hierarchical, empowering,
empathetic and facilitating. This style is referred to in quotation
marks because this is not a leadership style tied to biology – some
women do not have this type of style, and some men do. However, it
is possible that this style may be developed more by women
because of gender socialization.
This section also discusses why it is important to have both
women and men well represented at the very top of the PS
hierarchy. The data for this discussion come mainly from the
answers to one of the questions we posed to interviewees,
namely how senior public servants can make an additional
impact over and above the impact all public servants can make.
We begin with the impact women have had on the making the
workplace one that recognizes and supports that many workers
are also parents.
The Importance Of Family-Friendly Policies,
Workplaces And Managers
Even in this day and age, parenthood does not have the same impact
on the careers of women and men (Pew Research Center, 2013).
ThenewPewResearchsur veyndsthatamongworkingparentsofall
ages with children younger than 18, mothers are three times as likely
as father s to say that being a working parent has made it harder for
related career interruptions.
7 2015 Data
In its study of 85 senior female American and British corporate leaders,
Caliper (2014) found that of three of the ve most frequently cited
barriers by female leaders were related to work and family (feelings
of guilt for not spending enough time with family because of work, family
responsibilities interfering with work, and lack of support in the
household when work is demanding).
The 1990 Task Force on Barriers to Women in the Public Service
documented many cases of men who had been promoted over more
qualied women. Many of these had to do with assumptions about
women’s ability to do a good job and also be a mother. Since then, the
PS has made a concer ted eort to become a workplace where “work-
life balance” can be achieved, and where parental responsibilities can
be accommodated. The PS is now known for family-friendly policies, a
commitment to work-life balance, merit-based hiring, and implemen-
tation of pay equity. However, the issue of family responsibilities as an
impediment to management is far from over. Treasury Board’s (2008)
report of a Census of the EX level and EX feeder groups found:
Work-life balance represents an important challenge; one which may
discourage some from seeking advancement. Work-life balance is seen
to be a positive aspect of working in the Public Service for feeder
groups but not for the EX cadre. In fact it appears to be becoming a
deterrent at the EX level. New and younger EXs want work-life balance.
In Canada, women not only still bear the primary responsibility for care
of children, but also of the elderly. In 2010, in dual-earner couples with
children aged 14 and under, women working full-time performed an
average of 50 hours per week of child care, compared with 27 hours
for men working full-time (Statistics Canada, 2012). The lack of
family-friendly policies and cultures within private sector
wo rkplace s was seen as a major disadvantage for women in
management, according to our interviewees:
I have very good friends who work in really big law practices where
they’re senior partners, and that’s a disaster. That is the Dark Ages.
I could never work in a place like that. So I feel kind of fortunate to work
where I do.
Family-friendly policies not only include the formal benets but
also practices such as when meetings are scheduled, so that public
servants who are parents can drop their kids o or pick them up from
daycare or school. An interviewee mentioned how technology has
enabled a better work-life balance because whereas in the past, a
manager might be expected to work late hours rather than go home
and make the family dinner and help with homework, now they con-
tinue to be available through technology even if not physically present
in the oce.
What I found with people, like [a particular individual], who is one of
my stars, she managed it by leaving at a reasonable time, but if I need
her in the evening on the Blackberry, she was there. The technology,
if you use it right, can actually help manage those kinds of things.
A number of participants talked about generational dierences in
family responsibilities, with most young male public servants being
committed to sharing the full responsibilities of parenthood, and
also needing the exibility that some women have experienced. One
day this issue of family responsibilities may not eat into women’s
careers and impede their advancement to the most senior roles. But
for now, some managers are recognizing that in order to fully utilize
the talent pool, the accommodation of family responsibilities has a
greater impact on women.
The family-friendly policies available in the PS are advanced
compared to what is available to most Canadians. Public servants who
take paid parental leave, which is available to any Canadian who
qualies for the Employment Insurance program at a rate of 55% of their
salary to a maximum of $524 per week7 , get a top-up to more closely
approximate their regular salaries so that parental leave does not
precipitate a huge drop in income, as it does for many Canadian
families. Public servants have access to ve days per year of family
leave, which can be used to take children to appointments, or stay
home with a sick child. This is largely unheard of in the private sector,
where workers must take their own sick leave, vacation leave or unpaid
leave to do the same, and without union protection or other contracts
can be red depending on the employment standards of their
particular jurisdiction. This is not to say that the PS has good policies
and benets that should be taken away, but that the PS is a model for
the rest of society to show how talented and qualied women can
reach management levels.
We’re very attractive as an employer.
Family responsibilities should not just be seen as a disadvantage to
the employee that must be accommodated, but also a good training
ground for empathy, patience, persistence, multi-tasking, budgeting,
prioritizing, anticipating the needs of others, handling challenges and
diculties arising out of the blue, enabling others and helping them
grow, modelling the behaviour you want to see, and gaining the
collaboration of stakeholders with dierent needs and motivations.
One of the things in my background [that enabled me to make a
The positive spin-off about
greater exibility and work-
life balance is that it not only
benets those who have
young children or aging
parents to care for, but also
allows those who don’t
a broader and more
well-rounded life, which also
has a positive impact on
their work.
Support From Managers
EY (2014) mentioned that in research with senior UK public servants,
in addition to responsibility for children cutting into their careers, there
was also a tendency for women to underestimate their ability to do a
job compared to men, which has also been very well documented by
Facebook Chief Operating Ocer Sheryl Sandberg (2013) in Lean In.
A number of female managers interviewed for our study said that they
had to be persuaded to take on a managerial role. They themselves
had a manager, in each case a male manager, who convinced them
that they could do the job despite family responsibilities. This was
especially important for the advancement of women who were lone
parents and those who had simultaneous responsibility for both
children and ailing parents. The key to their success was managers
who trusted them to determine for themselves how to manage their
time, and who made it clear that their brains and talent were needed
in those particular jobs at that particular time:
I was very young and my kids were very young. I told him “no”
him, “Listen, you don’t know what it means to be a single mom with
that I can’t do certain things because I have to be at daycare at
ve-thir ty….”Andhisanswer,whichwasverycompellingtome,was
to tell me, “You’re right! I have no clue! But if I don’t bring people
that actually know that, and if I don’t create space for that to hap-
pen, it will never happen.” He told me, “I will support you in this, and
what’s going to happen when I tell him ‘time out’ [to attend to family
terms like, “You know, I’m an old dinosaur. If nobody educates me
as to what it means, we will have the same Public Service in twenty
years from now.” And he was right. He was right.
This was the perspective of a male executive:
It’s also that male managers realize that if they want to keep women,
they have to make some adjustments. I had some of the more concrete
department], and there was somebody who I really wanted, and she
wanted to work with me and said, “You know I’m three months
pregnant.” I said, “I’ll take you for six months” because she was wor th
it, and I knew her, so you have to adapt. I certainly was not the only
manager in that kind of situation, and she cer tainly wasn’t the only
woman in that situation.
This was the perspective of one of our interviewees - a senior public
servant who had started in the PS decades ago when there were few
women in senior leadership positions - and what a dierence it made
for her when there were signicant numbers of women managers in
terms of understanding of family responsibilities:
[Acertaindepar tment]was80%womenandwhenyougetthose
numbers you do get an incredible tolerance around a sick child. You
get an elevated level of comfort. When people say, “I have a sick
child, I have to be home,” without fear that somebody is going to say,
“Well how old is that child? “That child is 9.” “Couldn’t that child stay
on their own?”
It should also be said that not all mothers in the PS have experienced
exibility on the part of managers, and perhaps it is telling that many
of the women who made it into management had. The tone needs to
be set from the very top.
Signals from the top matter a lot.
However, communication about work-life balance, and anything else,
has to be more than words, it has to be seen to be practised by
high-level individuals.
The positive spin-o about greater exibility and work-life balance is
that it not only benets those who have young children or aging parents
to care for, but also allows those who don’t a broader and more
well-rounded life, which also has a positive impact on their work.
Beyond support from managers around family responsibilities,
mentorship and support from managers and colleagues was
con sidered important. A “baby DM” (Associate Deputy Minister), as she
called herself, talked about the sense of community among Associate
Deputy Ministers, and support from the most senior levels of management
as a factor in her progress and success.
may want to talk to that person. He or she walked that similar path or
Another way in which the PS signals support is by appointing senior
managers as “champions” for equity groups and other issues, whereby
the champions are not necessarily associated with the group or issue
they are championing. This sends a message that inclusion is something
everyone needs to attend to.
A number of female managers
interviewed for our study said
that they had to be persuaded
to take on a managerial role.
Impact Of Equity Issues And Beyond
Although impossible to accurately measure, we do know from our
research participants that women and other members of EE groups
have made a dierence in the PS. Although few were able to identify
the impact they had had as groups, everyone was able to identify the
impact people had had as individuals.
equity groups have made an impact would be the whole conversation
we had with our Government about Employment Equity. It was driven
by women and Francophone minorities particularly who felt that there
were equity issues at play in terms of their representation. So when you
think about that discussion of Employment Equity in Canada you have
to think of the women who started to give voice to some of those
concerns. The same is true of other Employment Equity groups.
A research participant described the process of getting women’s
equality rights into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
which is entrenched in Canada’s Constitution ocially repatriated in
1982. Originally, there was no guarantee of women’s equality. Women’s
organizations across the country mounted an eort, suppor ted by some
women parliamentarians to get gender equality guarantees. The untold
story is the role played by women inside the PS. It was one of those
eorts in which women dropped partisan, professional or sectoral
dierences to work together to advance equality for all women.
The positive transformation of pay equity approaches and the
implementation of the Gender-based Analysis (GBA) policy8 were
also seen by some participants as a contribution mainly of women.
Th e l atter policy stemmed from Canada’s formal agreement to the
Beijing Platform for Action in 1995. However, its implementation was
a result of the efforts of the tiny federal agency Status of Women
Canad a. T he original GBA policy, which addressed only incorporating the
statistical realities and perspectives of women and men has now grown
into GBA+, which also addresses dierent kinds of diversity. GBA
implementation has not been a government-wide success, but has
been incorporated into the core processes of a number of federal
departments and agencies, including the Canadian International
Development Agency (now a part of Global Aairs), Health Canada,
the Depar tment of Justice Canada, Indigenous and Northern Aairs
and some others. Our research participants expressed dierent
views on how useful GBA+ was in terms of the ability of public
servants to raise issues of gender and diversity. Some saw it as a
powerful tool, because departments and agencies are at least
confronted with the topic as a routine part of submitting a
Memorandum to Cabinet, so it enables public servants to raise
these issues as a matter of policy and procedure rather than being
seen as advocating for certain groups. Others saw it as pointless,
because analysts in their departments would of course be
considering various perspectives when doing policy analysis or
program evaluation, and they saw the existence of GBA+ as a
marginalizing thing rather than a mainstreaming initiative. Others
did not se e that GBA+ had any eect. A research participant involved
in GBA+ implementation talked about the initial resistance of many
departments and agencies as an indication that gender and diversity
issues, unless placed front and centre, are not considered or are seen
as marginal.
8StatusofWom enCanada(2015)describ esthecurrentpol icyasfollows:“ Gender-bas edAnalysis Plus(GBA+)isan analytica l
tool for examining the potential impacts of policies, programs, and initiatives on diverse groups of women and men, girls and
boys,ta kingintoaccoun tgenderandoth eridentityfac tors.Whenapplie dtogovernmentwork,G BA+canhelpusunders tand
how divers e groups of women a nd men experie nce public polic y in Canada.”
My view is that women do, for the
most part, have a more
collaborative collegial and
supportive, nurturing attitude.
Other examples were given of women’s impact on national programs:
I’ve had the privilege of working under some really great women, at
ADM and Deputy level. I’m now the custodian of many social
programs that were introduced by some other woman in my
There were a number of examples of women who had made a
dierence for other women by seeing things in a new way. For
example, the rst female Director General in a forestry-related area
noticed that there were a number of women with Ph.D.s working
as l ower-paid techni cians, but that they were capable and qualied
to do the higher-paid research positions. However, because of the
way they entered the PS and their classication, it was dicult for them
to move to these positions. Through opening up the process, eight of
the women technicians qualied for the researcher positions. This
made better use of their skills and qualications. In many ways, what
women have already done in most of the PS is now being done by
other groups:
In our organization we had Aboriginal and visible minorities push for
changes. They pushed for having recognition of what it means to be
a visible minority, what were the challenges for them, and how the
organization needed to change to make it possible for them to feel
The critical mass of women in the core PS has eected a major
cultural change toward inclusion and respect, which was not the
norm 25 years ago documented by the Task Force on Barriers to
Women in the Public Service. Inclusion and respect help all public
servants do the best job they can do, and makes the most of diverse
My view is that women do, for the most part, have a more collaborative
collegial and supportive, nurturing attitude.
In addition to the culture having been transformed from the past due
to the inux of women, a male manager observed how dierent the
culture of the Canadian PS is from others around the world.
I was at a course in Australia, where I was regularly shocked by the
conduct, the attitude, and the commentary of the men on my course
Related to the development of an inclusive collegiality, some
research participants pointed out that the focus on process and
leadership in the PS was a gradual change that came with the
increase in numbers of women in leadership positions.
There’s a lot more focus now on people leadership than there certainly
was when I came in. There was no thought about leadership at all
when I came into the Public Service. There were leaders, but no one
talked about leadership. And as far as people focusing [on] how you
lead people as being something important, it wasn’t there at all. I think
as women have come in greater numbers, there has been much more
focus on not only getting things done, but on how you get them done.
How do you use people and bring people along to get things done?
It’s only the management and leadership styles have changed, and
those competencies at the top have changed around what you’re looking
for, in senior leadership positions.
There are pockets of the public sector not included in PS statistics
which have not fully incorporated women’s perspectives or leadership
styles. Some of these are currently facing legal challenges, such as a
class action lawsuit by over 400 women against the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police (RCMP) on allegations of widespread harassment and
assault. A recent report into sexual harassment and misconduct in the
mainly male-led Canadian Armed Forces found:
and LGTBQ members, and conducive to more serious incidents of
sexual harassment and assault. Cultural change is therefore key.
As seen in the impact section, women public servants work on a wide
range of issues and have had an impact in many dierent policy and
program areas. For example, we spoke with a retired female senior
leader who outlined a long list of major changes she was responsible
for, such as the overhaul of the Fisheries Act, and decisions which had
an impact on the environment and natural resource industries. Another
manager gave a star t to nish example of an impact:
My boss was a woman, and actually designed the automotive innovation
of a program, MC [Memorandum to Cabinet], getting the Minister on
board, got the program launched and which was a really fundamental
pillar of the strategy to support the automotive industry.
Sometimes, public servants are the only women or one of a few with
a voice in certain discussions, such as negotiations with the male-
dominated automotive industry, or international affairs
dominated by male political leaders, or national security issues
dominated by mainly male political, military and law enforcement
leaders. The PS can then ensure that women’s approaches and
perspectives are at least considered in discussions that have a
national impact.
We discussed impact in the rst section of this report. It was a female
public servant who said she developed three options for action during
a crisis, one of which was taken. She was gratied to see and hear her
words coming out of the Prime Minister’s mouth at a news conference.
Although women are now 50% of Canada’s Cabinet ministers as of late
2015, only 26% of Canada’s Members of Parliament are female
(Parliament of Canada, 2015). A fully representative PS may be one
of the more signicant and eective ways Canadian women have
had an impact on national decisions in the absence of equal
representation of women in Parliament.
Different Views About Whether There Is Any
Gender Issue Or Impact
Our research sample was divided in terms of whether there was any
gender impact. Some research participants were able to give specic
examples of where women brought forward dierent perspectives,
and others were adamant that there was no dierence in approach or
perspective between women and men.
I’ve had a mix of male and female managers, gender never really
came up. I had some really strong female managers, ranging from
the DM level down to Director “plus” level, and I’ve had, equally,
some very strong male managers, and, of course, every manager
has their own little quirks, because every person has their own little
quirks. But the women managers you’re working with, they were
playing a prett y strong role in policy, and programs, and everything
like that. But it wasn’t necessarily unique to them.
ADM Operations used to be a woman. I forget her name. She was
really good. And now we have a man, and I don’t think there’s any real
Some women even decades ago in the PS did not “see gender:
It was very male and I’m thinking of environments that I’ve worked in
where you simply didn’t bring up issues. I can remember working with
a woman who was an engineer and at that time I was in Public Works
and Public Works had a whole thing about trying to get women into
non-traditional roles, working as engineers, architects, property
engineer. That’s all I am. That’s what matters.” I said, “Yeah, but if you
look at systemic barriers,” and she said, “That’s all just rubbish.” I
A participant who worked on EE issues mentioned the surprise
encountered among managers and employees when they
discover that women don’t do so well outside the PS. The fact that
the PS is a more inclusive workplace that does more to
accommodate family responsibilities than the private sector, and
where there are avenues to deal with harassment and discrimination
that are not costly in terms of time or money, may be lulling some
pub lic servants into thinking that women have already achieved
equality. Clearly, the gendered data on income and violence, available
through Statistics Canada (2012) do not support this conclusion.
Neither does the rating of Canada as number 30 in terms of gender
equality internationally (World Economic Forum, 2015). Canada does
very well on measures of educational and health equality for women,
but less well on economic opportunities and political representation.
Women don’t seem to be doing well at all [in the federally-regulated
private sector] and everybody’s shocked, including my Minister, my
Deputies and everybody else I talk to. Nobody believes. “Really? After
28 years, or so, we haven’t moved at all?”
A large majority of female and male research participants stated
that there were no more barriers for women in succeeding in the PS.
The barrier that did come up the most, particularly for women at senior
levels, was family responsibilities. Participants had dierent
experiences of how their family responsibilities were
accommodated or not, depending primarily on their immediate
managers and the culture of the organization.
Support at home was cited by a number of female participants as an
enabling factor, in particular husbands who played a key role in child
care. There were also at least four inter viewees who mentioned that
their spouses were also in the PS, and viewed this as an enabling
factor, because they had someone at home who understood the
context and pressures. An interesting study for another time might look
at public service marriages.
One interviewee raised the issue of violence against women and
how that can have an impact on a woman’s work life. Out of 257,000
public ser vants, the chances are that a signicant number have dealt
with sexual and physical violence while working in the public service.9
Male public servants who are committed to equality issues and
incorporating women’s perspectives can also have a positive impact
for women:
There’s lots of work that still needs to be done, and on my side, every
time I was being asked because I got that question so many times,
why the heck did you choose to [work on gender equality issues]? I
said, “I see this as an investment in our society and in the future of my
own daughters.” If I can help make this world somewhat better for my
two daughters, if I can contribute even in my minimal way, that will be
a plus for me.
Numbers Make A Difference
Individuals can and do make a dierence, even if they are outnumbered:
I’ve seen women in Cabinet sway Cabinet, do things that Cabinet
wouldn’t have otherwise done, because these women came up with
that par ticular perspective on it.
Within the PS, it is more dicult to trace or acknowledge the impact a
single individual may have. However, women have had an impact in
the PS just from sheer numbers, particularly at the leadership level at
which they can have a greater inuence. A number of our research
participants addressed the issue of critical mass.
how things were done at more senior levels. Did you notice the
dierenceindepar tmentsthatstilldon’thavealotofwomenand
those that do? And there are still pockets like the Department of
never had a great number of women. There are pockets in the
9 Statistic s Canada data fo r 2009 show that the re were 1.6 million in cidents of viole nce against wom en in Canada in the y ear
leadingu ptothesurvey(Sinha ,2013).Therateofsexualass aultagainstwome ninthatyearwas34per1,00 0(Sinha,2013).
When I was head counsel of [male-dominated agency], I worked as
part of the executive, and they had a senior executive group of all of
same room, and you’re having discussions. The whole tenor of
I think that is the best way that you support women and members of
the conversation. It makes a change in terms of the tone of the dis-
cussion and the richness of the conversion around the table. Those
things var y depending on who’s around the table. And if you’ve got
a more diverse group, you get a more diverse conversation.
We interviewed managers who had spent most of their career in
departments or agencies numerically dominated by women, and
managers who had been pioneers – the rst woman at senior levels
in male-dominated departments and agencies, or the only woman
in a work units that had never before had a female member.
A research participant reected on the discomfort she felt when
she was the rst female ADM in a male-dominated department. She
felt a duty and responsibility, and still does, to voice the issues that
more junior sta tell her but feel they cannot say. Another par tici-
pant talked about the courage to speak when one is outnumbered
on several fronts:
We have to have the courage to speak up and even though we’re in the
minorit y. In an operational context, it’s being brave enough.... You
a [civilian occupation]... and my [young] age, quite honestly, at the time,
it took a lot of courage to speak up.
Role models and mentors within the public service can make a
dierence to the condence of those with minority experiences,
whether those experiences stem from race/ethnicity, immigration,
family background or being a lone parent:
Who can know better what are the struggles than the one who
walked a similar path?
Another way to cope with being outnumbered is to get together with
That being said, there are fora where women Deputies will get together
to chat. Not necessarily about what it’s like to be a woman Deputy, but
more to take comfort in your numbers.
Many of today’s female public servants have not had the experience
of being outnumbered on the basis of gender. Some departments,
especially those that deal with social policy, are female-dominated.
I’ve not worked in a Department where women are not well represented
or respected.
Out of 257,000 public servants, the chances are that a
signicant number have dealt with sexual and physical
violence while working in the public service.
Gender And Leadership Style
Some interviewees talked about how women public servants are just
public servants doing their jobs, and that there is nothing dierent in
how they do their jobs. Others pointed to a “women’s leadership style”.
management table, in how they look at leadership, certainly the
in the Public Service probably were more like men than they were
women. But the next generation of women leaders are often more
willing to work together to be more collaborative, to try to build their
teams, and focus on their team.
Those who observed a style they thought was more common to women
leaders characterized it as: more people-oriented, less hierarchical, in
which the manager plays the role of facilitating a team of professionals
to do its job. This was an example of a male manager who had been
inspired and enabled by a female leader:
One of the persons I admire the most is my previous boss, my pre-
vious Deputy head, and I’ve been working a lot for her many years,
because I loved how she would give me lots of room to manoeuvre
some of the issues we were encountering.
Listening and considering people’s feelings were also a part of this
style. One female leader earlier in her career was tasked with handling
a major scandal in which people had died, a scandal to which she had
had not been involved in creating:
Committee. I was put out in front to take the bullet.
She talked about how she chaired a public town hall on the issue in
which people were crying and accusing the government of killing them,
but she listened with compassion and did not close the town hall until
everyone was heard. She earned respect by listening carefully and
taking action which reected people’s concerns. Consensus-building
and collaboration were a key component of the style women leaders
talked about having:
I happen to be hard-wired in a way that I’m quite collaborative. I don’t
think I have an enormous ego in a way that I think about the world in
terms of turf. I tend to work in sort of a mode that I’m trying to bring
people along and build consensus. That just happens to be my
personality. Some of those skill sets are very fundamental to the kind
of work that is done in the Public Ser vice now. It’s a very complex
environment. We work in very collaborative ways. We have to
As well, I think emotional intelligence – and maybe women are better
here - is a very important attribute in managing people. [Be]cause
Those who observed a style they
thought was more common to
women leaders characterized it
as: more people-oriented, less
hierarchical, in which the
manager plays the role of
facilitating a team of
professionals to do its job.
you actually have to understand. It’s not like old-school manage-
ment where the boss comes in and, “It shall be ‘like this, and
doctors, I work with people that do policy analysis. That’s a lot of very
makes people tick, and how do you best utilize people, and get
people to come along with you. Or the reverse as well. Really inciting
them to give you the honest feedback on, “Gee, we might be going
the wrong way here.” So those kinds of things are critical and maybe
a little easier to do if you have that emotional intelligence. And I do
think women sometimes tend to have a little more insight into
themselves and are maybe a little more willing, perhaps to a fault, to
look at what their strengths and weaknesses are.
The issue of emotional intelligence and picking up on non-verbal cues
also came up in several other interviews of female leaders:
I had an all-male team at one point and getting anything out of those
guys was almost impossible. But one guy, his eye would start to twitch.
ThenI’dsay,“[Person’sname],what’sup?”“Oh,ever ything’sne.”
[person’s name], I’m going to drag it out of you. What’s the problem?”
He was almost always right, but to get it out of him was like pulling teeth.
Emotional intelligence was seen as essential for getting things done
in today’s PS:
She is a very good study of people, and how to move things, and how
to adapt strategy by personality, which I think is very necessary when
you’re trying to navigate ideas and changes through a system.
Whether the women interviewed thought there was a gender dierence
or not, a signicant propor tion talked about their leadership style as
the major impact they had in the PS:
I manage people, I think that is the most fundamental way that I impact
the workplace. I think there is a direct link between how I impact policy
and programming by the way that I manage people. So I encourage
debate and I listen. I don’t want to be the person doing all the talking.
I see my role more as to ask those strategic questions once they’ve
thought through what they want to do, and to encourage them to
ask the questions. And so I try to create an environment in which that
kind of spirit of debate and that spirit of openness is really apparent.
Another female senior leader who had experience as the only woman
at otherwise all-male tables, as well as experience in mixed and
mainly female groups observed that in her view, her male colleagues
tended to “drive for the bottom line”, while her female colleagues
would rake over every consideration (“Well, what about this, and what
about this, and what about that?”) She favoured mixed teams of
women and men, so each could contribute their own strengths
and approaches.
I wonder even if our key leadership competencies, whether those
would be the same 15 years ago than they are now, because that’s
PublicService….[fosteringanexpectationof ]amorepractical
leadership, less hierarchical, which might not have been the case
without a perspective from women.
You do have a new generation of women leaders that’s emerging that is
more in tune with a contemporary form of leadership.
The perception of the managers in our study is borne out by a quanti-
tative study of 459 leaders (283 men and 176 women) and 378 of their
employees which found that both gender and personality had an
impact on leadership style, with a tendency for more women to have
an “enabling” style which is seen as part of being a “transformational”
leader (Brandt and Laiho, 2013). New PS key leadership competencies
articulated in 2015 for all levels of the EX category are in keeping with
this style, but this does not mean that structures have changed to
support it, or that all managers are trained in this style.
Blueprint 2020 was an initiative under taken in 2013-2014 which
engaged Canadian federal public servants and others in envisioning
the future of the PS. In his response to this exercise, then Clerk of the
Privy Council Wayne Wouters (2014) released Destination 2020, which
among other elements contains some direction to managers about
leadership that may seem familiar to those reading about “women’s
leadership style”:
Managers need to:
Establish a culture where employees bring their hearts and minds
to their jobs every day by making sure that their opinion is heard and
that their contribution to building the workplace culture is recognized
Learn to thrive outside their comfort zone by nding the courage
to challenge their assumptions and abandon usual management
Foster innovation and a culture of openness by allowing the space
for employees to be creative and to live the vision
Adopt a networking style of leadership by engaging employees at
every stage of change implementation, using two-way communication,
and building connections and relationships among people from dierent
Support employees as they take action to improve their own units
and to implement ideas that have a larger application
A number of participants pointed out that expectations of leaders in the
PS had changed, moving away from “the brutal type”, which some
participants put down to the cultural change brought about by the
increasing numbers of women in management. Some male managers
also had a more collaborative, non-hierarchical leadership style,
because this was simply seen as eective:
I’ll have to be honest with you, part of it was that I felt that it was my
obligation to treat people with respect, but the main reason [was] I
knew this was the way for the team to be most productive. So it wasn’t
A number of women who made it into management cited male leaders
with this eective style as having an abiding inuence on them:
people were valued for their full package. He had a profound impact on
Our research ndings are in keeping with those of Chown and Mandel
(2013) who studied women’s leadership in Canada’s largest law rms.
They found that the turn-os for women were the onerous work hours
(particularly for mothers with young children), a narrow value
proposition and the competitive nature of the business. Women did
better as general counsel: they enjoyed being part of a team, were
able to take a more holistic view and oer more than legal advice, and
thrived in a collaborative environment. They tended to encourage
others on their team, assisted them in developing their skills, and
created a more inclusive and empathetic environment in which
people could express themselves free of ridicule. Mandel and Chown
(2013) concluded that law rms are beginning to redene leadership,
moving away from the predominantly male- gendered norms of the
past and toward traits such as teamwork, consensus building,
empathy, listening skills and service-orientation. Not all women
embody these traits, as some adapt to existing norms, or are
inclined by virtue of their own personality toward the older norms.
In fact some of our research par ticipants noted that women could be
hard on other women, and that some of the rst women in
management were so tough they made men cry.
So although this leadership style is not necessarily biologically
rooted, research does show that a collaborative leadership style
is more common in women. O’Connor’s (2010) extensive overview
of women’s leadership around the world at almost every level of
institution and society did lead her to conclude that:
in turn, leads many men to view women as less visionary [because they
seek input from others], which many leadership theorists see as key to
The management literature also refers to a “women’s leadership style”,
and suggests that it is highly eective. For example, Columbia Business
School Professor David Ross and his colleagues in their investigation of
15 years of data from the largest 1,500 US rms, found that there was a
strong connection between numbers of women in senior management
and better performance as measured by market-to-book ratio, return
on assets, return on equity and annual sales growth (Dezso and Ross,
2012). The rms that beneted most from what they dubbed the female
participation eect were involved with innovation, “where a democratic
and participatory approach to management is known to be important
…and that’s consistent with the notion of a female management style.”
(Ross, 2008)
management positions enjoy economically superior performance
because of the complementary set of interpersonal management
skills related to inclusiveness and the encouragement of employee
A Caliper study also found that more women leaders than men had
an “open, consensus-building, collegial approach to leading”
(Ca liper, 2014). This was a study of 85 female leaders from 60 top
American and British companies (including Bank of America, Deloitte &
Touche, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Molson Coors, etc.) from 19 business
sectors, which included a comparison with male leaders matched for
title in the Caliper database. Participants were assessed using the
Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire, the Caliper Prole (a work-
focussed personality assessment), self-rated performance and a
Barriers Measure. The study found that female leaders tended to be more
persuasive, empathetic, exible and sociable than their male counterparts:
The strong people skills possessed by female leaders enable them to
read situations accurately and take in information from all sides. This
willingness to see all sides of a situation enhances their persuasive
ability. They can zero in on someone’s objections or concerns, weigh
into the grander scheme of things when appropriate. These female
leaders are able to bring others around to their point of view or alter
their own point of view—depending upon the circumstances and
information they uncover. They can do this because they genuinely
understand and care about where others are coming from.
The Caliper study also found that these female leaders tended to be
more assertive, took more risks and were more willing to share in-
formation than their male counterparts. It is not known whether
these leaders were the rst or second generation of women leaders
in their organizations, which in our public service sample, made a
dierence in terms of whether women felt they had to appear
“tough” in order to be taken seriously.
The fact that not all women embody this style and some men do
is a major caveat. In addition, this style was not typical of the rst
women managers in the PS, who were described as “iron ladies”.
These women shattered the glass ceiling, and did it largely by being
tougher than men. They opened the door, and the women who
walked through were better able to be themselves and to try doing
things in a new way.
As “women’s leadership style” is increasingly recognized as an
eective leadership style, it may simply become expected as the
norm in high-functioning, innovative workplaces, regardless of the
gender of the manager. It should also be noted that the work
environment factors that were identied by research participants as
enabling and empowering them to make a dierence correspond
with the factors associated with “women’s leadership style”: open-
ness, less concern with hierarchy, collaborative decision-making in
which employees and junior managers are trusted to bring forward
ideas and be heard.
Some interviewees pointed out that current PS hierarchical structures
do not support a collaborative leadership style where the manager acts
as a team facilitator or coordinator and trusts his or her professionals to
make decisions. The PS would have to change in order to reap the
benets of this leadership style.
Generational Differences
Generational dierences were a signicant theme in the interviews,
although there was no research question about this. As noted in an
earlier section, a number of participants whose experience in the PS
stretched over decades talked about the rst women managers in
the PS, and two oered the same expression to describe them: “tough
as nails”. One par ticipant had a mentor who was one of these rst
women managers. She was told that as a woman, she would have to
be twice as good as men to succeed. A number of participants noted
that many of these rst women made personal sacrices, such as
never marrying, not having children or enduring marriage breakdown
because family and personal responsibilities at that time were seen as
incompatible with their jobs. Since then, a deep transformation has
taken place.
Some of the managers who noticed a dierence in style put it
down to generation rather than gender. They talked about how
younger public servants are both more diverse and more likely to
support gender equality in the home, in terms of expectations of
mothers and fathers.
and expectations of work-life balance.
Generational dierences in the workplace are conrmed in the
academic literature (Gibson et al., 2009), but so are gender
dierences (Martel and DeSmet, 2001; Riggio, 2008; Zapf et al.,
2011). It is still the case in North America that by the age of three,
children are aware of and internalize gendered expectations (Martin,
2013). The research literature shows that male and female leaders
are evaluated dierently, with female leaders judged more harshly
for the same behaviour when that behaviour is seen as more closely
resembling male stereotypes (Heilman, 2001). The fact that female
leaders in the PS do not feel they are being judged dierently at this
time attests to how much the culture of the PS has changed even in
relation to that of the wider society.
It Is Important To Have Equal Representation
Of Women And Men At The Top
It’s fairly clear that [at] the senior levels par ticularly, even
women haven’t made the breakthroughs that they necessarily
should and certainly not visible minorities or Aboriginals.
Three kinds of impacts were brought up by participants in terms of the
value of having gender equity in PS senior leadership, that is the DM
and equivalent levels. One was about balancing dierent perspectives,
leadership styles and the kind of climate one creates as a senior leader.
Another was about modelling and mentorship. The third was simply
that senior leaders can have a great deal more impact and inuence,
so in order to maximize the impact and talent a diversity of women and
men have, there must be equity at the top.
The mix, of men and women working together creates a dynamic that
the other genders.
Differences In Perspectives, Experience And
Leadership Styles
Those women who now feel at home in the PS and do not see any
gender dierence may not realize how much the culture may have
changed because of the greater presence of women. Certainly the
PS of today is dierent in character that the PS documented in 1990
by the Task Force on Barriers to Women in the Public Service. There
is a greater respect for, appreciation of and expectation of equality
and inclusion.
Even if women and men are not able to identify how their
contributions may be slightly dierent, it is possible to measure
quantitatively the aggregate dierence. A national study of federal,
provincial and territorial DMs and ADMs conducted in 2006,
recently published in Deputy Ministers in Canada, found signicant
gender dierences in perspectives on a range of issues such as
whether the environment, economic inequality, and the scal
imbalance between the federal and other levels were pressing
policy issues (Evans, Lum & Shields, 2014).
Overall, the data suggest that
rms that promote women to
senior management positions
enjoy economically superior
performance because of the
complementary set of
interpersonal management skills
related to inclusiveness and the
encouragement of employee
voices that women bring to
the table.
Our interviewees were asked whether there were additional ways in
which senior leaders could have an impact, over and above public
servants at lower levels. Not surprisingly, senior leaders were viewed
as having much more extensive inuence on policy, on the workplace
climate and practices and on the relationship with the political level.
Senior leaders are in a much better position to ensure what gets
done and when. Given that there are measurable gender dierences
in the priorities and perspectives of senior leaders, and a gender trend
in leadership style, an equal number of female and male senior leaders
may be more representative of the priorities, perspectives and
experiences of the population, as well as potentially having a
transformational impact over time on the workplace.
push the mountain from the bottom.
Modelling And Mentorship
A representative senior leadership is encouraging and motivating to
public servants from a variety of backgrounds, who can “see
themselves” at the top. In addition, whether public servants realize
it or not, they are bringing perspectives from their own life
experiences and socialization that may be dierent and valuable.
Because public servants at senior ranks have a greater reach and
impact, a representative senior leadership with a signicant
representation of the “women’s leadership style” can in fact be
The more people see people like themselves moving into the senior
spots the more likely they are to do so.
looking at the last round of appointments, that’s growing. And once
you have that, it changes everything, because there’s kind of strength
in number s. So, for me, one best thing that we can do in the Public
Service is to make sure that we’re representative.
same, what are you saying to the people who don’t look like that?
You’re not welcome.
The issue of family responsibilities and work-life balance is one that at
this time in our history and culture has a greater impact on women
and their careers. Setting an example at the top sends a message
throughout an organization about what is expected.
I think the culture still exists, where you’re not really doing your job
unless your adrenaline is going 70 hours per week. And, personally, I
The issue of family
responsibilities and work-life
balance is one that at this time
in our history and culture has a
greater impact on women and
their careers.
just can’t do that. I’ve got 3 kids and that is just not going to work.
So, I try to be a change agent and say, “I am a Deputy that leaves every
day by 5:30 PM and I don’t bring my work home and I tr y not to work
weekends.” I try to send those messages out to adjust the culture, but
it’s still a long ways from that and I think some of our tools can still better
support women in the workplace.
in the way the entire bureaucracy functions, depends on the signals
Another thing I would say is that the Public Service has gotten
progressively, incrementally better at managing people.
The impor tance of mentorship repeatedly came up, with many
women in par ticular saying that they had both female and male
mentors who helped their career. Most of the women who beneted
from mentorship also made a point, now that they were in senior
positions, of mentoring others. Mentorship was viewed by some
participants as a way of making space for a diversity of people in
the public service.
Support from the top was seen as essential to making any kind of
change. An example was given of creating a Pride network in a
department to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and
queer (LGBTQ) employees. Some people objected, but the Deputy
Minister publicly supported the network and made it clear that it was
a part of creating a welcoming and inclusive work environment.
The Greater Impact And Power Senior-Level
Public Servants Have
Senior public servants were seen as having a greater impact than
public servants at more junior levels because of the scope and
reach of their inuence. They could have an impact on hundreds or
thousands of people. They had a direct line to the Minister, and
therefore more inuence on public policy. They had veto power over
any proposal coming up through the ranks. They were able to shape
approaches and set out a vision. Senior public servants were seen
as freer to raise equity issues without being viewed as whiners or
having a chip on their shoulder.
Although much of what public servants now do is implementing
directives from above, they do have some leeway in terms of how to
do it. A manager raised the example of the job cuts that the PS was
told to make by the political level, wherein many managers tried to
create processes that were fair. Dierent departments implemented
their own ways of dealing with this directive. A number of managers
said that women had brought a more people-oriented approach to
the PS that was now a part of the culture, which then had an eect
on processes that were created.
lot of people don’t want to do that, and you don’t get any ‘thanks from
union leader thank me personally. You don’t [usually] have union leaders
looking after senior managers to thank them.
Senior public servants not only set the tone for their whole organization,
they can undertake many practical changes.
You do have a lot of freedom as a senior public servant to change
operations as long as you’re changing them within the parameters
set by legislation.
Senior managers were seen as not only having a profound inuence
on people’s workplace experience, but their lives.
You can have a lot of impact on people’s lives because, like it or not,
we spend an extraordinary amount of time together. You come to the
that people lead. How they go home at the end of the day, do they feel
like they have contributed in a meaningful way, are they grumpy to
carry a huge obligation to do a great job when it comes to managing
our people and those are probably the par ts of being a senior public
servant that are equally or more meaningful. It’s in impacting their
day-to-day life so they feel what they’re doing is good, it’s meaningful,
With greater power and impact comes the need to ensure that a variety
of strengths, backgrounds and perspectives are represented at the
top, including gender parity. This issue is addressed fur ther in the
Diversity section of this report.
Does It Make A Difference Which Women Are
In Leadership Positions?
Two concerns came up about “which women” are in senior
leadership positions in particular. One was about diversity on the
outside (physical/demographic characteristics), the other was about
diversity on this inside (mindset).
I think that the Public Service is patting itself on the back for achieving
and where are they residing in the decision-making hierarchy and the
The diversity of mindset issue is discussed in more detail in the next
section. The gist is that appointing women (or men) at the top who
just do things the way they have always been done will not change
or improve anything. The literature does support the perception that
when people come into an institution, they may inuence it but they
are also changed by it (Guimond and de la Sablonnière, 2014). A
successful institution absorbs and is inuenced by the best of what
a diverse workforce brings rather than trying to make people t into
pre-existing molds or promoting primarily those that do.
This section addresses how people belonging to certain demographic
groups in general are able to change the culture of an organization
and its policy, program and service outputs. This is an important lens
through which to look at the contribution of women, who not only
make up a part of every other major demographic group, but who
also bring something unique to the table from their own gendered
experiences. Many of our research participants were able to pinpoint
particular contributions that Aboriginal, disabled, Francophone or
immigrant public servants made based on their unique understanding
and experiences.
Diversity Is Greater That Employment
Equity Groups
The consensus among our research participants was that policy
development and other government work benets from having
dierent views and backgrounds at the table, in addition to consulting
external stakeholder groups. A number of participants stated that it
has become harder in recent years to consult Canadians about
issues. It used to be a public ser vant could pick up the phone and
call stakeholders and run things by them. Now, stakeholder
consultations are managed, communications strategies developed
and public servants are not as free to be frank. Because it has
become so much more dicult to engage Canadians in general and
certain stakeholders in particular, it is even more imperative to have
dierent backgrounds and views represented within the PS.
Research participants had a broad view of the value of diversity,
including but not limited the traditional Employment Equity groups.
I think that EE is a concept of the past as it pertains to creating segregated
groups. I believe in diversity, which is about bringing them all together so
that we can have a better sharing of ideas and look at how collectively we
can make our workspace better.
Diversity at the table also meant that regional sta should be repre-
sented when policy development takes place. Examples were cited
by regional executives of policies developed at headquarters without
regional input that simply did not work. Including regional and opera-
tional sta in policy development could identify potential problems
with policy or implementation. A perception was expressed that in
recent years fewer employees are brought in from the regions to
headquarters due to the cost of travel and relocation.
Diversity of geographic origin of people at headquarters was also
seen as a plus in terms of bringing an understanding of dierent
parts of Canada to the table, as well as representing
Government to Canadians.
As a Quebecer working for the federal Public Service, I think that I
to use the fact that I was a Francophone from Quebec to build trust
and build a real working relationship with people who felt that they
were being understood. I was able to be very up front and blunt
with them about what could be done, what cannot. So, yeah, I think
this background certainly helped.
Cultural dierences between Anglophone and Francophone public
servants came up a few times during the interviews. Francophones
are not an Employment Equity group and are well-represented in the
PS, including at management levels. However, this was not always the
case. Of those who mentioned dierences, frankness came up most
often, with some Francophones viewing themselves as more willing to
talk openly and honestly about some kinds of issues, and risk being
more vulnerable. Again, this does not mean that all Anglophones
exhibit one behaviour and all Francophones another, as intra-group
dierences are always greater than inter-group dierences, but a
perception exists among a few that there is a dierent kind of cultural
socialization that can have an impact on outlook and behaviour.
Personal experience of immigration policy and racism was brought up
by a number of participants as deepening their understanding of, and
commitment to, equity, diversity and fairness issues. When her parents
were choosing a country to which to emigrate, one manager said:
The White Australia policy barred my mother. That’s how we ended
up in Canada.
The value of having experienced a lower socioeconomic background
came up in the questions to research participants about whether there
was anything in their backgrounds that they felt helped them make a
dierence. Being able to see things through the lens of families having
to juggle money for basic needs and being unable to aord user fees,
barriers in access to services, and the experiences of neighbours and
relatives with low literacy skills and a distrust of government.
A number of participants mentioned the positive role of organiza-
tions and networks for minorities within the PS, as well as managers
who would become the ocial “champion” of equity issues. This not
only included the traditional EE groups, but Pride networks and the
Young Professionals Network.
We asked for examples of where other EE groups had made a
dierence to policy, programs, operations, administration and
workplace conditions. We heard too many examples to include in this
report, but some are summarized in the sections below along with
particular issues that came up for these groups.
As I was moving up the ladder in the public service, it helped
tremendously to bring a minority perspective to policy development.
Aboriginal Cultures and Realities
Most of the interviewees who spoke about Aboriginal public servants
were not in fact themselves Aboriginal. The PS seems to have a
problem in retaining Aboriginal managers, which will be discussed later
in this section.
A number of participants talked about the valuable perspectives
Aboriginal people bring to the table that might not otherwise be thought
of or represented. Examples included advice about stakeholder
relations – Aboriginal public servants vetting approaches that would
work and wouldn’t work with Aboriginal communities. This would
be particularly important given the often tense relationship
between the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples.
I had Aboriginal advisors who would tell me how to go into a community,
oerthatkindofrespectthatwasnecessar ytobuildarealrelationship.
And thats really important if you want to get anything done. And there
was advice on how best to align some of the programs if we wanted to
achieve goals that we wouldn’t have otherwise understood because we
didn’t understand those communities, and how they actually operated.
So you’re going with real knowledge instead of assumed knowledge.
I worked, for a long time with Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal
employees. The Aboriginal employees certainly brought their own
background, their own life experience to bear on discussions of policy,
programs and operations. While we talked about how to negotiate
funding and grants with First Nations communities, the cultural dimen-
sions of how that could happen were as important as the operations.
When we talked about delivering or developing policy options in the
context of [the] Kelowna [Accord], or certain protocols where it was
important to understand and incorporate into the discussions those
individuals who had the cultural backgrounds were able to help the
The presence of Aboriginal public servants, particularly at senior levels,
is of increasing importance due to changes in how the government
formulates policy:
For many years the Government only developed Aboriginal policy
with the active involvement of Aboriginal peoples. That was just our
way of working. That’s less so the case now. You know the impact
there was huge.
The less a government consults and partners with the people most
aected by policy, the more important it becomes to have members
of that population inside government at the policy development table.
I was involved at one point in an initiative on Aboriginal Women in
Business and we were trying to increase the number of women
entrepreneurs who were running successful businesses in
Aboriginal communications, First Nations largely. We worked very
closely with women in the communities and it became very clear that
were often between 35 and 40 and wanting to do something but
they had small children still and that was a real barrier. Even
incorporating childcare provisions into the budgets of economic
development plans is something that men wouldn’t have
necessarily thought of, and Non-Aboriginal people would not
necessarily have been as attuned to how critical a dimension that
was [as the fertility rate for Aboriginal women is much higher than
for non-Aboriginal women]. It was the perspective of Aboriginal
women particularly who could say, “This is a critical need.
It’s a great example of the work we did in researching, in working
with [Indian Residential School] survivors. We had a bit of a motto
of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with survivors and it was about
including them in our work and not pretending that we knew, and
certainly I didn’t know as a guy who came from a middle-income
home, who’s white, who comes from a good family in Calgar y.
What would I know about the kinds of experiences of young
Aboriginal kids who were yanked away from their families and
sent to a residential school? And so, making sure we had those
voices on our team that helped us create understanding.
A number of participants raised issues of dierences in communication
styles and cultural values between the expectations of the PS and
some Aboriginal people, particularly First Nations people from reserves
and Inuit. Managers who do not employ methods to respectfully draw
out people’s thoughts rather than wait for those thoughts to be inser ted
into an ongoing discussion may miss out on valuable perspectives.
Others did not perceive any dierence between Aboriginal employees
or managers and non-Aboriginal public servants.
At Health Canada there was a unit for Aboriginal Health and a very high
percentage of the people who worked in that unit were Aboriginal
including the DG level. And again it was rare in a meeting that it
would come out that these people were Aboriginal, they were just
the DG or the Director or whatever. They were doing their job and
we just responded to the job they did.
A senior public servant described the need to attract more Aboriginal
public servants. She said they thought at rst, education was the
barrier. But it turned out to be more than that. Another issue was the
awkwardness some Indigenous peoples may feel about working for
the Government of Canada, associated with colonization, the reserve
system, Indian Agents, assimilation policies, the residential school
system and ongoing struggles between the Government and
Indigenous communities.
Aboriginal people working in certain parts of the government, notably
be clear about who you are working for because all of them of course
have a very strong commitment to their communities and their people
and can sometimes feel torn.
A research participant discussed how uncomfortable some of her
Aboriginal sta and colleagues were during discussions of Aboriginal
communities involved in litigation against the Government of Canada,
where government ocials were talking about wanting to “win the
case”. The Aboriginal sta thought the government should be looking
to resolve the legal issues rather than to “win the case.
Another concern was that Aboriginal people in the PS tend to be
concentrated at the Department of Aboriginal Aairs and Northern
Development (now Indigenous and Northern Aairs Canada), rather
than spread out equally across departments. Yet Aboriginal
perspectives are equally important in matters of foreign policy,
sheries, environment, security and every other department and
agency. Some participants also expressed the concern that
Aboriginal public servants who reach management level may be
nding more attractive jobs elsewhere.
But Aboriginal people, there’s some issue but we’re trying to
understand what it is. Where we do really well is at the EX-01
level [ the lowest executive level] where we’re almost at labour market
availability. But as you go up, the numbers go down. We think we
actually have a problem. The issue with us seems to be that we do
the pr ivate sector and by Band Councils because they have such
great skill sets, they’re really in high demand.
The belief that one is making a dierence may be important to retaining
Aboriginal managers:
having worked in an advocacy organization or another government for
part of my career for probably half of my career and half of my career
in the federal government - I’ve found that I’ve actually been able to
to it. Having both perspectives, I think has helped as well to navigate
in both areas.
A deeper investigation into who Aboriginal public servants are,
including gender, Aboriginal identity (First Nations, Inuit, Métis),
what attracts them to the PS, what they bring to the PS and why
they leave would be a useful area of future research.
Racial, Ethnic and Linguistic Minorities and
Immigrants in the Public Service
A manager with a 25 year history in the PS remembers a Deputy
Minister making a point of his department hiring more people from
racial minority groups.
Think of the perspectives, think of the information, think of the insights
His point was rather than do this so we can meet our numbers, do this
so that our performance is enhanced. So the HR folks went out and in
a couple of years the numbers were considerably higher.
A crucial issue for anyone not a par t of a dominant societal group is
how much you can change any institution as opposed to how much
you are changed by the institution.
I had some discussions with people [about the Council of Federal
Visible Minorities, a body of public servants] and they sor t of said,
“Well they’re not really changing the system.” I said, “Well, that’s not
conform is always more important.
Nevertheless, we interviewed managers from visible minority groups
who were able to give examples of where they made a dierence:
Iwrotethever yrstracepolicy,theraceinvestigationpolicyforthe
person of color who had lived what racism looked like, and thinking of
experience really brought a lens to the development of that policy
framework, coupled with my knowledge and my education, and all
on paper [what] many people shied away from.
Like with women as a group, there were inter viewees who did not see
any issue with visible minorities in the PS:
I’m still uncomfortable with the visible minority aspect. I was at a
meeting in a committee that was worried about visible minorities and
colour, middle European skin tones, she was dressed in a hijab,
but she felt really strongly that she wasn’t a visible anything. She
was a Canadian, she worked in the Public Service and could we
just get on with it. You know, it was very funny. So I don’t know what
to do with that language visible minority anymore. I think we have to
leave it behind.
Of our interviewees who qualied under the government’s denition of
members of a visible minority group, there were var ying levels of
personal identication as a “visible minority”. For three out of ve,
issues of racial equality and representation were very important. One
out of ve said she did not think of herself as a visible minority,
although she strongly identied with her gender.
Similar to women in general, there is a resistance to some peo-
ple’s assumptions that someone got the job because of their gen-
der or skin colour, when all PS posts up to Assistant Deputy Minister
(ADM) level are staed on the basis of merit. An interesting observation
is that like women, visible minorities do well when the hiring is purely
merit-based, that is the candidate must ll all the essential criteria,
as many of the additional criteria as possible, pass a structured inter-
view and sometimes additionally pass a test. They do not do as well
at the most senior levels, where candidates are appointed at the Prime
Minister’s pleasure, and for which an open, structured process is
not used.
Nevertheless, the numbers show a dierential between the chances
of promotion of women from visible minority groups in the PS,
compared with their male counterparts:
Men who are members of visible minorities have greater chances of
promotion than their comparison group, and women who are mem-
bers of visible minorities have fewer chances of promotion than their
This gender dierential is not seen for women who are not members
of other EE groups, for Aboriginal women or women with disabilities,
compared with their male counterparts.
We also heard examples of where people’s experiences as members
of linguistic minorities or having an immigrant background made a dif-
ference. For example, a Francophone in an Anglophone region was
able to improve services for linguistic minorities because it occurred to
him, and someone from an immigrant background made a dierence in
terms of an approach taken to a national security matter.
more aware of some of the challenges facing their own communities.
Neither linguistic minorities nor immigrants form an EE group, but we
did hear that being an “auditory” rather than a “visible” minority can
also make a dierence in terms of how one is perceived.
You add an additional barrier even if you master the language, if you
don’t have a culture that accepts the way you will be presenting
many people are bilingual on paper but their voice is not heard
around the management table. Their voice is not heard either
be cause no matter how they talk, they are in a foreign language.
but I think we need to think through whether or not our st yle of
interacting may not create an additional barrier for the people for
whom neither English or French is their mother tongue.
The issue of gender and cultural dierences in communication is
addressed in more detail in a further section.
Although many PS managers are on board with diversity issues,
this is not the case for all managers. In particular, issues of religious
accommodation were raised in our study.
A further investigation of what is happening for executives who are
visible minority women is warranted. “Visible minority members” are a
very diverse group, ranging widely in ethno-racial background,
consisting of people whose rst language is English, French or
something else, and comprising people who are Canadian-born and
born outside Canada. Some research participants pointed out that
not all groups are doing equally well. In particular, a problem was
identied with the hiring and promotion of Black public servants. It
would be important under closer examination to look at who is doing
well and why, and who isn’t and why, and what strategies for
improvement visible minority women executives themselves may
recommend. Such an investigation can be broadened beyond the EE
group to linguistic, religious and cultural minorities, as long as the data
for the EE group is disaggregated from the whole.
The absence of people with
disabilities at the table in terms
of recruiting mechanisms and IT
can lead to lack of knowledge
and incorrect assumptions that
then contribute to a lower
likelihood of recruitment and
retention of people with
People With Disabilities
I would say people with disabilities have been champions of change
was deemed accessible and it was, as long as you went in one certain
Although three of our interviewees identied as a person with a
disability, the denition is very broad, so this does not mean that
people who identify in the PS as having a disability are disabled to
the degree that the public may assume. Very little was said during the
interviews about disability, and about women with disabilities in
management. We were not able to use some of the examples that
were given of where a positive impact had been made, as the
numbers of people with disabilities in management are so few that
the examples could identify them.
In the general population, most Canadian with disabilities in general
are female (Statistics Canada, 2012), although most individuals with
autism or other neurodevelopmental conditions that aect social skills
are male (Jacquemont et al., 2014). The latter may face additional
hurdles in the PS, as performance management systems and
leadership competencies are such that they require ordinary public
servants as well as leaders to be generalists, good at everything. This
actually may exclude some people who may be very highly skilled in
some areas, but are not as able in other ways. For example, a person
with autism may excel at some technical area and bring a lot of value
to a team, but may have diculty with social skills. Instead of teams
adapting to people’s varying capacities, appreciating them for what
they do contribute, the focus of performance management is on
decit areas.
Many public servants who may meet the definition of having a
disability may have become disabled while employed by the PS,
as disability increases with age. Recruitment of people with disabilities
was seen as a problem, despite the fact that the PS has a reputation
for being accessible.
Disability is so diverse. I think it’s harder to get a handle on, and we
don’t do a very good job of recruiting out of universities.
A manager gave an example of finding out the hard way that PS
employment mechanisms were not always accessible, even though
they claim to be. In 2010, a blind woman won a cour t case against
the Government of Canada because she was unable to apply for
jobs through the government’s online system (Ireton, 2015). In 2011,
Treasury Board Secretariat introduced a new Standard on Web
Accessibility that “reects the government’s longstanding commitment
to web accessibility for the visually impaired.” According to Ireton
(2015), this does not seem to have changed the accessibility of
internal-facing web sites, and gave an example of a visually-
impaired public servant waiting over a month for IT to x his
constantly failing technology.
The absence of people with disabilities at the table in terms of
recruiting mechanisms and IT can lead to lack of knowledge and
incorrect assumptions that then contribute to a lower likelihood of
recruitment and retention of people with disabilities. Wherever disability
is an issue, people with disabilities should be on the team.
The PS has built-in mechanisms for inclusion - champions and
committees within the PS that deal with issues of disability, accessibili-
ty and inclusion, but what is needed is commitment from the top to act
on these recommendations.
said, “You’re kidding, this is still happening in a modern-day Public
Gender And Cultural Differences In
A few female research participants, all EX and DM level leaders,
apologized for talking too much, or were afraid they were not giving
me what I needed as an interviewer, or hadn’t answered the ques-
tion properly. At rst, I thought this demonstrated a peculiar lack of
condence on the part of these high-ranking individuals. But to look
at it a dierent way, perhaps this was their way of asking for feed-
back during the interview about whether they were contributing
what was needed and the amount needed. Although this communi-
cation style is often looked down on as under condent, perhaps it
actually means the person is self-reective, adaptive and committed
to being as eective as possible.
Some public servants are from cultures that are not as brash as
mainstream Anglophone and Francophone cultures in Canada.
These include both some Aboriginal public servants and some pub-
lic servants who are immigrants to Canada or otherwise from some
cultural minorities with lower-key communication styles or cultural
values of respect for authority rather than expressing views contrary
to what managers have already expressed.
certain ethnocultural backgrounds, some are ver y shy. I’ve had people
reporting to me who had a certain vision of respect for leadership,
and it tainted even their relationship with me. I remember one
me because I was a Director General [at the time] and she knew I
with me to talk about an issue and ensure she had my ‘green light
before proceeding. She would see her counterparts coming through
my door, dropping a note, and [saying] “you have 15 minutes to
review and approve that, [be]cause I need to move it on.” So yes I’ve
observed that, and I think it can profoundly impact a person’s
capacity to advance in the system.
Managers may need to spend more time coaching employees who
have internalized a lifetime of expectations that are dierent from
the expectations of the PS, whatever the roots of these different
expectations, whether gender or cultural socialization, experience
of violence or trauma, or simply introversion and personality.
The requirement for managers to be bilingual in French and English
was also seen as a barrier to promotion for some Aboriginal and cultural
minority public servants.
Identification With And Representation Of
Demographic Groups
There was a huge variation within the sample of the degree to which
participants identied with their own demographic groups (i.e. gender,
age, ethnocultural or linguistic background, etc.). For example, some
women did not view themselves as women in the context of their work
but simply as managers and professionals, and other women felt that
being female had an impact on how they did their jobs. There were
participants who belonged to visible minority groups who did not
associate themselves as a visible minority, and others for whom this
identication was very important.
There is a visible minority community. I’ve never been a part of it.
Invited, never been there, don’t want to go there, and it’s because I
don’t think of myself as that.
Some managers believed that public servants should be professional,
and that meant detached from one’s own demographic groups:
You need to be careful with that because we’re not advocates. So our
a product of where we come from, our various experiences—hence the
reason why we should strive to be representative of the population we
forums for that. You can advocate outside the Public Service, you can
Others felt that it was a part of their job to try to ensure that equity
was a part of policy and program development, operations and the
culture of the workplace. There were different views around how
public servants are perceived if they bring up issues associated
with their demographic groups. Most agreed that it depended on
the time, place and method.
It depends on the circumstances. It depends very much on the setting,
the context, the subject that’s being discussed. So, my own example, I
had anything to do with [a certain group’s] issues. [Be]cause you don’t
want to be branded. You don’t want to be perceived as, “I am only
‘whatever’ group I happen to represent.” You want to be seen as a
whole individual contributing.
Sometimes it can happen that the ideas are ahead of their time.
challenge the status quo or you’re going to challenge the way people
doesn’t make people feel badly.
Some managers had a sense that public servants in general, and wom-
en in particular, could lose credibility by expressing ideas with passion.
Sometimes at the more junior level people are being seen as bring[ing]
too much passion. So if you’re seen as putting too much passion and
emotion in the work you’re advancing, especially social policy issues,
it would turn some of the interlocutors off. And I remember when
I was discussing some sensitive social policy issues I remember
hearing those comments “Oh, God, these two analysts are way too
passionate.” So it’s almost like if they start losing credibility, and it
was in reference to women.
Senior leaders were seen as much more at liberty to be passionate
and to advocate as they were seen as credible and having “earned
their stripes.” This is one of the major reasons why it is important to
have a senior level of leadership that is representative of Canadians.
However, senior leaders still had to be careful about what they said
and how, as all eyes were on them. Nevertheless, what they say is
given more weight and can make a real dierence.
Some managers felt it was their “duty” in the PS to raise issues that
occurred to them because of their background and experience, in
order to contribute to better and more inclusive policy, programs or
workplace conditions. This was, in fact, how representative bureau-
cracy works, when people have the legitimacy and the space to raise
issues that have a wider positive impact on groups in society who are
under-represented in power and whose perspectives are not always
heard or considered.
Perceived Lack Of “Diversity Of Mindset” At
The Top
A few participants viewed senior leadership, particularly the Clerk
and senior deputies as a “club”. The gender barrier has been broken
for the club, but some participants talked about how there was no
“diversity of mindset”.
And just because we have more women and visible minorities, it
doesn’t mean we’re truly diverse if we keep promoting people like us.
Typically introverts, economists, policy “wonks”. I’m quite serious.
There is a typology if you look at who gets promoted.
The way the Public Service works is, if you’re not “in” the group, it’s
hard to break in. Hard to get in from the outside, and the hiring at
the top is—there’s an association.
who make the recommendations to the Prime Minister about whom to
appoint [at the Deputy Minister level]. There was a while, I will be very
candid with you, there was a period when [name of another person]
was the Clerk where a number of us ADM gals would say, “Oh my God!
Not another economist, introvert, policy wonk man!” There was a
series of appointments that lasted about a year, where a number of
us would say, “oh for Gods sake!” And there are women who are
being appointed who are also introverted economists, policy wonks.
that we need in the senior leadership positions. I would like to believe
that thats changing, but it will be very interesting to see, for example,
who stays at the Associate level, and who becomes a Deputy.
[It’s impor tant to bring] the other perspectives in, and backgrounds
and experiences and making sure that we’ve got people who’ve
worked out in the regions that are sitting around the Deputy Minister
discussions, that they’re not just all people who’ve risen through the
ranks of policy jobs, that they have programs and operational
experience or some of them have other impor tant experiences to
bring to bear or have done other things in their life. Gone and gotten
experience outside the Public Service, if that’s what it takes.
I think you need a diversity of thought and experience to make sure
you’re thinking things through, completely.
There was also a concern expressed about the inadequate diversity
of the women and men at the top, in terms of representation of other
EE groups:
What do you think is more true, “Opposites attract,” or “birds of a
you see in the Public Service as well. So, yes, you may have more
female representation, but then when you look at them? If you look
at our Deputy Minister community, have you ever seen the picture
make some observations on that. I think [it’s] quite revealing.
Becauseit’snotdiverse….So,ontheonehand,thenumber s
say something, but when you peel away at it, I think women, right
now, make up about a third of the deputy head table? But look at
them. Same thing on the male side. Look at them.
We always say that we do extremely well in the Public Ser vice,
because yes, we have a large representation of women. Women
have made excellent in-roads over the years. If you look at the
executive cadre that’s also the same, but again, if you start looking
and segmenting, and if you look at economic departments, if you look
atscientic-baseddepartments,andsecurity-baseddepartment s,
A participant pointed out that visible minority men do well at senior levels
in the federally-regulated private sector, but they seem to not do as well
in the PS.
same conclusion. This per son’s fantastic. They look just like us. Its a
homogeneous groups running the Public Service.
Senior leaders were seen as much more at liberty to be passionate
and to advocate as they were seen as credible and having “earned
their stripes.” This is one of the major reasons why it is important to
have a senior level of leadership that is representative of Canadians.
Some careers have taken
circuitous routes, but what
should perhaps count more
is whether candidates have the
brains, talent, commitment,
expertise and varied
experience that a senior
leader should have. One way to
increase “diversity of mindset”
at the top is to value this type
of varied experience.
There was also a sense that the process of choosing DMs was based
on who people knew and who they had worked with, unlike the EX level
in which candidates go through a merit-based process.
It’s a small town, and everybody talks, and it’s par t of, again, that circle.
You essentially have a powerful group of senior deputies and the clerk
no mination to be ambassador because they were held to account on
something they said in 2006. So, it’s a small town.
When you look at the deputies, they’ve all gone through the PCO
thing. Not a lot of them went through the Regions. They’re not really
exactly grounded. So thats what was valued, how much time you
so it becomes kind of incestuous.
One of the questions in our demographic questionnaire was to identify
the departments and agencies in which the inter viewee had worked,
to ensure that we were getting people with a diversity of backgrounds
and experience. Eleven out of 26 of our interviewees had PCO experi-
ence, which really is considered an asset at the management level.
PCO is a small agency that deals directly with the Prime Minister. The
only department in which an even larger number of people had worked
is now called Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC). It
is a huge department, and we included Service Canada, Labour
Canada, etc. under that rubric. It is harder to see how many
interviewees had regional experience, since some departments and
agencies have regional oces and we did not ask them to specify.
Some of our interviewees did talk about their regional experience as
factors that shaped their perspectives and abilities. Others were
profoundly shaped by experiences outside the public sector, which
helped them understand the lives of other Canadians, certain
regions or segments of the population.
Some participants believed that there is an image of leadership
that potential DMs are held up to. You have to “look like a leader.
There’s still a certain per spective around what makes a DM.
An area of further research could include the beliefs and perceptions
of what experience and characteristics are necessary to be a senior
leader, and whether those beliefs actually have any evidential basis.
Those with an evidence base could continue to be used, whereas those
with none could perhaps be set aside in order to broaden the range of
people seen as qualied for the top positions. As well, a re-examination
of what leadership looks like could take into account the strengths of
people who did not have a linear experience into management, but
whose experiences, because they are varied, are useful at the top.
These may include people who experienced career interruptions
because of caregiving responsibilities, people who started in very
low-income jobs and worked their way up, people who migrated to
Canada and had diculty at rst getting a job at their level due to
lack of recognition of foreign experience and credentials. Some
careers have taken circuitous routes, but what should perhaps count
more is whether candidates have the brains, talent, commitment,
expertise and varied experience that a senior leader should have. One
way to increase “diversity of mindset” at the top is to value this type
of varied experience.
Public ser vants make a dierence to the population, the country and
international events in large and small ways. From developing life-saving
health, safety and environmental regulations, to policy options that steer
the country into the future, to providing good quality, accessible and
inclusive services, the work that public servants do matters.
Every one of the 26 female and male PS managers interviewed for
this research were able to give several concrete examples of where
they had made a dierence, and all were proud of their work. There
is no question that women have had an impact as individuals. What
is harder to measure is their impact as a group on policy, programs,
operations, administration and workplace conditions.
In particular, women have made an impact in terms of signicantly
transforming workplace culture toward a culture of inclusion, and also
profoundly inuenced leadership models in the past 25 years. We
heard many examples of women having an impact on equity issues
including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Employment
Equity and pay equity. What was also clear is that women public
servants also had an impact in many other areas, such as sheries,
the environment, the automotive industry, international aairs and
national security and may sometimes have been the only women in-
volved in some of these discussions. In that sense, by having women
at all levels and empowering them to make a dierence, this may
have been the primary inuence Canadian women have been able to
have on some of these national issues.
What enabled public servants to make a dierence and the con-
straints t