‘Sunshine’ approach to diversity in federal public service working, [Policy Options] study says

Toronto Star article (excerpt) based on my Policy Options article, Diversity in the public service’s executive ranks:

An employment equity regimen that relies on public disclosure rather than a mandatory quota system seems to have improved representation from women, visible minorities and Indigenous people in the public service, according to a new study.

Women now make up 54.4 per cent of federal government employees while visible minorities and Indigenous people account for 14.5 per cent and 5.2 per cent of the workforce, respectively, according to the report by the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

The latest government statistics say 50.4 per cent of Canada’s population are women, 20 per cent are visible minorities, and 4 per cent are Indigenous. The Canadian government defines visible minorities as non-white people other than Indigenous people.

Under the Employment Equity Act, the federal government is obligated to report annually on diversity within the government and in the federally regulated private sector.

The growth has been steady for both women and Indigenous people, who started at 46.1 per cent and 2 per cent respectively in 1993 when data became available, said report author Andrew Griffith.

And the almost quadrupling of representation for visible minorities from a mere 3.8 per cent in 1993 was remarkable, he noted.

“The transparency, sunshine-law approach and the politics of shame has shifted the representation of public services by a remarkable extent,” said Griffith, a retired director-general with the Immigration Department and now an independent policy analyst specializing multiculturalism and diversity.

“The organic and uncontroversial approach may have worked better than a quota system that would have created more resistance and tension.” 

Source: ‘Sunshine’ approach to diversity in federal public service working, study says | Toronto Star


John Ivison: Concerns raised as Liberals consider tougher French requirements for public servants

Good discussion by Ivison of some of the issues involved:

Canada is blessed with a bilingual public service – a bureaucracy mildewed with caution and capable of stifling innovation in both official languages.

We are, in fact, better at stopping things happening than anyone – Canada is number one in the International Civil Service Effectiveness Index.

Yet, nearly five decades after the passage of the Official Languages Act, the public service is not bilingual enough, it seems.

A new report by two senior bureaucrats, commissioned by the Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, has found many public servants working in bilingual regions do not feel comfortable using their language of choice at work.

The solution, according to Patrick Borbey, president of the Public Service Commission of Canada, and senior bureaucrat, Matthew Mendelsohn, is to raise the linguistic requirements for those in supervisory roles.

This sounds fair enough at first blush – people should be able to work in the language in which they can express themselves most easily. The complaint is that even when French is used, it is symbolic – typically introduced at the beginning or end of a discussion but not sustained.

However, the backdrop to this is a public service that is already over-represented in executive positions by French speakers. Twenty three per cent of Canadians identify French as their first language but 26 per cent of Canada’s 250,000 federal public servants are French speakers and fully 31 per cent of those in executive positions primarily speak French.

Raising the linguistic bar is likely to exacerbate the dominance of French speakers in the upper echelons of the public service – sparking more resentment inside the bureaucracy, where many view the existing requirements as an insurmountable hurdle to promotion.

The proposal is to raise the requirement for French oral expression and comprehension from level B to level C – a test which only 35-45 per cent of employees currently pass.

The Liberals point out that the move toward superior proficiency levels is just one of 14 recommendations made by Borbey and Mendelsohn – and none are likely to be adopted in isolation.

The hope is that by increasing training levels across the public service, proficiency would improve at all levels.

“We’re committed to ensuring English and French speaking Canadians have equal opportunities of employment and advancement in federal institutions, including through better and more accessible language training necessary to achieve higher language standards,” said Jean-Luc Ferland, press secretary to Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board.

He blamed the Conservative government for cutting training budgets and said any proposed changes would be made in consultation with public sector unions.

That goes without saying since the report recommends the government fund increased training by “re-purposing” the $800 bilingualism bonus paid to public servants who meet the language requirements for their position. That goes without saying since the report recommends the government fund increased training by “re-purposing” the $800 bilingualism bonus paid to public servants who meet the language requirements for their position. (Full disclosure: my spouse qualifies for the bonus.)

Killing the bonus could prove counter-productive – many bureaucrats maintain their skills with the express purpose of passing their five-yearly language test and qualifying for the $800 bonus.

One wonders if Justin Trudeau would be mobbed by joyful civil servants in the future, as he was at the Global Affairs building two years ago, if he claws back the bilingualism bonus?

André Picotte, acting president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, said his union has not been consulted on what would constitute a hefty pay-cut for his members.

“There are several ways we can foster bilingualism in the work place. But not by axing benefits in place since the 1970s,” he said.

He called on the government to increase the training budget so that it is accessible to junior bureaucrats, who find it difficult to cultivate the language skills necessary for jobs requiring bilingualism.

It’s a long-standing criticism that language training is offered too late in the career of public servants, and is often allocated through performance management processes, with the result some staff never have access to in-person language training.

The report’s recommendations may mitigate some of those shortcomings – for example, the requirement for each institution or department to create a “personal language training account” to enable all employees to receive a certain number of hours of language training.

But outside of Quebec and New Brunswick, just eight per cent of Canadians are bilingual – for the vast majority, ordering quiche lorraine taxes their linguistic ability.

If the Liberals adopt a policy that makes the federal public service even less representative of the Canadian public than it is already, they will stoke the impression that the West, in particular, is being frozen out.

Source: National Post

Diversity in the public service’s executive ranks

My latest, looking at how women, visible minorities and Indigenous people are represented in the highest ranks of the federal public service (DMs and EXs).

The following two charts summarize the historical evolution of how transparency and regular reporting have resulted in a more diverse public service at the overall and executive levels:

Source: Diversity in the public service’s executive ranks

Fonctionnaires autochtones: insatisfaction, discrimination et harcèlement | Maxime Bergeron | Politique canadienne

Haven’t seen this covered in English media. Worrisome (although it would be useful to have some comparative data for other groups):

Alors qu’Ottawa multiplie les appels à la «réconciliation» avec les peuples issus des Premières Nations, une enquête menée auprès de 2189 fonctionnaires fédéraux autochtones révèle un pourcentage élevé d’insatisfaction, de même que de nombreux cas de «discrimination» et de «harcèlement» au travail.

L’enquête menée par le groupe-conseil Quorus au profit du ministère de la Sécurité publique, obtenue par La Presse, indique aussi que 40% des employés autochtones songent à quitter leur poste d’ici deux à trois ans. Des conclusions qui ne surprennent pas du tout Magali Picard, vice-présidente exécutive à l’Alliance canadienne de la fonction publique (AFCP) pour le Québec et porte-parole du Cercle national des peuples autochtones.

«Je ne vous ferai pas croire qu’il n’y a pas de discrimination au gouvernement du Canada, ce n’est pas vrai. Ce que ça fait, souvent, c’est que les gens ne restent pas en poste.»

Mme Picard, membre de la nation huronne-wendate, dit avoir elle-même vécu plusieurs situations troublantes alors qu’elle était employée du gouvernement fédéral. Elle entend encore régulièrement les problèmes de fonctionnaires autochtones pendant des «cercles fermés» de discussion, où ils ne craignent pas les représailles.

«Pas plus tard qu’en mai dernier, j’ai entendu des histoires d’horreur, où des gestionnaires venaient juger les us et coutumes qui sont pratiqués dans les réserves ou les familles, en disant que c’était dépassé ou du folklore, que les gens devraient être gênés, raconte la dirigeante syndicale. On entend aussi tous les stéréotypes : vous ne payez pas vos taxes, votre électricité. C’est aberrant.»

«Sentiment de discrimination»

Parmi les conclusions du sondage de Quorus, remis en mai dernier au gouvernement, on apprend que 42% des autochtones jugent l’accès à des possibilités d’apprentissage et de perfectionnement «inégal». Questionnés sur les plus grandes difficultés rencontrées dans leur emploi, 18% ont mentionné un «manque de respect pour la culture autochtone» et 17%, un «sentiment de discrimination».

«Ceux qui ont une expérience négative à l’égard de leur environnement de travail ont abordé les aspects suivants : la discrimination, le harcèlement, l’intimidation et le manque de respect en milieu de travail», peut-on lire dans le rapport de 123 pages.

«Dans certains cas, on a rapporté des attaques insidieuses, et dans d’autres, des situations de discrimination directe.»

Le sondage souligne que 56% des fonctionnaires issus des Premières Nations sont «satisfaits ou très satisfaits» de leur emploi. Mais 40% pensent à quitter leur poste d’ici deux ou trois ans, une proportion plus élevée que pour l’ensemble des employés de la fonction publique fédérale (26%), d’après des données citées dans l’étude.


Selon la syndicaliste Magali Picard, la situation des autochtones se serait dégradée dans la fonction publique pendant la décennie du règne des conservateurs, entre 2006 et 2015. «Oui, on a vu une recrudescence des comportements de harcèlement, d’intimidation, d’abus de pouvoir, de commentaires qui sont vraiment très difficiles à croire dans les années auxquelles nous sommes rendues, et ce, de la part de l’employeur le plus important au pays.»

Les choses auraient toutefois commencé à s’améliorer depuis la passation des pouvoirs à Ottawa, soutient Mme Picard. «Même si ça ne va pas à la vitesse qu’on voudrait, l’attitude est différente, le respect est là, et la volonté de rétablir des liens, on la sent. Ça, ça ne peut que nous aider à améliorer les conditions des employés de la fonction publique.»

Réponse d’Ottawa

Au cabinet de Scott Brison, président du Conseil du Trésor qui chapeaute la fonction publique canadienne, on a souligné hier avoir pris un « engagement fondamental » en vue de « renouveler la relation avec les peuples autochtones ».

«Il nous reste bien du travail en matière de recrutement et de rétention des employés autochtones», affirme Jean-Luc Ferland, attaché de presse du président du Conseil du Trésor Scott Brison.

Pour tenter d’attirer davantage de jeunes autochtones, Ottawa a lancé en 2016 un programme de stages d’été destiné aux étudiants, considéré comme «un pas significatif dans la bonne direction». Le nombre de participants a triplé entre la première et la deuxième année, avance le Conseil du Trésor.

Selon des chiffres de mars 2016, quelque 5,2% des 259 000 employés du gouvernement fédéral sont issus des peuples autochtones. Il s’agit d’une surreprésentation par rapport au taux de disponibilité des autochtones au sein de la population active, qui s’élève à 3,4%, indique une autre étude d’Ottawa.

Source: Fonctionnaires autochtones: insatisfaction, discrimination et harcèlement | Maxime Bergeron | Politique canadienne

Canada is a leader in public sector gender equality, says new report

Stay tuned for my upcoming analysis of current and historical EX diversity (women, visible minorities and Indigenous peoples):

Canada is a global leader when it comes to gender equality in the public sector’s senior levels, according to a recent report by Global Government Forum, a research group focused on issues facing civil servants.

At 46.4 per cent, Canada has the highest proportion of female senior civil servants of any G20 country, according to the report. Australia and South Africa trail close behind at 43.3 and 41.1 per cent, respectively.

“This kind of progress produces big rewards in terms of better decision-making, bigger talent pools and, ultimately, stronger public service delivery for the public,” Kevin Sorkin, Global Government Forum’s managing director said in a written statement.

“But there is more work to do: we hope that publishing this data will help senior officials both to make the case for change, and to identify the best ways to make progress.”

The index records the proportion of women employed in the top five grades of the senior civil service in each of the G20 countries. This group comprises of roughly the top one per cent of public officials, defined as non-elected senior executives across federal or national governments, or the executive ranks of the core civil service in central government.

In the report, Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick describes Canada as an early adopter of equal rights and anti-discrimination policies, arguing that the country is now experiencing a third wave of gender equality.

“First there were the real pioneers – the first women in jobs or at various tables – then the second wave was probably in the ‘90s, when you saw more and more women in positions of responsibility and the numbers started to move up quite a bit.

“So now we’re in the third wave, which is more about workplace culture: how meetings are conducted; avoiding ‘mansplaining’ and ‘manterruption’; tackling unconscious bias – that more subtle and nuanced stuff.”

Alongside the data on senior civil servants, the report includes figures about the proportion of women among the G20 member nations’ cabinet ministers, national parliamentarians, and directors on the boards of publicly-quoted private companies. A separate section tracks the proportion of women among the most senior civil service leaders of EU countries.

The research was supported by international business services firm EY, formerly known as Ernst & Young.

The top five G20 countries in the 2016-17 Index are:

  • Canada (46.4 per cent)
  • Australia (43.3 per cent)
  • South Africa (41.1 per cent)
  • U.K. (40.1 per cent)
  • Brazil (37.8 per cent)

Wernick said in a statement to the Citizen that “there has been some real leadership on increasing representation of women in positions across the full spectrum of public service jobs, starting with getting more women to the table and then into positions of responsibility.

“We are now tackling some tough issues with respect to inclusive workplaces, and the dialogue has shifted beyond representation and binary definitions of gender, to diversity as an asset that helps us better serve Canadians and creating a workplace where all employees feel engaged and respected,” Wernick said.

Source: Canada is a leader in public sector gender equality, says new report | Ottawa Citizen

Report link: Canada tops gender equality ranking – but Australia gaining fast. More…

Stereotypes hurting millennials’ chances of finding work in the public service, says report

Interesting report with reasonably practical recommendations. Government context requires innovation has to be balanced with accountability and stewardship, not to mention the political/PS interface which the recommendations largely acknowledge:

One of the most significant issues with the public sector’s “millennial problem” is the perception that young people don’t want to work in government, according to the report. In fact, says Deloitte, a consulting firm, the public service is attractive to those born between 1980 to 1995: there’s job stability and an opportunity for a work-life balance.

“Research instead shows that, as a whole, millennials want the same things and value the same things as other generations. Where they differ is in the ways they go about achieving their goals,” the report says.

Retaining millennials is also not a problem for the public service. The report found that from 2007-2014, the number of millennials leaving stayed consistently low. People aged 35 and younger were actually more likely to stay in the federal government than leave, according to the numbers.

That’s if, however, they can get hired.

Since the 2008 recession, the government’s Deficit Reduction Action Plan has lowered the number of people hired overall. “The number of external jobs posted in 2008 was about 5,000, but that number dropped to around 2,700 in 2016,” the report said.

Only about 3.5 per cent of applicants were hired during the Recruitment of Policy Leaders initiative which focuses on hiring young top talent into mid and senior level policy roles. In 2016, those who applied through the government’s post-secondary recruitment program had a one-per-cent success rate.

“Recruitment is so selective, the federal government accepts a lower share of applicants than elite Ivy League institutions like Harvard University,” says the report, which points out Harvard’s most recent academic year’s acceptance rate was 5.2 per cent.

The report also raises other issues affecting the hiring of young people, including the older generation in government jobs who are delaying retirement, as well as the length of time it takes to go through the hiring process and the lack of career growth. Younger generations tend to have more debt because of student loans and cannot afford to wait several months to be hired, says the report.


The report offered several recommendations to address these issues.

* Streamline the hiring processes: Use more technology for online application forms to reduce printing and scanning, use electronic signatures for online forms and also create an easier process for security clearance.

* Recruitment: Make the hiring process more dynamic and prioritize different skill-sets that may be outside of the usual boxes ticked on application forms. Find new ways to identify top talent, which includes predictive analytics that determine what existing and future skills an applicant meets.

* Mobilizing jobs: Career growth and internal mobility is something millennials want, so offer several different job opportunities within the same organization across different sectors.

* Think outside the cubicle: Break down the barriers that isolate employees in the office to enhance communication, and enhance employees’ overall well-being. Create more dynamic workspaces that include options to work remotely.

* Incentivize innovation: Recognizing and encouraging innovation will benefit the public service. Teams that encouraged diverse perspectives often performed better, says the report. Feeling that creative ideas were recognized and welcomed was important to “would-be innovators.”

Several changes to attract millennials to the public sector are already underway or are being tested in pilot programs, according to the report.

Source: Stereotypes hurting millennials’ chances of finding work in the public service, says report | Ottawa Citizen

Interest in public service jobs has increased since Trudeau’s election – Macleans.ca

Of note:

Not only is enrollment up in public administration fields of study, but now experts say there’s a new enthusiasm among students.

“Let me be blunt. It was miserable under the Harper government,” says Robert Shepherd, a Carleton University professor and president of the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration. “Nobody wanted to be there. Our numbers dropped off for [programs] connected to the federal government. It was hard to attract students.”

Now Ottawa seems to be investing in its public service employees, and Trudeau’s big budget means greater job opportunities. So while some might attribute the reason for students’ renewed enthusiasm to a “sunny ways” Prime Minister, the spike in interest for public policy and administration programs isn’t always altruistic.

Shepherd credits the sputtering economy as a common thread he hears from students looking for public service work. “[Students] see government as being a relatively stable way to anchor themselves,” he says. “Back in the 1980s, that’s what I was thinking too. The economy sucked and I saw government as having a stable career.”

While the current crop of students are not thinking about a 35-year career with a pension at the end, the Baby Boomers who did see retirement beckoning. “We’ll be in a market where we’ll need a lot of people in a hurry,” says Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council of Canada. “We’re not hiring clerical people, because that stuff is pretty much automated. We’re looking for people with social media and acute management skills.”

That’s not to say everyone is jumping at available jobs. Shepherd remembers a job posting for the CRTC recently hitting his desk, which he sent out to various universities asking them to send back names of interested students. The response? Crickets.

“Where demand is outstripping supply is in the area of regulatory public policy. I’m thinking places like the CRTC, Food Inspection, Health Canada,” Shepherd says. “If you said to students there are good jobs in a regulatory agency, they look at you as though, “Why would I want to do that?’ ”

Source: Interest in public service jobs has increased since Trudeau’s election – Macleans.ca

Trudeau shakes up PS top ranks with more young blood (diversity numbers)

With these appointments, the overall DM diversity numbers for the 39  appointments are: 43.6 percent women, 7.7 percent visible minorities:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shook up the senior ranks of Canada’s public service with another sweep of promotions for younger executives who are poised to take over as the leaders of the next decade.

The latest round of appointments reflects Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick’s push to rejuvenate the top ranks of the bureaucracy with a better mix of youth and experience. The prime minister is responsible for all senior appointments but they are typically made on the advice of the clerk.

Wernick has said managing a “generational turnover” is his top priority as the last wave of baby boomers, who dominated the face and character of public service for decades, retires. In speeches, he has exhorted the baby boomers to “move on” and make way for the next generation of leaders.

Friday’s shakeup included three promotions into the ranks of deputy minster and three assistant deputy ministers into associate deputy minister jobs. All are about age 50 — either in their late 40s or early 50s — positioning them for the top posts over the decade. Last year, the average age of deputy ministers was about age 58.

As one senior bureaucrat said, “It looks like 50 is the new 60.”  The public service has aged over the years, including its senior executives compared to the 1970s and ‘8os when the public service grew rapidly and it wasn’t unusual for executives to get their first deputy appointments in their 40s.

The Trudeau government has made more than 30 senior public service appointments, and a significant number have been younger appointments than in previous years or were recruited from outside the public service.

This round of promotions includes: Paul Glover, the associate deputy minister of health, becomes president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency; Timothy Sargent, associate deputy minister of Finance, is promoted to deputy minister at International Trade; and James Meddings, assistant deputy minister at Western Economic Diversification Canada, moves to the top job at Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Glover replaces CFIA president Bruce Archibald, who is retiring. Sargent is taking over from Christine Hogan, who was recently named the new World Bank Group executive director for Canada, Ireland, nine Caribbean countries, Belize and Guyana.

Similarly, Meddings replaces Nancy Horsman, who is the new International Monetary Fund executive director for Canada, Ireland, nine Caribbean countries and Belize.

Doug Nevison becomes the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development executive director for Canada, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan.

The Trudeau government’s appointment of two women — Horsman and Hogan — to the world’s main economic boards is part of its push to ensure Canada’s representatives abroad reflect gender parity and the wide diversity of Canada. About 45 per cent of Canada’s diplomatic postings are now held by women.

Other moves in the Friday round of appointments included Chris Forbes, the associate deputy minister at Agriculture who moves to Finance as one of the department’s two associate deputy ministers. Rob Stewart, assistant deputy minister at Finance, moves up to the associate deputy minister position responsible for G7 and G20.

Nada Semaan, executive vice-president at Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), moves to Agriculture as associate deputy minister, and Kristina Namiesniowski, an assistant deputy minister at Agriculture, takes over Semaan’s position at CBSA.

Today, more than one-third of the executive cadre are over age 55, with 400 of them over 60. About 46 per cent of all public service executives are over age 50. The average deputy minister is 58; associate deputy minister 54, assistant deputy minister 53.7 and directors and directors-general 50.

Along with the drive to infuse more young talent into the executive jobs, Treasury Board president Scott Brison is committed to making the public service more millennial-friendly to attract more youth.

Source: Trudeau shakes up PS top ranks with more young blood | Ottawa Citizen

Canadians lack faith in upper ranks of public service: survey

Interesting and worrisome for the public service:

The findings of a survey, conducted by Environics Institute and the Institute on Governance, into how Canadians view accountability and oversight in government underscore a troubling level of mistrust among Canadians in their government, both elected officials and public servants.

Canadians put more faith in front-line public servants delivering services — as long as they have the resources and authority to do the right thing — than they do for MPs and senior bureaucrats.

The majority have at least some trust in front-line workers and MPs, but views of senior public servants are almost equally divided between some trust and little or no trust.

At the same time, Canadians overall perceptions about government and its effectiveness — even among its harshest critics who believe government is broken — improved significantly since a similar survey in 2014, which some attribute to the “Trudeau Effect.”

 The two surveys into Canadians’ views into how we are governed were conducted 18 months apart.  One survey was conducted during the final stretch of the Conservatives’ near decade in power, and the second was conducted during the early months of the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau.

The latest study was conducted online in February with 2,000 Canadians over the age of 18.

In that survey, only six per cent of those surveyed expressed a lot of trust in senior public servants compared with 18 per cent who reported trusting front-line federal workers.

Maryantonett Flumian, president of the Institute on Governance, said Canadians’ growing trust appears to rest with the prime minister, not government institutions such as the public service.

That, she argued, poses a big challenge for the public service.

Expectations of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government are running high, but it’s the public service that has to deliver on their promises. She said the bureaucracy’s bungling of its new pay system and foul-ups installing a new email system raise questions about management.

“It’s Trudeau they trust, not the public service,” she said. “Now the question: Is the public service up to the challenge?

“A public service mired in trying to think through how to manage a new pay system and consolidate email systems is not a good match for the aspirations of an activist government and a Canadian populace who seem to have elected this government with a blank cheque.”

Canadians in the survey pointed to the public service and the Senate as two federal institutions that need changes. Those surveyed said the Senate needs a bigger overhaul than the public service and they ranked Senate fixes as a top priority.

About 56 per cent of those surveyed said the Senate needs major changes and 23 per cent said minor reforms. For the public service, 33 per cent said it needs major change and 47 per cent thought minor changes were needed.

In all cases, support for major changes is strongest among two groups:

  • Those who also said they feel the government is broken; or

  • Those who said they had faced bad service or an unpleasant experience dealing with government over the past year.

Source: Canadians lack faith in upper ranks of public service: survey | Ottawa Citizen

We Just Can’t Handle Diversity: HBR

We_Just_Can’t_Handle_DiversityGood long read by Lisa Burrell at HBR and the difficulties in ensuring diversity given our implicit biases and automatic thinking:

Senior leaders need to recognize their organizations’ inequities—probably more than anyone else, since they have the power to make changes. But once they’ve climbed to their positions, they usually lose sight of what they had to overcome to get there. As a result, Rosette and Tost find, “they lack the motivation and perspective to actively consider the advantages that dominant-group members experience.” This is especially true of successful white women, who “reported [even] lower perceptions of White privilege than did highly successful White men.” It’s fascinating that their encounters with sexism don’t help them identify racial advantage after they’ve gotten ahead. Perhaps, the authors suggest, their hard-earned status feels so tenuous that they reflexively tighten their grip.

Beyond murkily defined concepts and somewhat defensive motivations, we have an even-higher-level conceptual obstacle to overcome: our bias against diversity itself. Recent research by Ohio State University’s Robert Lount Jr. and colleagues (Oliver Sheldon, of Rutgers; Floor Rink, of Groningen; and Katherine Phillips, of Columbia) shows that we assume diversity will spark interpersonal conflict. Participants in a series of experiments all read, watched, or listened to the exact same conversations among various groups. They consistently perceived the all-black or all-white groups as more harmonious than those with a combination of blacks and whites.

If we expect people to behave less constructively when they’re in diverse organizations or teams, how do we interpret and reward their actual performance? Under the influence of those flawed expectations? Quite possibly.

So, Is It Hopeless?

According to the renowned behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman, trying to outsmart bias at the individual level is a bit of a fool’s errand, even with training. We are fundamentally overconfident, he says, so we make quick interpretations and automatic judgments. But organizations think and move much more slowly. They actually stand a chance of improving decision making.

Research by John Beshears and Francesca Gino, of Harvard Business School, supports that line of thought. As they have written in HBR, “It’s extraordinarily difficult to rewire the human brain,” but we can “alter the environment in which decisions are made.” This approach—known as choice architecture—involves mitigating biases, not reversing them, and Beshears and Gino have found that it can lead to better outcomes in a wide range of situations. The idea is to deliberately structure how you present information and options: You don’t take away individuals’ right to decide or tell them what they should do. You just make it easier for them to reach more-rational decisions. (For more on this idea, also see “Designing a Bias-Free Organization,” an interview with Harvard behavioral economist Iris Bohnet.)

There’s still an element of manipulation here: The organization sets the stage for certain kinds of choices. But that brings us back to what most of us can agree on, at least in the abstract: Diversity improves performance, and people who apply themselves and do good work should be treated fairly.

If the members of an organization could get behind those broad ideas, would it bother them that they were being nudged to do what they wanted to do anyway? It might—and that would be another cognitive roadblock to clear.

Source: We Just Can’t Handle Diversity

Interesting that the recent public service discussions on diversity, judging by reports I have seen, show no evidence of this deeper thinking of the challenges involved (even if, judging by the numbers, the public service is reasonably diverse – see Diversity and Inclusion Agenda: Impact on the Public Service, Setting the baseline).

When making a presentation on multiculturalism and the government’s inclusion and diversity agenda this week at Canadian Heritage, my assigned ‘homework’ for attendees was to take the Harvard-developed Implicit Association Test to be more mindful of their internal biases and prejudices. It certainly was revealing to me, as it has been to those I know who have taken it:

Public Servants Get Real About Diversity in the Public Service