In 2008, then-Clerk to the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Kevin Lynch, asked Monique Collette, president of the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA), to “develop new and pragmatic approaches to improve diversity, and to foster full recognition of Canada’s two official languages in the workplace.” Ms. Collette conducted a one-person task force. In the following, she outlines the highlights of this year-long process.
When I was asked to explore innovative approaches to bilingualism, communications and diversity in the Public Service of Canada, I quickly realized that a great deal of work has been and continues to be done in these areas.
Serving Canadians in the official language of their choice is a responsibility, and diversity is a must in a society where the health of our labour force is increasingly dependant on immigration.
I conducted a series of 16 consultations across all regions of the country with 214 federal public servants at all levels, from 38 departments and agencies. This cross-Canada consultation provided me with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear a wide cross-section of employees speak with passion and commitment about the kind of public service in which they want to work, and what they are doing to create that workplace.
I found out that while practical approaches are being successfully implemented in various departments across the federal government, knowledge of these practices is often limited to the departments and regions in which they are occurring. I also drew some conclusions, which I have generally called “lessons learned.”
What was striking is that most of the practical approaches and ideas go beyond the specifics of diversity, bilingualism and communications. They speak to good management practices and underscore important approaches that leaders at all levels are taking to create an effective and productive public service, one that espouses the values of bilingualism, diversity and good communication.
Since it would be impossible to outline all the practical approaches I uncovered, I will focus on lessons learned with a few of the many examples I discovered during my exploration.
1.While the federal public service is adopting innovative approaches (as the more than 150 practical approaches in my report Workplace and Workforce Task Force: Compendium of Practical Approaches confirm) to encourage bilingualism, diversity and communication, we are not very good at sharing this knowledge.
2.Although many of the innovative approaches developed are employee-driven, senior management support is essential for creating an effectively bilingual workplace, for hiring and developing members of equity groups, and for creating opportunities.
3.It is not only senior managers who lead. Public service managers are integral to our success or failure, positioned as they are between senior management and the front lines. It is public service managers who lead the implementation of government policy and programs, who create support among their peers and subordinates, and who recruit, motivate and coach our next generation of public servants.
4.Networks are catalysts for action. Perhaps one of the most striking observations from my conversations around the country relates to the important role that federal councils play in the regions of Canada. In every region, federal councils bring departments together to support the development of the public service. Similar to federal councils, groups such as the National Managers Community, youth forums, future leaders groups and functional groups facilitate joint learning and development in ways that would not otherwise occur. Not all networks are formal. A Visible Minority Executive Networking Group was established about a year and a half ago. This informal group provides a forum for visible minority executives to network and enhance the representation of visible minorities in the executive cadre of government.
5.We have the structure we need. We do not need to reinvent the wheel in building an effectively bilingual and diverse public service. We already have the tools, programs, policies and legal framework needed to create such a workplace. We just need to be more innovative in using what we have. Take, for example, Parks Canada in Newfoundland and Labrador, which, using local resources, helped build its bilingual capacity by making part-time language training accessible to seasonal employees who could participate without losing their benefits. Or Service Canada, which encourages managers from Quebec and Ontario nearing the completion of language training, or wanting to maintain their proficiency, to undergo full language immersion by working in the other region.
6.Diversity is more than we think it is. Diversity is bigger than employment numbers of equity group members; it is about capitalizing on the richness of different and new perspectives based on generational, gender, geographic, cultural and ethnic representation. In Toronto, where 60 percent of the population consists of visible minorities, participants advocated open and frank discussions reflective of the diversity of perspective that comes from culture, gender, experience and geography. Citizenship and Immigration Canada, a department on the front lines in welcoming and settling immigrants, is trying to make its workforce more representative of the people it serves by creating the Employment Equity Initiative on Recruitment and Development Integration. Similarly, Correctional Services, sensitive to the disproportionate number of Aboriginal inmates, has created the Aboriginal Human Resource Management Strategy, a three-year, three-phase approach with a focus on recruitment, retention, training, succession and knowledge transfer.
7.Creativity and innovation must be liberated. People on the front lines don’t just see problems – they have good suggestions about how to make things better. We need to be better at listening and helping them act on their ideas.
8.Necessity is, in fact, the mother of invention. While it is certainly important to support and encourage people to be creative and innovative, often this creativity is born out of necessity. Take, for example, the Passport Office in British Columbia which serves a large population with limited capacity in either official language. To better serve these clients, the office developed a language tree through which it capitalizes on the language skills of its employees by trying to match these skills with the needs of people coming in its door. Another creative example is the RCMP in British Columbia, who, in trying to change perceptions about working in the public service, are leading a series of canoe journeys, teaming up with First Nations youth on old canoe routes, and mentoring Aboriginal youth.
9.Technology – an essential component. With the evolution of technology, public servants are finding interesting opportunities for connection and for learning. The new generation of public servants is at ease with social media, be it Facebook, Twitter or a wiki. These employees are anxious to use this technology to connect at work, to provide feedback, and to network. They see technology as an opportunity to be more open, effective, efficient and productive.