The federal Justice Department is forcing its managers to take diversity training, a move made public a year after a Senate committee heard scathing testimony alleging minorities are largely blocked from rising to the department’s upper echelons.
Justice Department associate deputy minister Donna Miller says the diversity initiative “is about the pursuit of excellence.”
Miller, who leads the department’s employment equity initiatives, says, “We think that a diverse and inclusive organization is the best to promote excellence, and the excellence in legal services and excellence in legal policy.”
Over 600 managers from across the country will take the workshops starting in May, says Miller. Members of the department’s advisory committees attended diversity workshops last November, and senior managers also received training in December, says Miller.
“That’s where we’re starting - they’re the most critical layer,” she says. “They’re the layer that recruits, that retains, and that promotes.”
Former Justice Department employee Mark Persaud told the Senate human rights committee in February 2008 he was driven from the department’s Toronto office in 2003 by a “poisonous, toxic culture that causes many people to leave.”
Persaud, who leads the Canadian International Peace Project, told the committee his former workplace was filled with “overt racism and intimidation of employees.”
He told Law Times in an interview at the time of the committee meetings that he was prevented from obtaining a promotion after fighting allegedly discriminatory attitudes of a former colleague.
Persaud calls the diversity awareness workshops “a start.” He adds, “It’s taken the department such a long time to acknowledge that there’s a problem. In the meantime, there have been a lot of casualties.”
The enforcement of sanctions against managers who fail to follow policies regarding hiring procedures would be a better way to address the issue, suggests Persaud.
While the department is looking to enhance diversity in its offices, Miller says it already has a strong track record. “We actually have more visible minority employees in the department, for example, than the labour availability numbers would suggest,” she says.
Miller offered the following statistics comparing diversity within the department from April 1, 2008, to Dec. 31, 2008:
• visible minorities: up to 13.1 per cent from 11.6 per cent;
• persons with disabilities: up to 5.5 per cent from 5.1 per cent;
• Aboriginal Peoples: rise to 3.6 per cent from 3.3 per cent.
But, speaking anecdotally, Miller acknowledged that the department needs to improve diversity among its senior ranks. She did not have statistics immediately available on the number of senior managers from diverse backgrounds.
“If you look at our senior management cadre, we do not have sufficient diversity,” she says, adding the caveat that women are well represented at that level.
Miller says the department also is building diversity numbers into its performance pay scheme to get “immediate results.”
The plan to introduce diversity training became public when the department posted a request for proposals to administer the project on a web site. The RFP states that, “Recent media coverage of the Senate proceedings on employment brought issues related to diversity in Justice Canada to the forefront.”
The posting indicates that the department is looking for “facilitation services to deliver diversity awareness workshops to its managers.” It lists an estimated value of $50,001 to $100,000 for the work, and states that the services will be needed from the time the contract is awarded to March 31, 2010.
“The workshops are intended to bring awareness to diversity issues within the DOJ, including discrimination and racism,” states the posting.