Time to reconsider preferential hiring practices for women in public service: watchdog

NationalPost.com – News
Published: Tuesday, April 13, 2010.   Kathryn May,  Canwest News Service

OTTAWA — With women filling executive jobs in the public service at historic levels, it’s time to reconsider whether they should continue to get preferential treatment under Canada’s employment equity law, says the federal watchdog.

Maria Barrados, president of the Public Service Commission, told the Senate finance committee that parliamentarians should revisit whether women should still be protected as a designated equity group under the Employment Equity Act, along with aboriginals, visible minorities and the disabled.

“Given the representation of women, I think it’s fair to look at the act,” she said after the meeting.

Women now hold the majority of jobs in the public service, filling about 55 per cent of all jobs. They also have a firm hold on senior jobs, holding about 43 per cent of all executive positions.

Barrados said the commission, which oversees staffing, is no longer targeting women with special programs and initiatives as it may have in the past. She warned the biggest worry about amending the Employment Act and removing women as an equity group is the impact on visible minority women who face a difficult time getting into the public service and management.

The proportion of women in the public service is bigger than their share of the broader labour force and signs are the trend will continue. Women are the majority of today’s university graduates and departments have been hiring and promoting more women than men in recent years.

“I wouldn’t say that men are in a minority when they still have the majority of leadership positions,” Barrados said, adding the government should strive to keep a “reasonable balance” between the genders but she doesn’t think special programs are needed to attract more men.

She also noted that women are still lagging in key occupations, such as the scientific fields. Women are still clustered in clerical and administrative jobs but there are now more women than men in ‘knowledge’ occupations with numbers doubling in executive, computer, scientific and other professional fields between 1996 and 2006.

Despite women’s gains within the bureaucracy, women lag far behind in political representation. Canada sits 49th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union ranking of countries by representation of women in government.

Among the parties, the Conservatives have the smallest percentage of women in their caucus with 22 members. Women aren’t key players in portfolios considered priorities for the Harper government and are plugged into junior or minister of state posts.

Frank Graves of EKOS Research Associates argued this gender gap has to affect relations between the government and bureaucratic leadership. Female leaders – who account for 41 per cent of deputy ministers in core public service – are typically more collegial and collaborative compared to the “aggressive bully-boy culture” of the male-dominated government.

“The (proportion) of women in the public service (is) representative of the real world. It’s the political system that’s so male-dominated, which is so skewed. It’s a male game.”

The Employment Equity Act was first passed in 1986, to help target the hiring of four designated groups — women, aboriginals, visible minorities and the disabled. Most employers aren’t covered by the act but large firms have used the act as a model for staffing.

At the time of the act’s drafting, men dominated the public service with 58% of the jobs and more than 95% of executive jobs.

Opponents have long argued the act flies in the face of fairness and equity by giving gender and race priority over those best qualified for the job.

Women have also made significant gains in Crown corporations, also governed by employment equity.

Canwest News Service

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1 Comment

  1. As a well educated female whom recently received a second diploma, government certification and is looking for a position in water/wastewater treatment facilities across Ontario. I have realized that it is 95% Male dominated and when questioned I look like I have 2 heads. I am qualified but the majority of men are receiving preferential call backs etc.
    I believe many of the high profile jobs and bottom of the barrel are what we are shown. But if you really get down to industry and get specific, it is quite different and interesting as I have come to learn.

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