Women advancing in some, but not all, public service careers: study

Women in the federal public service are being promoted more often than men, but mostly in administrative roles, while Indigenous workers and people with disabilities are being promoted less than their counterparts, according to an analysis of 13 years of data.

Women promoted more often, but mostly in administrative roles

Women were more often promoted in administrative roles than in other sectors of the federal government. (Shutterstock)

Women in the federal public service are being promoted more often than men, but mostly in administrative roles, while Indigenous workers and people with disabilities are being promoted less than their counterparts.

Those are among the results of the Public Service Commission of Canada's most recent analysis of promotion rates among women, visible minorities, Indigenous people, and people with disabilities.

The findings comes from a study of all promotion data over a 13-year period, from April 1, 2005 to March 31, 2018, among all public servants hired from April 1, 1991, onward. That set of data includes more than 172,000 promotions among more than 230,000 employees.

The study found women had a 4.3 per cent higher promotion rate than men, but that those rates depended on the job.

Broken down by occupational categories — administrative support, administrative and foreign service, operational, scientific and professional, and technical — women had "considerably higher" promotion rates than men in administrative support and administrative/foreign service, but "considerably lower" rates in scientific and professional and technical fields.

Indigenous people, meanwhile, had a 7.5 per cent lower promotion rate than non-Indigenous people, and people with disabilities had a 7.9 per cent lower promotion rate than those who don't have disabilities.

Indigenous people and people with disabilities saw lower relative promotion rates in the administrative support and the scientific and professional categories than their counterparts.

When compared to their counterparts, Indigenous people also had a lower relative promotion rate in the administrative and foreign service category, whereas persons with disabilities had a substantially higher relative promotion rate in the operational category.

The study also found:

  • There was no discernable difference between promotion rates for visible minorities and people who aren't members of visible minorities across all occupational categories.
  • Women working in the National Capital Region had higher promotion rates than those working outside the region, whereas those with disabilities had lower promotion rates in the capital region.

Promotion rates improving

The analysis also looked at whether promotion rates improved over 27 years. The data was broken into two specific time periods (from April 1, 1991 to March 31, 2005 and from April 1, 2005 to March 31, 2018). The data covered nearly 75,000 promotions from the first time period and nearly 98,000 promotions for the second time period.

During both those time periods, promotions for women, Indigenous people and those with disabilities improved. However, the rate at which the latter two groups were promoted was below those of their counterparts. The data also showed there didn't appear to be a significant difference in promotion rates for people of visible minorities. Indigenous people saw a nearly 2.3 per cent increase in their relative promotion rate, while persons with disabilities saw a nearly four per cent increase.

The study didn't examine why women, Indigenous people, persons with disabilities or visible minorities weren't being promoted as often as their counterparts or only in specific sectors. People in these groups may face barriers to promotion at different stages, such as the application stage or during staffing, the study found, barriers that could ultimately affect whether they want to apply for promotions.

Furthermore, Indigenous people and person with disabilities didn't apply as often for promotions as other employees.

The commission's analysis acknowledges more research is needed to understand why women aren't being promoted as often in certain sectors and what factors are affecting promotion rates. The Public Service Commission is set to undertake that goal in conjunction with the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer.

It also outlined a five recommendations, including reaching out to federal departments and agencies to increase awareness of programs and policies to support diversity and making current programs such as the Aboriginal Leadership Development Initiative more accessible.


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