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Minorities face ‘pattern of underrepresentation’ in B.C.’s public service

First-of-its-kind report points toward “potential systemic barriers” for Indigenous, racialized groups
A report titled Racial Diversity in the BC Public Service finds a “a pattern of underrepresentation” of Indigenous and racialized British Columbians in the public service. (Black Press Media file photo)

A new report finds “a pattern of under-representation” of Indigenous and racialized British Columbians, who “face systemic barriers in their pursuit” of public service careers.

The report titled Racial Diversity in the B.C. Public Service is among three first-of-their-kind reports released Thursday (May 30) describing barriers Indigenous Peoples and racialized people experience in the public service, schools and health care.

The report looking at the provincial public service reviewed the representation rates of 16 self-identifying Indigenous and racialized groups among 30,600-plus public service employees as of January 2022.

While its findings represent preliminary results, they point toward barriers preventing employees from racialized groups “from entering and moving into positions with greater accountabilities and responsibilities, including executive positions.”

The report compared representation rates of those groups within B.C.’s general labour force and the population to the provincial public sector.

Based on the available methodology, the report started with an expectation that representation of the 16 groups “should at least match, if not be higher than, the B.C. labour force and population rates.”

But that was not the case. Only four groups had rates similar to or greater than the labour force and population at large. Eleven of 16 groups were over-represented in jobs that paid less and under-represented in supervisory positions.

“Particularly notable was the lack of executive-level representation for 10 Indigenous identity and racial groups—not just under-representation, but no representation,” it reads.

Individuals who identify as First Nations represent 3.7 per cent of the population and three per cent of the workforce, but two per cent of the public service workforce. Individuals who identify as Chinese represent 11.2 per cent of the population, 10.2 per cent of the labour force and 4.8 per cent of the public sector workforce.

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The report suggests one potential explanation for the under-representation is that many racialized employees may not disclose this information and end up being classified as belonging to an “unknown” group.

“This can occur because of a lack of cultural safety on the part of the employer,” it reads. “As a result, many of the differences seen between actual and expected representation rates may be addressed with a more complete data set.”

The report stresses it did not include a number of other relevant pieces of employee information.

“For example, looking at factors related to age, years of service…education and career area can help identify barriers,” it reads.

The report is also unclear how racial background intersects with factors such as gender, sexual orientation or disability. The report notes that executive positions are “relatively rare” in the public service, comprising only 0.6 per cent — or 1 out of every 167 — positions.

“So smaller Indigenous identity and racialized groups may require a different approach to better understand representation in the executive classification,” it reads.

According to the report, the public service “is committed to removing systemic racism from its hiring and career development practices.”

The reports are released under B.C.’s Anti-Racism Data Act. Effective since 2022 it requires the provincial government to publish information about systemic racism and racial equity by June 1 each year.

The three reports are the first under the act and their researchers used data from the B.C. Demographic Survey and other sources.

The reports also appear after the provincial government passed legislation including targets for the recruitment, retention and advancement of Indigenous and other racialized people throughout government.

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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