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EXecuTALK: Advancing Grassroots Initiatives and Your Role as a Leader in the Government of Canada (TRN4-V27)


This event recording features Rachel Zellars, Ph.D., who shares her insights on how executive leaders in the Government of Canada can contribute to sustaining the work of grassroots networks.

Duration: 00:31:09
Published: November 3, 2022
Type: Video

Event: EXecuTALK: Advancing Grassroots Initiatives and Your Role as a Leader in the Government of Canada

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EXecuTALK: Advancing Grassroots Initiatives and Your Role as a Leader in the Government of Canada



Transcript: EXecuTALK: Advancing Grassroots Initiatives and Your Role as a Leader in the Government of Canada

[The CSPS logo appears on screen.]

[Sara Plouffe appears on screen]

Sarah Plouffe, Canada School of Public Service: Hello, everyone. Hello, everyone. Welcome to this EXecuTALK event, hosted by the Canada School of Public Service. Welcome, everyone, to this EXecuTALK event, hosted by the Canada School of Public Service. My name is Sarah Plouffe, I'm an Executive Faculty Member, and I will be moderating today's event. Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge the land from which I am joining you today as the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people. Some of you may be joining us from various parts of the country today, and I therefore encourage all of you to take a moment to recognize and to acknowledge the territory that you are occupying today. And before we continue, just a few housekeeping items, of course. So today's event will be in English and simultaneous interpretation, as well as the real time captioning is available, should you need it. You can access it through the webcast interface, or you can also refer to the reminder email with the link there. Therefore, today's event will be in English. Simultaneous interpretation and real-time translation of the presentations is available. To access these services, during the event you can click on the icon on the webcast interface, or find the link in the email that sent you to the event.

So to help you experience the event at its fullest today, we encourage all of you to disconnect from your VPN if possible, and I am really happy to be able to introduce today's session from the EXecuTALK series, entitled Advancing Grassroots Initiatives in your role as a leader in the Government of Canada. Because I am pretty sure that you will agree with me that it is quite one thing to be aware of the issues facing this country at this time affecting all of us, some of us more, critically, more deeply, our colleagues, our neighbors, our friends and family. And it's quite another thing to know what we can actually be doing very concretely to help and to best support friends and colleagues in creating the most inclusive environment for everyone. I think that most of us probably struggle at one point or another, to understand some of the dynamics that are at play and some of the data coming at us and to know what concrete actions we can or should be taking to actually create and support the change that is needed, because it is quite one thing to read the call to action, I'm sure most of you have read it. It is actually a call to action, however, and what good would it be if most of us remained in the observing or questioning status?

So I hope you will forgive me this simplistic analogy, but I'm watching way too many baseball games these days. And I, it feels to me like having a whole team sitting on the sideline or on the dugout, if only a few key players are on the field when we know that we're playing a very critical playoff game, and I don't want this analogy to diminish the importance of what we will be tackling today, creating an inclusive workplace and tackling some of the systemic barriers is definitely not a game it's something that is very serious to all of us, but when faced with critical opportunity, I feel we must put our best foot forward and step up to the plate.

Knowing that we all have a very critical and unique role to play in this equation of creating and fostering a truly inclusive workplace and country, I am extremely grateful to have the support and guidance of experts like Rachel Zellars

[Sarah Plouffe and Rachel Zellars appear in video chat panels.]

Sarah Plouffe: who help all of us navigate this world and providing us with fresh perspective, asking the tough questions, sometimes, creating the new thought patterns, of course, offering some critical pieces of information and knowledge that we all need to keep moving in the right direction. So today, as we discuss this important topic, I want to welcome Dr. Zellars a visiting scholar at the Canada School of Public Service, Lawyer, Senior Research Fellow and Assistant Professor at St. Mary's University in the Department of Social Justice and Community Studies. Thank you, Dr. Zellars for being here with us today - over to you.

Dr. Rachel Zellars, St. Mary's University: Thank you so much, Sarah. Today is one of the days when everything that could possibly go wrong with technology, y'all, has just happened. So I'm going to share my slides.

[Dr. Rachel Zellars appears full screen]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: I'm going to turn off my camera until we come back together. And Sarah, if you lose my voice or slides at any moment, would you please just let me know, thank you!

[Sarah Plouffe and Rachel Zellars appear in video chat panels.]

Sarah Plouffe: We will let you know.

Dr. Rachel Zellars: Amazing. Thank you. So, so, so much how's that?

[Dr. Rachel Zellars appears in a small video window beside the title slide of her PowerPoint presentation: "Advancing Grassroots Initiatives and Your Role as a Leader in the Government of Canada"]

Sarah Plouffe: We see that perfectly. Thank you.

Dr. Rachel Zellars: That's great.

[Slide changes to show a picture of group of people hugging in a circle with their heads down beside a sign that reads "Welcome Robb Elementary School Bienvenidos", and the video window changes to black, with "Rachel Zellars" written in it.]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: Wonderful, thank you so much. Let me come back here.

[Slide changes to title slide: "Advancing Grassroots Initiatives and Your Role as a Leader in the Government of Canada"]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: As someone who was born in the United States, as many of, you know, a farm in upstate New York, I have really learned over the last two weeks, how profoundly different the histories of the United States in Canada are. I mean, intellectually, I have definitely known this, but in the last few days I have come to feel it deeply, deeply in the wake of three horrific mass shootings.

[Slide changes to show a picture of group of people hugging in a circle with their heads down beside a sign that reads "Welcome Robb Elementary School Bienvenidos]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: One, just a few days ago in Uvalde, Texas last Tuesday.

[Slide changes to show the Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, surrounded by 9 people, giving a press conference]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: On the US political right, amongst conservatives there, leaders have remained steadfast, unyielding about the need to remain focused on one singular, right, and that is the right of Americans to continue to bear arms - their handguns.

[Slide changes to show a photo of three similar assault rifles]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: And of course also their high powered assault rifles. This right has been consistently messaged, and well circulated over the last six days by the very same leaders in the US, who've created the conditions designed to protect the inviable instead of children who genuinely loved life to the fullest.

[Slide changes to show a news article headline from BuzzFeed News that reads: "Texas Officials Blame The School Shooting On Mental Health And Not The Guns That Were Used To Kill 19 Children (byline) Even though he repeatedly stressed that mass shootings are a mental health issue, Gov. Greg Abbott said the shooter "had no mental health history"]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: What happened to 19 children? These politicians have insisted could only be the fault of a deranged individual, just one madman. This is not about guns they've said, but rather a problem with mental illness. My conversations with my friends and loved ones here in Canada have been profoundly different from those back home, both in degree, and in kind.

[Slide changes to show a black and white photograph of a soldier in the field carrying an assault rifle]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: In my grief induced research into medical articles over the last six days, I finally learned what these guns, AR-15s, do to the human body. I learned that they irreparably damage every organ that their bullets touched. I was reading the details from one Naval surgeon. My family's a Naval family, a Navy family. And he said that regular bullets, they enter the body like a nail, but with AR-15s, these guns, it says if you shot somebody again and again, with a Coke can.

[Slide changes to show a man and a girl holding each other – there's a group of people in front of them with their heads down]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: When I read this, I finally understood why parents in Texas were asked to submit their DNA as they waited for children that did not escape from their classroom windows last Tuesday.

And when I called my very best friend of 30 years, last Friday night crying, gasping, he said to me, meaning absolutely no harm - "Rachel, you have been in Canada for too long. You've been in Canada for too long."

[Slide changes to show a montage-style photograph of 21 young children of school age]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: How is it possible that such a radical divide on the issue of guns exist between us two nations whose borders touch, whose citizens share a common language and whose commerce and trade are so inextricably intertwined? Why this chasm of difference between us regarding guns and our assault rifles?

[00:09:01 Slide changes to show a picture of a coiled snake over the words "Don't Tread on Me", which is the Gadsen flag.]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: Well it's because Canada has no second amendment. It has no second amendment. And as historian, Carol Anderson recently explained our slave holding fathers in the US insisted on the inclusion of the second amendment in the Bill of Rights to assure themselves of a fighting force that was willing and available to suppress slave insurrections and to also arm its white citizens. It's important to understand this historical fear that led to the second amendment in the United States.

[Slide changes to show a painting depicting the Haitian Slave Revolution]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: The Second Amendment was ratified just four months after the only successful slave uprising in history. This one on the screen, the Haitian revolution. And the nation whose largest financial asset was enslaved people paid very, very close attention to this up-rising in Haiti. As historians tell us George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were shook. They were at the time, 1791, absolutely shaken to the core in disbelief that this was happening.

[slide changes to show a photograph of Donald Trump with an upraised fist, taken against a background that has "NRA" printed on it]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: Today, protection of the Second Amendment in the United States, the right to bear arms, is inextricably tied to the identity politics of the Republican Party, a broad based yet unified coalition of conservatives in the US. In short, you can no longer be a Republican without adhering to this fine point, but our history, our history here in Canada, there's no second amendment. Canada's capitalism doesn't have slavery as its primary foundation. This nation is different, right? It's not the US, it's not its guns, it's dead children, it's endless heartbreak of so many mass killings - 693 mass killings in 2021 in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

[Slide changes to show a photograph of a person holding a Gadsen flag, standing on a truck in the middle of a group of vehicles parked in front of Parliament during the trucker convoy protest]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: Nope, Canada is different.

[Slide changes to show a photograph of a large number of people in front of the US Capital building during the protests on Jan 6, 2021. One person is holding a Gadsen flag.]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: Canada with its population, 1/10 of that of the United States is not a hardened politics of extreme division of racist killings in Canada.

[Slide changes to show a historical photograph of three people dressed in Klu Klux Klan regalia, holding the Union Jack (flag of the British Empire)]

[Slide changes to show a photograph of two people on horseback in front of the Parliament Buildings during the trucker convoy protest. One is holding a Canadian flag, the other is holding a "Trump" flag]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: There is no friendship between conservative politics and white supremacy. Isn't that right?

[Slide changes to show a photograph of a group of people in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery in Winter. One person is holding a hand-lettered sign that reads "Canada Fight for Hero Trump"]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: The call to action is arguably the greatest experiment public service has ever undertaken


Dr. Rachel Zellars: to make this nation's largest employer truly representative of its population.

[Slide changes to show a photograph of the members of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women from 1967]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: And as I've learned, researching the history of merit and public service over the last century, this idea of a representative government, one that mirrors the same diversity inside and outside was simply not a serious idea throughout Canadian history.

[Slide changes to show a photograph of the cover of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: In fact, it became a core concept in public service staffing in the sixties and seventies, and then only for white women after the Status of Women in Canada, this Royal Commission, and only for French, Quebecers white, French Quebecers. But as the hundreds of black and racialized career public servants have told me time and time again, over the last year in our conversations and interviews, public service is a microcosm of Canadian society at large, what they have experienced growing up in Canadian society, they have also experienced during the course of their careers in public service.

[Slide changes to show a large group of police in front of a wooden barricade arresting members of a First Nations protest]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: These conversations and the events over the last three weeks have reminded me that Canada's own history of white supremacy is different in degree.

[Slide changes to show a photograph of a First Nations protest march – the person in front is holding a sign with a picture of a young First Nations woman with the words "Justice for Chantel Moore"]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: It is different in degree, but not in kind.

[Slide changes to show a large crowd of people holding signs and flags packing the intersection of Sussex and Wellington during the convoy protest in Ottawa]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: And so I want to share my reflections on what the call to action demands in light of all that I've learned as a researcher and student of public servants about culture change and resistance in public service in this very moment.

[Slide changes to show a chart titled "A Road Map for Racial Equity" from Robert Livingston, Harvard University]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: For ease and hopefully utility, I'm going to thread my reflections through this roadmap for racial equity.

[Slide changes to show the French version of the previous chart titled "Une feuille de route pour l'équité raciale"]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: It was developed by Robert Livingston at Harvard. And I chose this model because he's a psychologist and organizational strategist, and he spent his entire career doing just two things, researching barriers to systemic and culture change, and secondly, working with large organizations to confront their own barriers to systemic and culture change.

[Slide changes back to the English version of the chart.]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: He teaches that the very first step is understanding what the problem is, what is the problem? That demands two things of leaders in this moment. First, clear messaging that communicates the problems, the call to action sets out to address.

And then secondly, consensus building within teams and departments that the problem with racism is so big, so pervasive that it necessarily acts to the detriment of public service as a whole. Here's a script for leaders to try out: "We have a public service-wide problem with racism and anti-blackness, it's old entrenched, and we simply cannot move forward until we understand and address it together." Use rich metaphors to describe the problem. Robert Livingston often uses this one: "Systemic racism is the current that carries us all downstream: anti-racism is becoming the salmon and learning to swim upstream." What a beautiful metaphor.

In the end, employees, teams, and departments have to believe that systemic racism shapes the culture inside of public service and your department to the material detriment of BIPOC employees, especially regarding mental health and career advancement. What are actions that leaders can take?

Action one: design, an internal messaging campaign that communicates the importance, purpose, and rationale for the call to action within public service. The campaign must stress the call to action as a departmental priority and provide a rationale for its specific focus on anti-blackness. It must provide a rationale for its specific focus on anti-blackness. Use data to support this campaign.

Second action point: establish and lead a policy for equitable data collection analysis and its use. Make sure to implement clear standards for measuring and addressing racial inequality inside your organization. This entails so much more than simply collecting and reporting disaggregated data, specifically, this means collecting disaggregated data that can be analyzed to assess underrepresentation and stagnation, such as through the disproportionality index designed by Martin Nicholas.

[Slide changes to show a table titled "Distribution of Salary Ranges of public service of Canada employees for Black, Visible Minority Group, Indigenous Peoples and Persons with Disabilities"]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: Here's what that looks like. This is a table that provides a distribution of nonvisible minorities, black people, and visible minorities across salary ranges in public service. And here a disproportionality index is used to compare the percentage representation of one equity group for a particular salary range to the overall average value. Let me translate that. So first, if there was a barrier to advancement to the management and EX levels for black employees, the DI, or disproportionality index value would be less than one for the higher salary ranges.

Those are the red numbers in the center of the chart, but lower on the screen, right? If there was stagnation making people stagnate at the lower levels, the disproportionality index value would be greater than one for the lower salary ranges. So, those are those red numbers to the top of the chart there in the middle. If there were no barriers at all, the DI value would be close to one for all salary levels. From this chart alone, it is clear that stagnation is worse for black public servants. Collect good data, but also analyze data in ways that align with your messaging.

[Slide changes to show the chart titled "A Road Map for Racial Equity" from Robert Livingston, Harvard University]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: Secondly, root cause analysis. Here's the guiding question for leaders right now. What are the causes? What are the causes of systemic racism inside of your department and what are the conditions that currently support it? What are the conditions that currently support it?

Here's actions for leaders. Action, one: First design an internal messaging campaign that explains the histories of settler colonialism and slavery in Canada, and then illuminate the material impacts of these histories to the present. They are not just old histories y'all, but histories that were practiced for centuries and as such are evidenced in the present. So choose a case study that really drives home this point. Make sure that your messaging campaign also defines and demystifies concepts that are central to understanding systemic racism, such as racism. What is that? What is anti-black racism? Settler colonialism. What is racial capitalism? In this moment, public servants and leaders need to share language and terms that are understood widely and collectively.

Action two: What are the experiences of black racialized and indigenous employees in your department? Not just public service, right, but your department. Have you actually with care and confidentiality collected those narratives, quantified those experiences and used this information to inform your own strategy? If not, you gotta get to it now.

Step three: In this roadmap is empathy. Let me offer a definition. Empathy is not just feeling bad about the terrible experiences of another group of people or another person, but rather empathy is feeling outrage and being compelled to take sustained actions that create more equity. Empathy is feeling outrage and being compelled to take actions over long periods of time that increase equity. Historian Howard Zinn often used to say, you cannot be neutral on a moving train.

Here are the guiding questions for leaders. Do you care enough to implement the call to action over the long term? Do you care enough? And do the employees in your team or department care enough to do the same? Well spoiler alert. They do not.

[Slide changes to show a graph with the title: "White people are less supportive of Black Lives Matter then they were at the beginning of 2020. Net support versus Jan. 1, 2020."]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: Political scientists actually sit around and study this stuff all the time and what the work of Jennifer Chudy and Hakeem Jefferson, who created this chart, remind us is that white empathy is not a reliable gauge or impetus for enacting structural change regarding racism.

Let me say that again. White empathy is not a reliable gauge or impetus for enacting structural change regarding racism. This is the chart of two political scientists, I've mentioned Jennifer Chudy, Hakeem Jefferson, and what it shows us is that white support for Black Lives Matter - that's that purple line on the screen. It peaked right after the execution of George Floyd, but then it dipped to all time lows within a few months. In fact, white people, as their study found have actually become less supportive of campaigns focused on police accountability than they were before the murder of George Floyd, even as data shows us that police killings of black men have increased over the last two years. That is a fact. Their research focuses on racial attitudes and racial sympathy and reveals that white people have a really hard time maintaining empathy and therefore capacity for anti-racist work.

This trend can be seen historically. It's not ne,. wherever widespread public interest in racial equality has increased in north America. So what does this mean in terms of actions right now for leaders - actions? It means that as a leader, you have to make sure that any education in your department in response to the call to action is focused on social value orientations and offers research on white racial attitudes and racial sympathy, social value orientation research, white racial attitudes and racial sympathy has to be integrated into and all of the educational initiatives that are responsive to the call to action, whether that education happens in the form of implicit bias trainings or those campaigns I mentioned a few moments ago.

So just quickly, in psychology, social value orientation identifies and categorizes people according to their personal attitudes about the distribution of resources. So lots of employees and leaders are not interested in equitable hiring and employment practices designed to meaningfully increase racial and indigenous representation. Despite these same practices that have been used throughout the history of public service to increase the representation of white women and white French Quebecers over time. That's very important. So as such leaders have to account for all of the five social value orientations that exist within all organizations through education, responsive policy, behavioral designs, and accountability mechanisms.

[Slide changes to show a group of three pictures arranged vertically. A dolphin, an ostrich, and a shark. There is an arrow pointing to the right of each picture: for the dolphin, it points to an angel. The ostrich points to a carrot. The shark points to a stick. The title of the slide is "Nuanced Approach: Different Tactics"]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: In short, not everyone is a dolphin or an ostrich, behaviorally speaking. Some people truly are sharks y'all and sharks need sticks, not carrots. They don't care about their better angels, right?

[Slide changes to show the chart titled "A Road Map for Racial Equity" from Robert Livingston, Harvard University]

Dr. Rachel Zellars: Fourth: what can be done? I know this is what you've been waiting for. Strategy. Here's the guiding question. What can be done to address de facto practices of discrimination and racism in your department and through public service? It's really tempting to jump to strategy, but the work of researchers tells us it just doesn't work, right.?

But to begin the voices that are, that should be centered in any strategy are those that are most impacted by the problems you're trying to solve. In the social sciences, we call this margin to center thinking, right? That's why in the call to action, there's the line that demands of all leaders to enable and advance the work of grassroots networks and communities within public service by providing resources and bringing them into discussion, that senior executive table. So let's start here in terms of strategy, given the incredible labor and problem-solving that's taking place right now within employee networks, such as Ben Ren and FBEC.

Action one: communicate value meaningfully, substantively for employee networks by providing extras that acknowledge their extensive volunteer labor and, and the emotional labor of such work. As an outsider to public service, these organizations have been my primary teachers, and they've also kept me accountable. The knowledge and creative thinking that's needed to transform public service is right there inside of these networks. So each leader needs to develop a plan for supporting and rewarding these networks and the work that they're doing. For the sake of time, (and we're running out) - a few more.

Action two: develop and implement a black-centric lens with best practices, like the one being defined and implemented right now at ESDC.

Action three: adopt and implement the national standard of Canada for psychological health and safety in the workplace developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Develop that standard within your workplace, within your department.

Action four: set clear department-wide guidelines regarding the evaluation and promotion process. Action five: educate executives on the resource profiles of black executives and make sure that you're nurturing a culture that's committed to utilizing this in-house resource.

This in-house resource in lieu of other measures or external searches for black executives.

Action six: create and ensure the use of equitable staffing methods of which there are a plethora. Six: what is meant by sacrifice? This is such a strong word. Well, to engage in equity work, it is necessary to engage in sacrifice. That's the starting point. You cannot have equity unless those who are dominant, those who are in power right now are willing to give up some seats. Equity demands that those who have benefited as the status quo, give up power and some seats of position. And, over the last century, public service has wholeheartedly done this for other previously excluded groups - women, and French Quebecers as example. What might that messaging look like in your department, in your team? Well, what we're doing now for black, indigenous and racialized employees has been done for other excluded groups that public service has long discriminated against: veterans, women and French Quebecers. The history of merit teaches us that our commitment, our commitment in public service to whiteness is so entrenched that we have simply excluded qualified black Canadians from these three categories over the last century, even though they were present in this nation by the tens of thousands.

So that is what sacrifice means. Thank you for your time today.

[Dr. Rachel Zellars appears on screen]

It has been so precious, so precious, albeit short. And I need to just thank again the employee networks that have taught me - FBEC and Ben Ren and my team at the school for being the absolute best. So thank you so much for your time.

[Sarah Plouffe appears on screen]

Sarah Plouffe: Amazing. Thank you, Dr. Zellars. I'm still a little bit emotional and moved from some of the things that you've shared with us today. I really appreciated the session. I'm sure that all of the participants watching and listening will have learned and taken some notes like me on the side of things that I want to remember, actions, and you have listed many that we need to keep on our priority to-do list and that we need to keep talking about with our other colleagues so that we can collectively start making more of a difference and foster and getting that momentum going. We hope that all of you participants out there have appreciated this session and we would love to get your feedback on this, and we will be sending out a quick, almost painless evaluation. So please take the two minutes required to fill that in.

[Sarah Plouffe and Rachel Zellars appear in video chat panels.]

And I want to extend the greatest appreciation for your time and your commitment to this event and so many others. Dr. Zellars, thank you so much for being with us today. And I want to wish everyone a very wonderful rest of their day. Thank you.

[The video chat fades to CSPS logo.]

[The Government of Canada logo appears and fades to black.]

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