Transcript – Episode 26: Chat with Manon Dumas

John Hannaford: Hello everyone. It’s a pleasure to be your host for another GAC Files. I’m John Hannaford, Deputy Minister of International Trade. As I said, this is a forum that is important, I think, for us to discuss various issues that affect us as a community. And today we’re very fortunate to have a colleague of long standing, Manon Dumas, who is taking a leadership role with respect to some of the cultural aspects pertaining to harassment and to difficult workplace situations, as part of our team up here on the eighth floor. And she has been leading a series of conversations amongst members of the department, both LES [locally engaged staff] and CBS [Canada-based staff] in missions and here at headquarters, with a view to try to facilitate conversations that aren’t easy and to increase our sensitivity as an organization to situations that can be difficult, and by virtue of being difficult are often extremely important to be addressing. So it’s leadership work that is critically important to me and my colleagues in the deputy community. In part, because it really can contribute to making this a better place to work, and that’s ultimately our objective here—to address situations that need to be addressed and to do it in a way that is constructive and allows for us to, as a community, move forward on things that can be, as I say, challenging.

But maybe, given that this is the format of these podcasts, we can begin with a few personal questions about you as an individual, about your past. Where are you from, Manon?

Manon Dumas: Absolutely. I grew up in Northern Ontario, in a small town called Iroquois Falls, about 750 km north of Ottawa, and that was a…it is a town where, my goodness, the only federal government presence was the post office. So the idea of being able to imagine a career in foreign affairs did not come from my school. However, there was still a certain openness to the world. My father was a member of the Rotary Club in Iroquois Falls, and we hosted exchange students from different countries. That’s what made me want to start travelling, and I did one of those exchanges myself when I was 17, and I left and spent a year in South Africa. So my first time leaving Canada’s borders I went to South Africa for a year.

John Hannaford: My goodness…

Manon Dumas: Yes, yes. And from there I discovered that if there was a way to play this game as a career, I would like to do that, I would like to be an ambassador for my country. Because that’s what the experience was like. After that I started doing more research on what kinds of studies could lead to what. And it was only then that I began to understand how the federal government works and that there was a Department of Foreign Affairs. There you go!

John Hannaford: And your education, what choices did you make?

Manon Dumas: I did a bachelor’s. For me, bilingualism has always been very important. I was always very aware that, in Northern Ontario, it would require an effort to maintain a certain level of bilingualism. And so my year in South Africa was entirely in English. It was really an immersion so I could perfect my English. I had always spoken French at home, but my studies…

John Hannaford: At school as well?

Manon Dumas: Well, grade school was in French and high school was bilingual. Iroquois Falls had one of the last remaining bilingual public schools in Ontario, so that’s why I was able to do it. We chose our courses based on the teacher. I studied physics, and I could choose an Anglophone teacher or a Francophone teacher. And then I did my year in South Africa just before I finished high school, and after that I decided to do a bachelor’s at Queen’s [University]. I was lucky to be accepted at Queen’s, and I did a BA in political studies, and after that I applied to enter a new master’s program in international relations that was offered at Laval University in the city of Québec. It was brand new at the time. Today, several colleagues in the department are graduates of the program, but I was among the first cohort of students, and I really liked it.

John Hannaford: That was with Yvon Bernier?

Manon Dumas: Yes indeed, he was there. There was also—who else?—Paul Painchaud and other people. It was multidisciplinary, so at the beginning, at Laval, they more or less gathered together professors from different faculties—law, political science, economics—to put together a program. Eventually, they founded the Institute for Advanced International Studies. But at the beginning it was just a puzzle, bits and pieces cobbled together, and they created a program.

John Hannaford: And your career here...

Manon Dumas: So after that, I followed the traditional paths. Although, the year I graduated from my master’s program in international relations, the recruitment exercise, it was a time when it was still done annually—but the exercise that year was limited to specialists in either law or economics. So I couldn’t even register. So I had a year when I couldn’t register where it was my dream at the time to be part of the department. And then I did other things during that year. I worked a little bit as a substitute teacher in schools. And I also took a theatre course in New York, because I have a bit of an artistic side. I’ve done a lot of theatre, and I continue to do so. And so, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to join the department, I said, okay, I’m going to get lost in New York for the summer and take a theatre class. Which I loved, obviously. But I had no intention of making a career out of it, whereas most of the others in my program, that’s what they were aiming for. It seemed out of reach, the idea of how to break into the industry. And I thought I was already too old. I was already 25 and in my mind, to make it in the movie business, you have to start at 17, 18. That was… The road not travelled.

John Hannaford: But you found a way to sort of balance, you continue to be active in the arts. So you have actually found a balance between the two.

Manon Dumas: Absolutely. And I found that, frankly, it’s probably the best of both worlds. Because if you do want to have a career in theatre, or cinema, or television as an actor, you really have to slog it out and take whatever you can. Do a lot of commercial work. Like there’s a lot of things where there’s a little bit of money to be able to just live. So you’re not necessarily stretching yourself as an artist with every project. You’re just doing what it takes to stay alive. Whereas, by not depending on it know it's…

John Hannaford: It’s a different experience.

Manon Dumas: Very much so Yeah there's a whole debate to be had there about that industry, though, and also how you know the how jobs need to be protected. So then the mixture of the amateur- professional world for acting is also very interesting. In Ottawa there’s actually a very active theatre community and both professional…

John Hannaford: In French.

Manon Dumas: In French and in English, yes indeed. And on the amateur side as on the professional side there’s a nice balance, I think, between the two groups. A lot of productions involve a mix of the two. So it also allowed me to get involved in semi-professional productions without having to become unionized.

John Hannaford: That’s excellent. Now we worked together; we started working together I guess about seven or eight years ago, when I first joined the Privy Council Office [PCO]. You were already a veteran of PCO at that point. Which was a fascinating experience, at least for me, for any number of reasons. But not least because it was a very small community. Privy Council Office isn’t that big a department, and our little piece of it—the foreign and defense policy—was particularly small, it was around 25 people. And one of the things I’ve been struck by coming back to GAC is just the scale of the department, and that is obviously one of our extraordinary strengths. We have a network which is extraordinarily diverse both in location and in background, and that’s something that is really critical to us as we deal with the international files that we need to address. But it also you know that presents a certain reality as we try to think about cultural aspects of our community. We have people you know who are literally around the world. And you’ve been engaged recently in some very important work to deal with questions of harassment and workplace tensions. And I think you know, people would be interested just to hear about the nature of that exercise and some of the early results that you’re seeing through the work that you’ve been doing.

Manon Dumas: OK. So my part in this started with when I came back from a posting last September, and I had had a few discussions in the summer previous with David Morrison, who was the associate [deputy minister] at the time, of course, and was playing a specific role in leading DM [deputy minister] efforts to do more, to see what could be done to increase and strengthen our tools and processes in workplace culture. So I joined that effort in September. And it’s a very broad topic, and it's one has to, you know, sort of question, “Well, where do you begin?”. Well, first of all, I wasn’t having to begin because there’s a lot that’s been going on and continues to go on. There’s a lot of things happening on the formal side, of course. There’s new federal legislation that has just recently been passed, which is being slowly implemented. Treasury Board is working on guidelines, and that helps us with formal processes for complaints, and also more training and mechanisms. But what's…what is obvious in all of this—and on the heels of the Me Too movement as well, which was one of the impetus for the DMs wanting to do a bit more—is that there is a moment, I think, in the world at the moment where we're saying you know for ages we’ve been saying no means no, issues of consent, of power dynamics. But somehow we still are not talking enough about it.

Now that’s the sexual harassment side, but that can also get extrapolated to general harassment because so much of it, when it gets to complaints, when it gets to the extremes, then you know, —and it’s not always clear cut, even at that point. But there’s so much behaviour that we should be more mindful of before it ever gets there. And we’re discovering constantly as human beings how—it’s such a truism that we’re not, everything’s relative—we’re not all the same. We don’t perceive things the same way. It takes a lot of work on a daily basis for any individual to be constantly thinking about that. To be not only thinking about, you know, being respectful, but the very definition of what does it mean to be respectful. Well, we’re not all the same. We don’t all perceive respect the same way. For some, respect means leave me alone, don’t even talk to me. For others, respect means you know take the extra time to smile and greet everyone. Well, there you go. Already you can have a little bit of a gray zone there, where two individuals can suddenly start having a tension between them. And so all those gray zones is what we have to get a little bit better at talking about. Our department, as a workplace, because obviously you know, we spend so much time in our workplace. That is true of most people in any work…line of work. Our workplace has additional challenges, where the social interacts with the professional in many ways, because diplomacy is about travelling, getting out there, sessions that go on late, a lot of socializing, drinking.

John Hannaford: Taking assignments…

Manon Dumas: Taking assignments. Integrating into a culture, doing the social things of that culture, trying to understand it. And even there, we have a hard time understanding our own cultures sometimes. So the potential for miscommunication and ideas of inappropriate gestures or behaviour is even higher, I think, here at home. So here, we really need to discuss many topics, the quite a few subjects. The dialogue sessions. One of the special projects that was launched this month is the GAC Dialogue Series on “uncomfortable topics.” And for this first phase, we have highlighted are many of the topics that revolve around the Me Too movement, if you will. Let’s say, the poor communication that can occur on issues such as being attracted to a colleague. And it’s going to happen.

And when I was thinking about this work and talking to colleaguesyou know there's, there are so many things that happen in our department that are not bad. Absolutely not. They’re human, they’re social, they’re normal. But they do require a certain tact, careful…

John Hannaford: …Reflection…

Manon Dumas: Yes, reflection. Exactly. So we we know we have a lot of colleagues, so one of the topics for the uncomfortable topics dialogue is “Dating Your Colleagues.” Well, my god, this department had so many we it's. It’s almost not uncomfortable because so many of us have that situation. Either that we have employee couples. We even have you know a certain as a sort of facilitation policy for assisting employee couples who are both rotational to go out to be able to work on a posting, because that’s part of the culture of this department. As well as being able to incentivize people to go out on postings. You have to make it easy on their families. Well, that’s one of the logical ways, of course. But, getting there, the transition points to being a couple, you know, a steady, stable couplehas you know well there's the early phases, there’s the flirting phase, there’s the dating phase, there's how does that affect your colleagues, people you know, who needs to know. Is there a power dynamic in play, is there some sort of perceived conflict of interest going on? And then when the situation isn’t going well, then what does that mean for your entourage and for your colleagues. And actual break-ups, if they happen abroad. And you know that the intersection between that reality and our workplace is very much increased.

And then, that’s not to speak of even just delegations. So when we go abroad for various meetings a lot of that work, a lot of multilateral work, working on resolutions with international colleagues goes late into the evenings, transfers to a dinner. Alcohol is flowing and people interact, and there’s potential there for misunderstandings. And they happen. And we know they happen. So instead of having it happen, not talk about it, and only acknowledge it when you’re at the stage of, okay, now you’ve got a stable couple that you’ve got to try and place together or you actually, or something went really wrong and now you have a harassment situation or worse. Then, you know there's so much we can do to just get better at bringing that out and acknowledging that it’s part of our reality. Having managers… A lot is asked of managers, to be able to care about their team. It’s funny, I recall your recent conversation with [Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative] Louise Blais, which was very touching and and very important. She talked about having learned for herself that she needs to manage from a place of love. That’s a big statement to say. I think in this environment, in this you know A-type environment. But that’s very important. What that means is bringing your whole person to work—because you do anyway. If we pretend that we’re not actually bringing our emotions to work and that we’re just these very rational, analytical machines we're missing something well…

John Hannaford: We’re missing something.

Manon Dumas: We’re missing something, and we’re doomed for accidents. So managers have to be thinking about that, have to be thinking about what they’re bringing, their baggage. And then thinking about their team as individuals with their own pieces coming, and they have an extra responsibility to care about that whole. It takes, you have to think have to come outside yourself a little bit, and try. And that’s a skill, and it’s not easy and it takes work. So we have a lot of training that’s offered for that. But we have to just help each other get there. You know, we have to just allow those things to get discussed, and as managers talk about them openly with our colleagues and our own bosses. And not let work tensions, deadlines, that may be pressing us take up the space that needs to happen, to have those kinds of healthy, holistic conversations about who we are as employees.

John Hannaford: Yeah, I think that’s covered a lot of ground and then it's that's terrific. I mean, I think, one of the features that did come up in the conversation with Louise is just how multifaceted our work is here in this department—and it’s true in a lot of workplaces—but that’s particularly true here by virtue of the points that you raise. Particularly in situations like postings or international negotiations, or whatever, where you’re spending so much time together. The difference between the professional and the personal does begin to merge, and that’s just true. And you know the other point being that we do come to work as emotional beings and as intellectual beings, and those two things are true, too. And so, you know the one of the features of that then is you need to think about how we interact. And the conversations that you have been promoting I think are very important in that context. And maybe you could sort of give us a little better sense as to the nature of the sessions on this topic, because it’s really important for us.

Manon Dumas: So what’s really interesting is that… So we’ve been talking about the concept of talking more and opening it up and there are many ways that the department tries to do that. There’s formal ways. It gets a little bit more technical when you actually try to talk about designing something that will allow that. And in particular that will not just preach to the converted because there is, of course, a lot of you know. Because we are all different individuals and our emotional intelligence varies just like our ability for languages and other things. And so there are people who are naturally more inclined to talk about these things and to raise them and to bring them in certain circles. So trying to come up with a design for something that will also help reach others and open it up. So, the Dialogue Series is one thing. So it’s got a couple of phases to it, and it took me quite a while to develop it and help, of course. I talked to a lot of different people. The [Canadian] Foreign Service Institute and the ZIB [Division of Values, Ethics and Workplace Well-being] people of Values and Ethics have been helping me in thinking about this.

John Hannaford: Was there another example in another department, or what were the prerequisites for this session?

Manon Dumas: I admit that no, that I, that it started in my head around the first topic, “Dating Your Colleagues.” Because I had thought, ok, if I am to work on the Me Too movement in this department, it is inevitable, I can’t help but talk about this topic. It’s a good starting point. And I imagined at first, for myself, what would be nice is if we could start talking about this topic in a more relaxed atmosphere and. And I pictured us in a bar. But, well, that’s not ideal, because you don’t want it to be too informal, it also has to have some structure too. So it really was on a per-phase basis. I talked about it with a lot of people. I’m also want to, was very aware that I want to reach missions abroad. Our locally engaged staff face special challenges with respect to power dynamics or consent issues. We are obviously faced with hundreds of sub-cultural differences in missions abroad. So I also wanted to be able to reach these, so the design is such that there is a phase where we have conversations with facilitators, and the facilitators are colleagues chosen a certain diversity. Each case there is a slightly more senior person and a slightly more junior person, abroad there’s a locally engaged staff member, a Canadian, a person of a different gender, so not two people of the same gender. And in addition, we have added a professional facilitator in the room to ensure that everything is done safely. Sometimes conversations can trigger discomfort or memories in people, so with a small team of three facilitators in the room we are well equipped to help someone if someone must happen to leave, something like that.

And so our facilitators, who are employees a  training session, a coaching session on facilitation, and they lead the discussion on the topics, the three themes, and these are held at headquarters with groups of 15 to 20 people for a period of 90 minutes. And we’ve also we have started in some missions abroad. Beijing has already done it, we are going to Los Angeles and Buenos Aires this summer, in August, and I will continue in September and October to target the other regions. So we’re going to try and do at least a dozen of them abroad.

And so the discussion takes place with people who are interested in coming. This is completely voluntary. We posted the topics and invited people, and they come and discuss these topics, such as how to date your colleagues, personal space, how you perceive it, how we welcome people into our bubble, and also how to talk safely in our workplace, meaning, how to  how to intervene if we notice a misunderstanding taking shape, things like that. So these discussions are taking place between these people. And we protect people’s identities, it’s anonymous, it’s Chatham House. When it’s done, the two facilitators summarize what they heard and I record it by video, and they will send me all these video clips. So I will receive summaries from all these facilitators across the network. And what they bring out is surprising. Controversial things, trends, where they see that there are differences due to cultural . And so, with all of these summaries I’m going to make a product with them and the second phase is to find a way to use this product to reach other people, those who didn’t have the time to participate, obviously, who didn’t have enough interest or were too busy. And those who were not drawn to this type of thing. And so my intent is to use this video product of all the summaries from the various conversations on similar topics around our network, and to bring it to the directors’ network, the DGs’ [director generals] learning network, other management tables, everywhere I can take it, trainings and make it available also for teams to just use it as a discussion starter when they have their own discussion in their own workplace. And it’s interesting to see where the discussions are going—you don’t want to force the discussions too much into specific areas. Though of course the idea is that it’s got to go to places where you are starting to unpack certain things, like consent. Well, what does consent look like. What does it mean, how do you ask for it? Consent about what I mean you know it's it's. And around the world. I mean, these things… And Beijing, who just had their dialogue on “dating your colleagues.” Just the very topic was subject of discussion because it wasn’t a very common phrase. Dating your colleague is not something you talk about in China, normally. And you know certain concepts that are very Canadian, perhaps, well, North American, you know, partner were being discussed so, what does that mean. So I think where those discussions will have gone, and the issues they’re bringing up. The personal space one is interestingly enough but, but perhaps not surprisingly, bringing up a lot of conversations about workplace 3.0, which we're now many people are moving to. So that’s forcing a lot of contact between people that they never had before, and a kind of contact that many people did not think they would welcome in their professional environments.

So that’s a conversation that needs to be opened up… There are things that can be done institutionally to sort of think about, like guidelines, for things you should or shouldn’t do. Physical barriers that are being created and new things that are being done to adapt to this reality. But people have also got… because they’re being surprised by the things that bother them. And so all of a sudden…

John Hannaford: Interesting.

Manon Dumas: Yeah, all of a sudden you’ve got a…

John Hannaford: A situation you didn’t foresee.

Manon Dumas: …you never foresaw. And you say, how do I ask somebody about their chewing habits, how do I broach that conversation. So everybody’s got to put a little bit of their own in there and get better at this.

John Hannaford: It’s really interesting. Well look I mean, I think this is it’s an important project for a number of reasons. In the first place, it’s innovative. I think it’s really interesting as a way of kind of dealing with some of these issues in a less formal way. We have formal mechanisms which are critically important, and you mentioned them at the outset and those those deal with problems that have arisen. But, in a way, you’re trying to address it before they arise. And that’s a much more diffuse thing and it’s challenging in an environment where we have such a broad range of offices and all the rest. But it really is important as a topic, and you mentioned as well making sure that some of these lessons learned get kind of fed into the networks that exist right now at management level. And I think that’s critically important. But it’s also important that we think about, you know, how we address these issues more corporately. And you know, we just had our awards ceremony, I guess a week or so ago, and I think recognition of good people-management in this context is one thing that we can do in order to try and promote a set of behaviours that we think are important. And we need to think about how we use our PMA [Performance Management Agreements] process and the evaluation processes generally, part of talent management, to ensure that you know the appropriate things are being rewarded and that the inappropriate things are being addressed. And so those mechanisms exist as well for us to think about. And I must say just purely personally, because I’m still relatively new here, I’m impressed by the rigour of our PMA process. But you can also see how it would be useful to use upward feedback and in ways that would allow for a little bit more insight into the way that individuals are managing. One of the things that was interesting for me this year was Ian Shugart, when he was still our Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, had instituted upward feedback for the deputies, which was terrific. And I’ve always found that those sorts of exercises are very helpful because it gives you an opportunity to get a little bit more of a sense as to how you are having an effect on people, or I am having an effect on people. And I think mechanisms like that can be very helpful too and so we need to think about how that works.

So, I think what we should do is plan on having you come back at some point and giving us a bit more of a sense as these conversations unfold as to what the sort of broader lessons are that we should be drawing from this. Thank you, it was really fascinating. As I said at the beginning, it’s a really important process for us as a community. It’s a cultural issue to be at this type of tensions between individuals in the workplace and in other contexts that are relevant to us as a department.

So thank you, Manon. It’s been a real pleasure getting a chance to chat and we’ll look forward to having you back and hearing a bit more about this as it unfolds.

Manon Dumas: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

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