Transcript – Episode 30: Chat with Sandra McCardell and Sarah Taylor

John Hannaford I’m delighted to have the chance today to speak with our department’s two Champions for Women: the former Champion, Sarah Taylor, and the current one, Sandra McCardell. It's a real pleasure to get a chance just to have a bit of a chat, a bit of reflection, I think, on the work we’ve been doing collectively, with respect to gender issues in the department, and hear a little bit from Sarah about your experience, as champion and Sandra about your intentions, as champion, and see how we can continue to be working together on this set of issues.

Maybe I could start with you, Sarah, and your experiences as Champion. What were your priorities and accomplishments in the role?

Sarah Taylor Thank you very much; it’s really a pleasure for me to be able to talk about this with you two today. Right, I have to say that it was—OK, it wasn’t exactly my real job, but it was something . . . 

John Hannaford No, it’s a real job . . . 

Sarah Taylor That I really, really, liked to do; it was actually one of the most interesting parts of my work. So, you could say that there’s a formal aspect to the role. We sort of represent the deputy ministers in supporting gender equity in the Department, and in that capacity we sit on the Employment Equity Committee. And I’m part of—I was also part of the Diversity Council that we established. Finally, we unofficially chair the Women’s Network. So there are all those roles, but on top of that, there’s the informal aspect of working with a fantastic group of volunteers to organize events, activities, etc. And we have—we had, when I left, about 1,100 volunteers in the Network.

John Hannaford Amazing.

Sarah Taylor So it’s a lot of people, and we were able to accomplish great things. I have to mention the two things I’m proudest of. We created an exhibit, a real exhibit that was here at 125 [Sussex], and a virtual exhibit as well. It's called Legacy of Leadership, and it's an exhibit about Canadian women who have made significant contributions in the international setting. Not necessarily diplomats, but just women who have contributed to the world because we wanted to give that sense of the leadership role Canadian women have played. And, another big accomplishment I'm really pleased about is that we got, for the first time, a room in the Pearson building [125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa], named after a woman. So, in case anybody doesn't know, I hope they will know from now on, if you go to the 9th floor, in Tower A, the reception area is now called the Margaret Meagher Room. So, it's named after Margaret Meagher who was the first ever Canadian woman Head of Mission, a very distinguished career diplomat. You can go to the 9th floor, I encourage people to do it, and read about her career. So, very pleased that we were able to do those things during my time as champion.

John Hannaford That's terrific, congratulations on those. And, Sandra, you're now succeeding to this august role, what do you see as sort of your future…what are you aiming to accomplish?

Sandra McCardell I think I benefit from the fact that I've had two excellent champions ahead of me: Sarah Taylor and Angela Bogdan, before her. So, clearly my first objective is to build on the incredible legacy that they've left me, of not only work in this department, to bring attention to the need to advance women but also to the work that they've done in responding to the equity requirements and things like that. I think what's particularly impressive, and Sarah just mentioned it, is having over a thousand people in a Women's Network - I mean, I think that's incredible. So, first is build on the strong legacy, that's your objective - job one. Job two, I think, look at this point, I think the next thing I want to look at is "what do women want me to champion?" I think it's important that I understand, you know, with all that's been done so far, the people who are part of the network, the people who could be part of the network, what do they think are our next priorities? So I guess, you know, listening.  Certainly, personally, I have a real interest in women's leadership, a lot has been done on that, but I think I'm conscious of the fact that when I came into this department, there weren't a lot of role models ahead of us, in terms of what does leadership by women look like. And it's a little bit different than authority expressed by men, and I'm interested in what that looks like and how to encourage a leadership and authority that is natural and builds on the strengths of women employees. The other thing I think I'd like to look at is just to make sure that we're doing the right things by all of our occupational groups. When you look at - there is a lot of focus on FS [Foreign Service], in this department, because that's the biggest single occupational group, but there's other groups like the CSs [Computer Systems Administration group], where we're not meeting targets, so I want to make sure that we're including everyone. And, I suppose, the final thing, because I've spent a lot of time at missions;- so, mission structure is obviously quite different, with local engaged staff [LES], but I want to make sure that the kind of energy we're bringing, to having women have the opportunities that should in their career, that we are conducting ourselves that way with our locally engaged women.

John Hannaford Right, actually that leads to a question I wanted to ask both of you. I think one of the things that's unusual, about our department, is that we have a footprint around the world. It's not unique, that are other places that do have international representation. But, you know, that is a real feature of our lives together, and you both spent a fair bit of time on post, and have seen headquarters from away, and from here. I'm kind of interested in how that reality in our department shapes the work of the champion for women.

Sarah Taylor I think it’s, it certainly adds some organizational challenges because, as you can see, part of what we're doing is events and activities and things that encourage women, and not just women actually because really the network and the activities are supposed to be about gender equity, which benefits everybody. So, when we do those activities and those events, often, inevitably, they tend to be things that are more headquarters-centric. So, there is a challenge and we've worked on it, but I think there's always more we can do to try to draw in missions as well, as part of that. Wherever possible, whenever we do an event and activity, we always make sure that there's scope for people to phone in, at least, so that missions can know what's going on. And, we've also - what we've seen is some of the members of the network, some of the more active members, have actually been great about also doing events regionally or at posts. So, every year, one of our big events that we do with the visual minorities network jointly, is a speed-mentoring event. And, we've actually had some of our more active members of our network do, for instance, one year, the European missions did their own speed-mentoring event. So, that's something I really hope we will continue to see more of, and it's certainly something - now that I'm moving to a mission that I hope to be able to do too - is bring that sort of spirit to the missions more. The other piece, and it's something Sandra already mentioned, is I do think we have that extra challenge in having locally engaged staff, and if I remember right, I think a majority of our local engaged staff are women. And, there you're working across occupational differences, cultural differences, a whole lot of differences, so there are extra challenges around trying to ensure equity, a good workplace, and scope for leadership for women, for everybody including our LES contingent.

John Hannaford And also, I mean, we learn from other situations too, there are a number of other Foreign Services which have dealt with gender equity in various ways which are quite inspiring. My posting was in Scandinavia - very real focus for Scandinavian countries to enormous effect that they've really made huge inroad with respect to gender equity in ways that I think we've learned from.

Sarah Taylor Absolutely, and Sandra, I don’t know if you've seen the same because you're recently back from posting.

Sandra McCardell Look, I think that there's two things about the mission experience that I think matters in addition to what Sarah was saying: I think that we're doing great work around gender-based analysis, and I think that some of what our obstacles to women advancing in their career can be linked to the rotational nature of our work. Sometimes that's about having access to a network, because you're isolated, sometimes that could be access to training because you're abroad and it's difficult to get, sometimes that could just be about the nature of the work which can put different kinds of stress on men and women in the family. So I think there's a lot around that, that we need to look at in terms of what mission life means to achieving equity for women in this department. The other thing though, is what you're talking about, which is the great examples we have access to. So, on the positive side, there is a lot going on. I just came back from four years in South Africa. That country's constitution is first, one of the top four preambles, is that this is a non-sexist country, right. It doesn't mean that everyone has achieved their goals, but there are countries which are working very hard to put women on an equal footing with men. And, so, when you're abroad, all of us can learn from those best examples, share our best practices, but also bring the other country's best practices home.

John Hannaford Right. Right. And what are the opportunities now for people to make a contribution? You talked a bit about networks for gender issues. What other opportunities are there to contribute?

Sarah Taylor I think if I had an overarching message for those who are listening, it would be that even though a lot of good has been done, there is still a ton of work to do. I think that from a foreign policy viewpoint we really lead on feminist policy. But we still have to consider our internal numbers, and it continues to be the case that the largest single employment equity gap within this department is for women. Numerically, we have about a 160 fewer women in this department than we should have, based on employment equity stats. And, of that number, a 120 of that gap is in the FS group. So, we still have a problem that we need to fix. I know that Global Affairs [Canada] generally thinks of itself as a very strong, high performing, organization, and of course in many ways we are, but this is something we're actually statistically, if you look across the government of Canada, we're actually kind of mediocre. And, I don`t know about others, but for me, having worked many years in this department, I don't want us to be mediocre.

John Hannaford No, I agree with that entirely -

Sarah Taylor I want us to be ahead of the pack on this as well. And not just so we can say: "Hey look, re: stats we've closed our gap" but because all of the evidence is that organizations that are more diverse, perform better. And, so, it's about making us better. And, I've already briefed poor Sandra on all sorts the projects where I see further opportunities, things we've started but where there's lots more I think we can do, looking at our own internal processes, and working with all our colleagues to try and move this forward. I think a huge step forward in this is that, a little while back, partly with encouragement and lobbying from the women's network, that Francis Trudel, as head of HR, made a commitment that all HR processes in this department would undergo a gender-based plus analysis. So, we’re starting with that. We’re already starting to see results, but it’s not easy to do . . . 

John Hannaford No, it’s not easy . . . 

Sarah Taylor It’s real work and it’s very important. But to do this, we really have to delve into all of our processes to figure out what we can do, for example, to ensure that there are no unconscious biases that have slipped into the field posting process, so that everyone has the opportunity to go abroad and our postings are successful. So we’ve made a lot of progress on this type of work, but we still have a lot to do.
John Hannaford Well, that’s absolutely right. Sandra, where do you think we should be sort of focusing people's attention, if people want to make a real contribution? How best could they do that?

Sandra McCardell Look, I think, in terms of a real contribution, I think that there's all kinds of levels that can happen. I think one of the—what we’ve seen, especially in studies on the performance of major organizations, is that a diverse set of voices leads to better decisions, as Sarah mentioned. I think anyone, at any level, can create their own network. So, there’s networking, there’s mentoring that can be done, i.e. seeing young women, seeing their potential, encouraging them, championing them, because mentoring and championing are two different things. I think that being aware of our unconscious bias is an important step and I think it’s about being open-minded regarding the need to help women advance. I think we have a tendency to say, “Listen, we have a feminist policy in place, we already have a government with a gender‑balanced cabinet.” So, “mission accomplished,” but it’s not mission accomplished. That is to say that we’ve made a ton of progress, but we have to remember that we still have work to do. And I think that the support of senior management is another way we can meet our objectives.

John Hannaford And, ultimately, it's about making the strongest organization we can, and I think that's something that you're both, you have contributed to and will continue to contribute to. Listen, I want to thank you very much for the conversation today, and for your contribution to this place as a community, it's terrific.

Sandra McCardell Thanks very much.

Sarah Taylor Thank you.

Sandra McCardell I take on a very heavy mantle from Sarah.

Sarah Taylor I'm looking forward, as I said, to be able to still continue to contribute from the mission and to keep working with Sandra and others because I really think that it's something, and it's not just about advancing women in the department, it's making the place better for everybody.

John Hannaford Completely agree.

Sandra McCardell We're all champions.

John Hannaford Thanks so much.

Sandra McCardell Thank you.

Sarah Taylor Thank you.

John Hannaford Great.

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