Janet Akins is originally from friendly Manitoba. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology & Philosophy at the University of Manitoba and later completed a Master of Arts in Public Policy & Public Administration at Concordia University in Montreal. She has been working for the federal public service for 3.5 years.
To celebrate Black History Month, CAPE interviewed Janet Akins, one of its EC members working for Health Canada in Ottawa. Janet is also a director on CAPE’s National Executive Committee. CAPE invited her to share her experience working for the federal public service and her perspective on the recent PSES results about racial discrimination in the workplace.
CAPE: Tell us about your experience in the federal public service: what gets you excited, what do you find most challenging?
Janet Akins: My work experience in the public service has been varied. I began my career as a co-op student in the policy area of science, technology and innovation. I then shifted gears to gender-based analysis plus, and now I'm in a performance measurement role. The gear changes might make some people spin but I can always adjust so long as I'm contributing to any work that results in a net social gain for Canadians.
The work aside, I love connecting with my colleagues. The public service is huge, and it is staffed with intelligent people from across the country who come to Ottawa with their big ideas and unique experiences. It's exciting to see how varied the perspectives can be when we're addressing policy issues. I find the policy silos to be the biggest challenge in the public service. Progressive policies aren't made in isolation, we need to be more willing to pick up the phone, connect and collaborate to address cross-cutting social issues.
C: What do you think about the results collected through the PSES, particularly when it comes the reported rate of discrimination amongst black employees? (link to article)
J.A: As an early career black public servant, it's obviously discouraging to learn that we face the highest percentage of discrimination in the workplace. However, now that the federal government as an employer is equipped with numbers to support the lived experiences of black public employees, I hope we can start to engage with the question of why this is still a systemic issue despite the efforts made for employment equity.
C: What kind of measures would you recommend the government take for the situation to change or improve?
J.A.: In the department where I previously worked, our diversity and inclusion team brought former Cabinet Minister Jean Augustine in as a speaker. It was both humbling and inspiring to hear her stories of breaking barriers throughout her advocacy work and leadership. I would love to see departments provide their diversity and inclusion teams with the support and resources needed to secure more advocates and public speakers like Ms. Augustine. A training course on diversity isn't enough, we need to make space to listen to advocates who are dismantling systemic barriers from the ground up and consider how we as public service employees can be a part of that positive change.
C: Tell us about your experience on CAPE’s National Executive Committee, what gets you excited, what do you find more challenging?
J.A.: My experience on the CAPE National Executive Committee (NEC) has been really positive. Issues are always discussed with respect and with a mutual understanding that we all want what is best for our membership and for CAPE as an organization. I'm most excited by how forward looking the NEC is. With advancements in artificial intelligence, the nature of work is changing, and we want to ensure CAPE members are well positioned to face those shifts in the labour market. The challenge I pose to myself whenever we meet is to always look at a proposal from the perspective of members across the country. Specifically, how would this proposal help or hinder my colleagues in remote postings or regional offices? What resources or support may they need to realize the full benefit of what we're bringing forward, and how can we best mitigate risk?
C: What are your hopes for the future of CAPE?
J.A.: I hope that the future of CAPE sees Locals which are better resourced in terms of funding and more formally structured so members know who their stewards and local leaders are upon hire. Ultimately, I want the Locals to have more autonomy from the NEC as they are in a better position to respond more immediately to the concerns of their members. Of course, in order to really empower the Locals we need a change to our constitution, and it isn't impossible. It will just take time, planning and a willingness to follow through with implementation.