Diversity among Canadian Heads of Mission: Two Years In

With 74 Ambassadorial-level appointments at Global Affairs Canada since 2015, has the Liberal government honoured its commitment to increase diversity?

by Nov 8, 2017

The gender diversity of new Global Affairs Canada appointments, segmented by location and post’s level. CIC/Andrew Koltun

Newly elected Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was cheered for his pithy retort of “because it’s 2015” when asked why gender parity among his cabinet was important to him. Yet a gender-balanced cabinet was just the first part of a broader Liberal commitment to increase the diversity of political appointments across the federal government, including Senators, judges and other Governor-in-Council appointments.

With two-years of head of mission (ambassadorial, high commissioner and consul) appointments, it is clear that the Liberal government is living up to its commitment of increased diversity in these prominent appointments, signalling change both in Canada and abroad.

Of the 74 appointments to date, close to half have been women compared to an end-2015 baseline of less than one-third. When considered proportionately to the 15 percent of Canada’s population who are both visible minorities and Canadian citizens, visible minorities remain slightly under-represented at 11% of appointments. Significantly, there are no identified Indigenous peoples heads of mission.

“…there are no identified Indigenous peoples heads of mission.”

HoM Appointments Vs Global Affairs Canada (GAC) Executives

The achievement of increased diversity remains fairly consistent when the appointments are considered in across levels of seniority and prestige. In terms of the eight most visible head of mission political appointments (Washington, New York Permanent Mission to the UN, New York Consulate General, Beijing, Bonn, London, Paris and San Francisco), three are women and one is a visible minority.

The above figure shows the significant increase in representation of women and visible minorities, for both senior and junior appointments (using the classification level of the post, not the person).

Compared to overall diversity numbers at GAC for executives (EX1-5), women are over-represented (48.6% women Heads of Mission compared to 40.7% of all EXs who are women). Visible minorities are slightly under-represented at 10.8% compared to 11.5% of all EX visible minorities. 4.3% of all EX are Indigenous persons, again with no identified Indigenous HoM appointments in the past two years.

While it is clear that GAC is delivering on the government-wide commitment to increased diversity in appointments with respect to women and visible minorities, a noticeable gap still exists for Indigenous peoples representation.

Interestingly enough, however, the antiseptic nature of HoM summary biographies contrasts sharply with those of judicial appointment biographies, which are chatty in comparison and include more personal information related to diversity. It is hard to see how this fits in with GAC’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion without including some of this information in the official biographies and embassy and consulate website messaging.


Andrew Griffith
Andrew Griffith is the former Director General of the Citizenship and Multiculturalism Branch within the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and is a regular media commentator and blogger. He has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad, and is a fellow of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. He is the author of several books, most recently Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote.

He recently published “Building a Mosaic” for the Migration Policy Institute which examines the evolution in Canada’s deliberately crafted approach to immigrant integration.