Measuring our diversity in the ODS

The Ontario Digital Service is committed to building a safe, welcoming, inclusive, harassment-free culture for everyone. A necessary and large part of that is being conscious and intentional in the way we build our team. Diversity, inclusion, and belonging are core ODS values, and are integral to building digital services that are simpler, faster, and better for every person, community, and business in Ontario.

“The single most obvious reason to push hard for diversity is that promoting diversity means promoting understanding. And that leads to better products that solve problems for those who might’ve otherwise been sidelined.”
- Ipsita Agarwal

We work for all Ontarians, and we want our team to reflect the diversity of this great province. It’s a high bar that we may never meet, but it’s an important goal to set.

The best way for us to build a more inclusive and representative ODS is to continually measure, learn, and take action. As such, we launched a survey in December 2017 to better understand and measure who is part of our organization currently, and how that may change as the organization grows.

(We’re a new part of the public service, so we didn’t have any historical data to measure against. This survey was a good way to find our baseline and help us figure out how we can do better — and then compare ourselves to this baseline in the months and years to come.)

We’d like to share some highlights from that survey with you all today, along with some areas we’ve identified we can do better, and how we’re going to address some of them in the next year.

ODS by the numbers

The voluntary, anonymous survey we conducted in December 2017 had a response rate of almost 80%, allowing us to have a pretty good understanding of the composition of the ODS at the end of last year.

ODS Population by Gender
ODS Population by Ethnicity

A few observations:

  • The majority of ODS team members (88%) are between the ages of 25–44 years.
  • More than half (58%) of team members identify as cis-female.
  • Team members predominantly identify as white (61%); only 12% of team members identify as any ethnicity other than white or Asian.
  • 2% of the team members identify as Indigenous.
  • Roughly one quarter (24%) of team members identify as LGBTQIA+.
  • Almost one fifth (19%) of team members identify as having a disability.
ODS population by age, ODSers who identify as having a disability, ODSers who identify as LGBTQIA+.

The members of the ODS speak a total of 15 languages, including:

  • American Sign Language
  • Amharic
  • Cantonese
  • Creole
  • English
  • Filipino
  • French
  • German
  • Hindi
  • Mandarin
  • Portuguese
  • Punjabi
  • Spanish
  • Tigrinya
  • Urdu

We’ll continue to analyze the data we have and come up with some insights that we may not have captured above.

ODS team members at the 2017 “festivus” party.

Diversity and representation initiatives

We know that in order to best serve the people, communities, and businesses of Ontario, we need an ODS that looks like the province. To that end, and given the data we’ve gathered, we have some plans in the works to be more representative in the work that we do.

Recruiting and Outreach

One of the most important things we can do as we grow the ODS is to make sure that we’re reaching the right people when we’re recruiting. Over the past few months, we’ve been recruiting for more than a dozen new positions, and we’ve worked hard to reach groups that aren’t always part of the network of public service recruiters. In addition to working with employee and community networks representing many underrepresented minority groups, we’ve also worked closely with our current team to help us identify individuals and groups within their own communities that may not always be part of our standard outreach. We’ve carefully drafted and edited job descriptions — with the help and guidance of others doing hard work around diversity, inclusion, and belonging— to make them more accessible and more inclusive, hosted AMAs, answered individual questions, and provided one-on-one support to those who identified needing it during the process.

Our hypothesis was that doing the hard work up front to create an inclusive candidate pool will ensure that our final hires have a wide range of experience, diversity, and are the absolute best candidates. We’ll share more details on how we did once we wrap up this wave, and some more concrete ways to do better.

In the future, we’ll be making sure our outreach is even more broad by experimenting with initiatives like network referral jams, targeted referral programs, strategic advertising, and more open conversations about compensation, benefits, caregiving considerations, and workplace culture.

Implicit Bias Training

Everyone involved in recruiting for the Ontario Digital Service — from writing job descriptions, to reviewing applications, to conducting interviews — have received, and will continue to receive in the future, implicit bias training. All team members are required to have read a selection of Everyday Bias by Howard Ross, as well as have completed an online unconscious bias training module created and delivered by the Association of American Medical Colleges. There’s much more we can do, and we’d love to hear your advice and ideas.

Talent Forum

In order to be more intentional about how we build the team, we launched the Talent Forum in February 2018. The Talent Forum is a senior leadership-level group that has a mandate to build the ODS so that we can accomplish our vision and goals most effectively. Part of that includes making sure we find the right people for the work, and making sure that the team as a whole is reflective of the people we serve.

Inclusion Pledge

Last year, we released our pledge on diversity and inclusion that highlighted our commitment to support, host, and encourage participation at events where there are conscious and visible efforts to be inclusive in programming, organization, and outreach. In the months since then, we’ve worked with several organizations and event planners to help them find diverse speakers, program more inclusive sessions, and create codes of conduct for their events.

In the upcoming year, we’re going to be more proactive in seeking out inclusive events where we can not only participate, but also actively support through content, financing, programming, and marketing. We know that many of the people who work with us find us through our involvement in the community; we’re going to be much more intentional about that community outreach.

Employee Groups

In 2017, we established the People Board, a group of elected employees who are empowered to bring proposals for substantive organizational change — as proposed and researched by non-management employees — to senior leadership. The terms of governance for the Board include a clause that senior leadership will “positively accept” all proposals, and work with the Board on implementing these changes for the benefit of all employees. (We’ll be sharing more about the People Board, and the terms of governance, in an upcoming blog post.)

In the coming months, we’ll be exploring the creation of other employee groups — a mental health advisory group, groups for underrepresented minorities, and others — to empower ODS team members to have active roles in shaping the organization. We know that building an inclusive culture, where everyone feels empowered to speak and create change, is an important way to support our current team members, and attract new talent from all walks of life.

Reporting and Measurement

Two of our digital leadership principles include, “use the data,” and “work out loud.” This is important in all the work we do, including the way we build our organization. This report, and the survey that launched it all, is our way of collecting, using, and sharing that data out loud. We’ll continue to collect data about our recruiting, our hiring, and our employee experience; and we’ll share that data regularly so that we can hold ourselves accountable for this important work of building a more diverse public service organization. And of course, this is just the first of our annual diversity reports; we commit to releasing one every year, and highlighting what we’re going to do better in the year to come.

One mantra we have in the Ontario Digital Service is that the strategy is delivery. This guides all the work we do, including the work we’re doing on building a more inclusive and representative ODS. Watch this space for progress reports, outcomes, and lessons learned from some of these initiatives.

We appreciate your support, your ideas, your reflection, and your encouragement along the way.


You can download a CSV of our aggregated data here. Thanks to Xiaopu Fung for designing the charts in this report.