Women, people of colour remain highly under-represented among top city hall wage earners in Metro Vancouver

·3 min read
A file photo of Vancouver City Hall in 2017. Only one woman was among the seven municipal employees across Metro Vancouver who made more than $300,000. (Peter Scobie/CBC - image credit)
A file photo of Vancouver City Hall in 2017. Only one woman was among the seven municipal employees across Metro Vancouver who made more than $300,000. (Peter Scobie/CBC - image credit)

Much of the focus around representation in city halls focuses on elected officials — but the disparities are even more stark at the senior staff level.

A CBC News analysis looked at the top 10 wage earners in every Metro Vancouver municipality in 2020 and found only around 30 per cent of them were women and 10 per cent were people of colour.

Approximately three per cent were women of colour.

These numbers have barely changed in the three years CBC has been tracking the figures.

"Good people are being passed over again and again," said Ginger Gosnell-Myers, the City of Vancouver's first ever Indigenous relations manager.

"I often hear the response, 'Well, the best person for the job needs to get the job.' I think people need to recognize that the best people for the job fall outside of the narrow ideals of leadership that we see."

Gosnell-Myers said a lack of representation in senior officials can have an effect on what policies get prioritized.

"These are the people who are implementing the political direction laid in front of them … cultural diversity brings a bunch of lived experiences that aren't often supported at a leadership level," she said.

The numbers come from the annual statement of financial information that each municipality in B.C. publishes, which shows the salary of all employees making more than $75,000.

Lived experience matters

For politicians who advocate for better representation and anti-racism policies in city halls, the numbers are a reminder that a lack of diversity is a similar story among both elected and unelected local officials.

"We need to set some goals around what is acceptable to us as municipalities and then track that," said New Westminster Coun. Nadine Nakagawa.

"We need to get deep into the hiring practice about who applies for jobs in the city, who do we hire, and how do we make them welcome in our city."

Nakagawa is co-founder of the Feminist Campaign School, a program to help train and promote "values-driven leadership with representation for municipal elections."

But she says it can take time for elected officials to influence city leadership decisions.

"We're doing the very best we can to actually make sure that our community is well represented, that we're listening to lots of different voices and we're reaching out," she said.

"But without that diversity at the leadership level, we know that that does impact the way we prioritize and make decisions."

Surrey city manager is highest earner

For the first time in recent memory, the highest paid city employee in Metro Vancouver was not the city manager of Vancouver, but the city manager of Surrey — Vincent Lalonde, who made $397,051. Sadhu Johnston, who left the Vancouver role earlier this year, made $354,698 in 2020.

City managers (or chief administrative officers) in Coquitlam, Delta, Langley Township and Richmond were next highest on the list, followed by the City of North Vancouver's Leanne McCarthy, the only woman to make more than $300,000.

Overall, seven of the 25 employees who made more than $250,000 were from Vancouver, four were in Delta, and three each in Surrey, Coquitlam and Langley Township.

While senior staff in the City of Vancouver took a slight pay cut in 2020 due to the pandemic, those in other major municipalities did not. Senior wages in Surrey rose by 14 per cent, which the city attributed to performance-related increases and some people becoming permanent hires.

The numbers include people in local fire departments, but not local police departments, which are not included in the legislation.

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