Inclusion: The Key to Unlocking our Full Potential


Mind The Gap
It has been nearly 30 years since corporate Canada acknowledged the gender gap in our workforce. While many organizations and leaders have and continue to take steps to make progress, we—as a business community and society—have not progressed fast enough.

Today, only 3% of the world’s top 500 companies are led by women, according to a recent Ipsos poll, and a 2017 Canadian Securities Administrators report found that only 14% of public company board seats in Canada were occupied by women. That’s a marginal improvement from 11% in 2015. Specifically within the tech industry, our Move the Dial report revealed that 5% of Canadian tech companies had female founders or CEOs.

The culprit for this slow progress seems to be a deeper, systemic issue around inclusion. In PwC’s global study Time to talk: What has to change for women at work, 71% of Canadian women were actively seeking opportunities to develop and advance in their careers.

However, more than a third were concerned that their gender, age, ethnicity or sexual preference would be a barrier to their progression. Forty-one percent of new mothers felt overlooked for promotions and development opportunities upon returning to work. The message was clear and we must listen; opportunities are not equal for everyone.

Shifting From Diversity to Inclusion
I believe it’s time to shift the conversation from diversity to inclusion. Verna Myers once famously said: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance”. Building a culture of inclusion is critical to realize the benefits of our differences and become a more progressive business and society. That means fostering an environment where people can bring their best, most authentic selves to work so that innovative ideas can thrive.

The benefits of inclusion are well documented. PwC’s 2018 Women in Work Index suggests that if we harness the full potential of the female workforce at all levels within organizations, we would see a US$6 trillion growth in OECD GDP. And research by Catalyst shows that Fortune 500 companies with the highest percentage of female directors on their boards report 53% higher returns on equity. From a broader customer perspective, 72% of Canadian CEOs in PwC’s Global CEO Survey said having a diversity and inclusion lens helped them satisfy evolving customer needs and improve their bottom line.

Accelerating Progress

There are four actions we can take as leaders to foster a more inclusive culture.

1. Be Purpose-led, Values-Driven
Every conversation around diversity and inclusion should be connected to your broader organizational purpose, values and business strategy. At PwC, inclusiveness lies at the heart of our broader business, customer and people strategies. Rather than treating diversity and inclusion as a one-time PR or HR exercise, we focus on how it will enable us to build stronger teams, be more innovative, and deliver on our purpose of helping solve important problems and build trust in society. Talking about diversity and inclusion in this way helps our leaders and people understand that actions to support this priority are rooted in our values, and should be at the core of every interaction with our people, clients and stakeholders.

2. Secure Leadership Buy-In and Actions
Developing a high performing, inclusive culture requires commitment from the top. That means getting leaders to role model inclusive behaviours and actively sponsor top talent. Being a sponsor means being more than a sounding board for career advice. It requires playing an active role in helping women develop critical skills and relationships, and putting your credibility on the line as their champion when development opportunities arise.

When I became CEO of PwC Canada seven years ago, changing the demographic of my Canadian Leadership Team was one of my top priorities. How could I ask my partners to consider more diversity on their leadership and account teams when my own team was not reflective of the diversity in our firm? Through some immediate actions and sponsorship of talent, we now have two highly accomplished women on our fivemember executive team who lead two of the firm’s largest business units. And each member of our Canadian and Extended Leadership Teams are responsible for identifying and sponsoring top female talent at the senior manager, director and partner levels. We role model the behaviours of inclusiveness, mentorship and sponsorship for others.

3. Accountability to Drive Actions.
Progress doesn’t happen on good intentions alone; goals foster accountability and drive actions. This is not about creating quotas for the sake of checking a box. It’s about setting aspirational goals to measure progress and drive actions to create a more inclusive and level playing field for everyone. At PwC, we set a national business goal of achieving 50/50 gender parity among our new partner admits by 2020. We evaluate how each business unit—and its partners and coaches—are contributing to this goal and the results inform our approach to recruitment, learning and development, and succession planning efforts. We’re also a proud signatory of the 2022 Catalyst Accord, which holds Canadian businesses publicly accountable for the advancement of women in corporate Canada. That accountability is helping us deliver on our commitment. Today, 30% of our Canadian PwC Board members are female and last year, 55% of our new Tax partners and 42% of new Assurance partners were female! Yes, we have more to do but setting and publicly stating our aspirational goals has moved the dial for us.

4. Understand our biases and adjust Behaviours
We all have biases. It’s important that we learn what they are so that we understand how they affect our decisions and adjust our actions. There’s a common stereotype that those who prioritize work-life balance or seek flexible working arrangements are lazy, or lack the capabilities or commitment to be a high performer. Leaders and coaches must recognize that everyone contributes in different ways, and work-life balance and flexibility needs are important to everyone, not just to those of a certain life stage or gender. Setting aside our biases and encouraging people to take advantage of these types of support programs will only help them become stronger and more engaged—at home and at work—and will improve the satisfaction and retention of top talent. A free Gender Bias eLearn—co-created by PwC and United Nations Women—is available online at to help you and your teams learn more about unconscious biases.

Progress only happens by commitment to new actions. So let’s commit to having more inclusive conversations in a safe environment and demonstrating leadership support by role modeling inclusive behaviours and actions—everyday, in everything that we do. These actions will help move the dial and unlock the true value of our diversity.

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