Chief executive officer and senior partner, KPMG in Canada

The recent apology by the Prime Minister was a critical step in breaking down the barriers and discrimination that still face many in Canada's LGBTQ community. But it was just one step. Corporate Canada must also acknowledge and address the systemic and underlying discrimination built into its culture and practices that continues to affect the LGBTQ community today.

Discrimination takes many forms. I don't profess to know first-hand the challenges that are faced by those in our LGBTQ community, nor do I wish to belittle the amount of work that remains to make the needed changes. As a leader, I want to help break down barriers and open conversations. In my own way, I do know what it feels like to be considered different, and I suspect many of the country's business leaders do as well. As immigrants and children of blue-collar workers who didn't attend the right schools or right clubs, we were on the outside because we were different.

Story continues below advertisement

Fortunately over my lifetime, many of those biases and barriers have come down. I'll never forget a visionary leader early in my career who hired me because I brought a different perspective to the table and then encouraged and supported me to share it.

But for some reason, many in leadership positions have forgotten where they started from, how unfair it was when you were as good as or better than other candidates but weren't even considered for a promotion because of your name or the language your parents spoke.

As business leaders, we need to remember these experiences and recognize that many others still face unjust barriers for a wide variety of reasons, such as gender identity and sexual orientation. It is time for all business leaders in Canada to follow the Prime Minister's lead. We need to stand up and admit there are still biases in our companies against the LGBTQ community – biases that are blocking contributions and advancement opportunities. Policies are not enough to change this; we need action.

I believe it is critical for us to break down and eliminate these barriers, not just because it will make our society stronger, but because it will make our economy stronger as well. As we all know, innovation is critical to the success of our firms. But we cannot truly be innovative if we don't create an inclusive environment that values all perspectives, experiences and voices to ensure we drive better business solutions. We need people to think differently and do differently in our businesses.

If we don't expand the way we think, we will continue to produce yesterday's answers for tomorrow's challenges and opportunities. If Canada is going to continue to compete in an increasingly competitive world, we need to ensure that there are no barriers to getting all our employees and their ideas to the table.

Breaking down biases and barriers isn't easy, but it is necessary. About three years ago at KPMG in Canada, we realized that while we had done a great job creating a diverse workforce at the firm, that diversity wasn't necessarily showing up in our thinking. We hadn't created an inclusive-enough environment that ensured everyone felt comfortable sharing their perspectives and ideas.

At that point, we shifted our approach to help ensure our culture was not just diverse but was inclusive. We know that to be successful, we need to create an environment that allows all of our people to bring their whole selves to work. We encourage our people to share what makes them unique and feel supported by talking about the challenges they face. Ultimately, we hope this breaks down barriers for individual success while also increasing success for the organization. It's a win-win. Our goal was to create an environment where all of our people feel we seek out and encourage different views on not just how to solve a problem but to also better identify and understand what the problems are.

Story continues below advertisement

This involved all of our leaders going through formal assessments to identify, address and manage biases in the way we work and the way we promote our people. This resulted in a number of difficult realizations and some uncomfortable conversations. We have been transparent on this journey and are seeing great results.

Today, 84 per cent of KPMG's LGBTQ community believes they can bring their whole selves to work. However, in our self-identification survey, the questions asking our people to identify one's gender identity and sexual orientation saw the highest number of respondents opt not to answer. This tells me that we still have some work to do to ensure our people feel safe and supported. We also need more business leaders in the LGBTQ community to stand proud and be seen so others can feel comfortable doing the same.

Our most important job as leaders is to hire the right people and provide an environment where they can excel. This will foster stronger, more innovative companies and a more robust Canadian economy. But to start this journey Corporate Canada needs to take a hard look at itself to understand that personal and structural biases are holding us back.

The challenge for all of us has three parts:

1) Leverage data so we understand the systemic barriers in our companies, and be accountable to our people: Do we know the root cause of the barriers our staff face?

2) Be authentic with ourselves and talk to our people: Are we having those uncomfortable conversations with our leadership and staff?

Story continues below advertisement

3) Work towards an Inclusion and Diversity Key Performance Measure: Do our senior leadership teams reflect the diversity of our firms and of Canada as a whole? If our staff isn't diverse, we need to ask ourselves why.

Government has shown leadership on this, and now so must Corporate Canada.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series. Find more articles at tgam.ca/careers.