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leadership lab

Farah Bundeali is a partner and Elio Luongo is the CEO and senior partner at KPMG in Canada.

We may finally be getting closer to reaching the tipping point in achieving gender balance in the senior leadership ranks of corporate Canada.

Correcting this imbalance has been a supposed priority for decades, but despite all the sound business reasons for doing so, we’ve not really made much progress. Women now comprise half the workforce and hold more university degrees than men do, yet the proportion of women in senior roles still only runs about 30 per cent.

But we believe we are about to see real change in the coming decade. While we think that the various efforts over the last 30 to 40 years will continue to drive change, our belief is largely driven by our confidence in the millennial effect.

Most of our gap-closing effort to date has been centred on breaking down the conscious and unconscious biases that built the glass ceiling in the first place. But to the extent that those still holding the reins of power continue to carry some form of bias, it’s also clear that millennials, soon to be the Canadian workforce’s largest identifiable demographic – as well as the post-millennial or “iGen” cohort, who are just starting to enter the workforce – are unlikely to hold the same biases as the generations that preceded them.

Millennials have been big drivers of change; they think and act differently than their parents. They consume and process data like no other generation. They are connected to their friends and communities in a way never seen before. And they are not afraid to tell you how they feel.

We understand the impact they’ve had on many industries – shopping, television, travel – but they are also quietly challenging the status quo in the workplace. With millennials, the expectation is that parental leaves and childcare responsibilities will be shared between men and women. Equal responsibilities at home mean an expectation of equal opportunities and respect in the workplace.

That mindset is already there. According to a joint study by Qualtrics and Accel, 60 per cent of millennial women and 52 per cent of millennial men don’t have a preference about the gender of their boss.

Not surprisingly, 68 per cent of women are more likely to ask a more senior woman for advice in the workplace. But what was striking was that it is the case with men as well – 71 per cent of millennial men were more likely to turn to a woman for advice at work.

The implications are two-fold: not only do the workforce’s younger generations hold fewer biases about women in leadership, pushing us towards a more inclusive and diverse set of leaders tomorrow, they’ll also demand it of their leaders today.

It’s been shown that millennials and their older counterparts typically have the same kind of career goals; where they differ most widely is in the ways they go about achieving those goals. And not being shy about taking their expectations and opinions straight to the top is a defining millennial characteristic.

If they don’t like what they hear back, they are likely to pack up and move on to another organization that better shares their beliefs and values. We know that millennials are driven by purpose and seek to work in organizations that share their views, values and vision.

So it is crucial that Canadian organizations are ready for this eventual generational shift – remember, millennials will make up the bulk of our workforce in the next decade. Organizations that fail to be truly inclusive suffer not only from a lack of diverse thinking to address the complex challenges and opportunities facing them, they also fail to win the loyalty and commitment of their employees, clients and stakeholders.

Those that embrace it will find they have a far greater pool of talent to choose from – and with that, stronger bottom lines.

By actively working toward an inclusive and diverse culture, KPMG has seen a steady and encouraging improvement in the numbers of high-performing women moving into more senior roles. In 2017, 40 per cent of our newly promoted partners were women.

Still, we have much more work to do. We have to be nimble and adaptive in our thinking. Our people and our clients demand and expect that of us. We need to continue to support an environment that helps develop and advance our young leaders. We’ve created programs such as the Leaders of Tomorrow Circle and WIN@Leadership, where inclusive, innovative and collaborative discussions help develop and advance our young leaders – and also reshape the way we think and act as a firm.

The numbers will continue to grow. The need for diversity in the way we think about and approach the challenges of the day is too urgent. We cannot afford to slow down. If anything, we have to accelerate.

We are close, and once the tipping point is reached, there’s no turning back. That will be a very good thing indeed.

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