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Mary Lou Maher is Canadian managing partner, quality and risk management, KPMG in Canada and KPMG’s global head of inclusion and diversity. Elio Luongo is chief executive and senior partner of KPMG in Canada.

Canada, we have a demographics problem.

Although we currently boast the highest population growth rate in the G7, boosted by immigration, more of us are preparing to retire than are preparing to enter the work force. Our population, in other words, is aging faster than it is growing, meaning our working age population is facing a decline over the next two decades.

As a result, Canada will face a shortage of workers in the coming years. And a key part of the solution may already be at hand. More than 50 per cent of our population is made up of women, but over all, they continue to be underemployed and undervalued in workplaces all across the country. Especially immigrant women.

It’s past time we did something about this.

Consider: 21 per cent of all Canadian women and girls are immigrants, a figure that is projected to surpass 30 per cent within the next 10 years. Women comprise approximately half of the entire work force but, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada, still make less, on average, than men – albeit the gap is closing.

Today, immigrant women in Canada are much more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, than women born in Canada. Yet shockingly, according to a new report from the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), female newcomers with university degrees earn on average half of their Canadian-born counterparts. And that’s been true for at least 15 years.

We must do better. In fact, if population growth projections prove true, we don’t really have a choice.

After all, it’s been estimated that companies with diverse workforces are 33 per cent more likely to lead their industries in terms of profits. But only 11 per cent of employers in Canada say they’re making good on this potential. Why? Sadly, there’s no single answer, and we won’t presume to speak for everyone.

But we can speak to our experience as employers at KPMG. We’re convinced that a diverse work force at all levels is key to building a business that generates new ideas and perspectives, best understands our clients and drives growth. Diverse leadership provides role models to whom our people can relate and from whom they can learn, making us a preferred place to work.

Employers know how diversity works. They know they are going to face a skill shortage. Yet somehow, they continue to undervalue women, and immigrant women in particular. Developing the leaders of tomorrow, a crucial priority, has to start with the leaders of today. In other words, we need to address this now: Our economy demands it.

How? For starters, we agree with TRIEC that we are collectively overweighting the value of Canadian work and educational experience in hiring practices. We need to put more emphasis on the characteristics and qualities that lead women from all over the world to move huge distances to Canada in search of opportunity and better lives for themselves and their families. And we have to acknowledge that the choice to leave one’s home country takes great reserves of courage and resilience to carry out, and should not be discounted upon arrival.

It should also be noted that, on average, immigrants – women and men alike – tend to be more educated than Canadian-born residents. Nearly 40 per cent of immigrants to Canada hold a bachelor’s degree, compared with 24 per cent of Canadian-born residents, with more than 11 per cent holding master’s degrees, compared with just 5 per cent.

Of course, eliminating Canadian experience requirements alone won’t solve this problem, but it will get us a good ways down the path. In the meantime, there is plenty of opportunity to enhance data collection and talent analysis in order to develop better policies and processes around recruiting and retaining all women in our workplaces.

Canada’s continued prosperity will increasingly hinge on our ability to attract skilled and educated immigrants to move here. Half of those immigrants will be women. As employers, we need to capitalize on the education, experience and courage of these women to grow our own businesses – and our economy.

We have to do this, Canada. It’s no exaggeration to say our future depends on it.

This is one in a series of articles published during the week of International Women’s Day.

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