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Canada could add $150-billion in GDP growth by 2026 by advancing women's equality, 6 per cent higher than business-as-usual forecasts over the next decade, according to a new report from McKinsey Global Institute.

The research arm of the international management-consulting firm McKinsey & Co. surveyed 69 Canadian companies, representing more than 500,000 employees, on talent-pipeline data and human-resources practices. The study also looked at the gender split in each province for the three levers of GDP growth: labour-force participation rate, number of hours worked and relative productivity. The projection for 2026 was based on the growth rate of the provinces moving the fastest toward gender parity in those areas. To reach that goal, Canada needs to create 600,000 additional jobs for women and boost female labour participation to 64 per cent from 61 per cent in the next 20 years.

Andrew Pickersgill, a managing partner of McKinsey & Co. Canada, said that figure is conservative.

"We didn't assume that would close the gender gap, just what we think is achievable," Mr. Pickersgill said. "The real context around the Canadian economy is that if you look at the last 50 years of GDP growth in this country, more than half of that has been labour participation growth … So immigration and women entering the labour force."

The report says 16-per-cent growth could come from adding 50 minutes a week to women's working hours. If complete gender parity was achieved across all levers in 20 years, that projected growth would jump to $420-billion. British Columbia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Quebec have the highest potential growth.

While this is the first time McKinsey has published a report on Canada specifically, the study is part of the organization's Women Matter initiative that has collected data from all over the world over the past 10 years. Canada is in the top-10 countries ranked by the organization in gender equality, ahead of the United States and behind a few Nordic, Western European and Oceanic countries.The report finds that the key areas of improvement are increasing female representation in industries such as oil, mining and technology, as well as increasing the number of female executives in Canada.

McKinsey found that while 45 per cent of entry-level workers in the companies surveyed were women, that number dwindled the further up women go. Women accounted for only 25 per cent of vice-presidents and senior vice-presidents and 15 per cent of chief executive officers in the survey sample. The reason could be a lack of mentorship and sponsorship for female employees.

"Men are 50 per cent more likely to receive advancement from a senior leader," said Sandrine Devillard, a senior partner for McKinsey based out of Montreal and one of the authors of the report. "In our sample, we found that less than 20 per cent of companies had a formal sponsorship program in place. It's a method that is seldom used but can bring lots of impact."

Along with providing mentorship and sponsorship, McKinsey also recommends that companies track female recruitment and reward those that are leading the charge toward equality.

Cynthia Hansen, executive vice-president of utilities and power operations at Enbridge Inc., says she can remember at least one male colleague in particular that championed her success and helped her make the move from the company's finance stream to operations. She suggests unconscious bias could be why this doesn't happen more often.

"The mini-me syndrome: People are traditionally thinking of people that exhibit characteristics like them," Ms. Hansen said. "Because I work in a male-dominated industry, those people are usually male."

Ms. Hansen is one of two women out of nine executives that make up Enbridge's leadership.

Ms. Devillard said the presence of unconscious bias means that disparity often goes unnoticed.

"Only one-quarter of senior executives were women but 80 per cent of the employees believe that their companies are inclusive," Ms. Devillard said.

Tanya van Biesen, executive director of Catalyst Canada, said employers often struggle with bias right from the start with recruitment.

"Talent in the form of a female is out there. If you're having trouble attracting that talent, the company needs to address its own value proposition," Ms. van Biesen said.