VG Careers

Making career decisions is tough enough. For some, it’s a no brainer but some of you might be sitting on the fence. Should your personality or financial goals determine the fate of your career? Only you can decide. Our inspirational career women definitely have some helpful insight.

In 2001, I negotiated a salary at a large, multinational advertising agency that paid me more money than I ever thought possible. Of course, I never dreamed I’d actually get what I was asking for, so when the big cheese in the corner office said yes, I found myself in a bit of a quandary.

The real issue, if I was being honest, wasn’t the pay. It was this gnawing need in my heart to make the world a better place. After months of soul-searching, I left my job to start a business teaching kids how to make smart choices around media. There went the fat paycheque!
The fork-in-the-road career decision I encountered is one that many women face. Do you choose the corporate track and the excitement and financial rewards that go with it? Or, do you opt for the philanthropic or not-for-profit path that makes you feel good about getting out of bed every day, but sucks when it comes to $$$?
For Zahra Dhanani, the choice was easy. The legal director of the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC), she knew her calling would be in social justice. Dhanani says that many of her law-school peers make five times the salary she makes. “For me, the corporate path and a Bay Street law firm was never an option,” she insists. “My mission is to serve social justice goals and to be an advocate for social change.” Zahra admits, it’s maddening to see the pay inequality that exists between corporate and not-for-profit work. “But these are the choices we make. I have a house, I make a good living and I get to work for equality and justice.”
“I think as a society, our priorities are upside down,” says Vancouver’s Spring Gillard. The writer and food-sustainability enthusiast has her own communications company, which focuses on green initiatives. She has an impressive resume, which includes gigs with corporate and not-for-profit organizations. “Why should those who choose to do good and important work be paid less?” she argues. “I get asked to work for free continuously, usually by people making big bucks and getting regular paycheques,” she says. Gillard thinks there is a stigma in the non-profit world about making money, both for individuals and organizations. “There is a lot of talk about farmers needing to make a fair living wage. But no one should have to choose between making a decent living and pursuing a career that’s fulfilling.”
Or perhaps, as Helen Prokos suggests, women should follow their passions in life. The McGill liberal arts graduate and e-creative group head at Wunderman in Toronto manages digital projects for companies. “I think I’m well compensated for what I do,” says Prokos, who makes a six-figure salary. “Do I feel I sold out by going the corporate route?” she asks. “Absolutely not. I love writing and technology, and I love coming to work every day.” Prokos admits there’s a special satisfaction that comes from working on not-for-profit assignments like the Heart and Stroke Foundation. “But I don’t go looking for these assignments so I can feel good about myself. I think there are other ways we can give back outside of our job, like with a local community group or with your church. I think it’s the balance that’s key.”
Nicole Swerhun agrees. A self-employed facilitator, Swerhun is hired by private and government organizations to lead public consultation projects. With degrees in ecology and evolution and an MBA, Swerhun straddles public and private interests. “I’m not a not-for-profit. I run my own for-profit business,” she says. “But I can often choose the assignments I want to work on and community planning around public assets like land, facilities, bridges, and roads offers an enormous community value. Personally, that kind of work is so important to me because I get to make a difference.” 
Katia Millar, Founder and Chief Inspirational Officer of Positive Fabulous Women™ states, “The thousands of women – young and old – that I meet are simply looking for personal growth.  They want life experiences that are spiritually fulfilling.  Sometimes they’re searching through their jobs, volunteer work or relationships. I think women are waking up from a stupor that limited them to roles as wives, mothers and sisters.” 
Personality Assessment
Should you work in a corporate or a not-for-profit work environment? Does one career track offer a better fit with your values, capabilities and interests? Here’s a list of skills and attributes that the professional women we met say you’ll need for the job. Question is: which job? The women we spoke to who work in corporate and not-for-profit careers identified an almost identical skill set!

  • Confidence   
  • Passion   
  • Responsibility   
  • Discipline
  • Vision   
  • Accountability   
  • Initiative    
  • Compassion
  • Goal-orientation   
  • Wide-ranging knowledge   
  • Respect for different points of view    
  • Communication skills
  • Team playing   
  • Commitment   
  • Tough skin   
  • Balance and perspective

Give a little… Get a lot

Toronto’s Zahra Dhanani started volunteering at the age of nine and has worked in a combination of volunteer and paid jobs – at women’s health clinics and community organizations, and volunteering at legal clinics – all, in the area of social justice.

Spring Gillard, author of several books and the blog, volunteered with an urban agricultural group in Vancouver before she decided to work with them full-time.