How I Made It

Karina Gould, Federal Politician

FLARE #HowIMadeIt celebrates 100+ talented, ambitious and driven Canadian women with cool jobs. Want what Karina has? Here’s how she did it

How I Made It community builders: Karina Gould sits at her desk wearing a red sweater
Karina Gould; 
Burlington, Ont.; @karinagould

Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?

In a nutshell, I’m the Member of Parliament for Burlington. This means I have the great privilege and honour of representing my constituents in Ottawa and I get to help them with issues related to the Government of Canada. I’m also the Minister of Democratic Institutions and in that capacity my job is to improve, strengthen and protect our democratic institutions here in Canada.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I went to McGill for my undergraduate degree; I did a joint honours degree in political science and Latin American studies. Then I did a master’s degree in international relations at the University of Oxford.

What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)

When I was still in school, I was an electoral observer in Panama for the presidential elections in 2009. I got my first full-time job out of university with the Organization of American States in Washington D.C. in their Migration and Development Program.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it?

I think my first big break was getting the internship at the Organization of American States, as that allowed me to make the contacts that would ultimately lead to my full-time position. The internship also made me realize that I really wanted to work for an international organization and focus on international governance and development.

Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?

I was nominated for the 2015 federal election shortly after I turned 27 and I campaigned for the year leading up to the election. It was just after Labour Day when I realized that the mood was starting to shift in Burlington. We were about a month or so away from election day. I started to get the sense that there was momentum building, that people were excited to meet me when I knocked on their doors (I knocked on 42,000 doors or so in the campaign), and that they were interested in the ideas that our party was putting forward. At that point, I didn’t know if I would win, but I felt I could. The hard work was paying off.

I don’t take anything for granted. It’s humbling to be elected to Parliament and represent your community. I try to work hard everyday to make sure it works out, for me, and for Burlington.

What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

When I was 17, I applied to be a Parliamentary page. I had my heart set on this position and when I didn’t get it, I was absolutely devastated. I think I spent about a week crying and then I decided that I needed to do something else, so I thought about what that might be. It was because I didn’t get into this program that I decided to take a gap year and volunteer in Mexico. That ended up being a defining year for me and I’ve been really happy with the path my life has taken because of that decision. I also just really believe in the saying “when one door closes, another one opens.” Sometimes you just have to spend a little time finding the next door.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

Say yes. When a door opens, walk through it because you never know where it’s going to lead you.

What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?

“You need to know exactly what you want to do with your life.” I’ve heard people say to students, “I don’t want to see you living in your parents’ basement when you’re 25.” When I was 25 I was living at home with my parents. I had just come back from finishing my master’s degree and I was trying to find a job. This didn’t mean that I wasn’t going places. I think there’s a lot of pressure to have it all figured out, but I think sometimes figuring it out means being open to experiences and opportunities, to taking risks, and to going for it.

Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?

I think there are some very real barriers that women face with regards to racism, discrimination, sexism, financial means and family support. But there are also barriers that we imagine that limit us from pursuing certain objectives. Often we believe that people will not accept us for doing something because we are women or young women. That was something that I had to overcome very quickly because I realized that if I wanted to pursue my aspirations, I would have to push aside those imagined barriers or they would limit me. I realized that it really was me limiting myself.

Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?

Since I was 14, I’ve always had a part-time job. Before getting into politics, I was doing mostly contract work—like a lot of other millennials. In some ways, I’ve never had a permanent job. It’s an honour to be the youngest women ever to be a Cabinet Minister, and to represent the people of Burlington in Parliament.

What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?

Oh god. I’ve heard people say that millennials have limited attention spans and we’re not committed to a career. I think that’s an unfair criticism, but I should also add that a valuable piece of advice I received was that sometimes a job is a job. Sometimes there will be things you like and things you dislike when you’re doing a job, but that’s your job and you just have to do it.

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