How I Made It

Maryam Monsef, MP and Minister of Status of Women

Maryam Monsef is the MP for Peterborough-Kawartha and the Minister of Status of Women; she's also the first Afghan Canadian to hold a seat in Parliament. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Maryam Monsef; @MaryamMonsef

How do you describe your job to your family?

Essentially, my job is to be the voice for the people of Peterborough-Kawartha as a Member of Parliament. As Minister of Status of Women, my job is to make sure that girls and boys, women and men in Canada have access to equal opportunity, so we can then build a stronger economy.

What’s the weirdest gig you’ve ever done solely for money?

When I was in university, I ran my own window-cleaning business for a couple of summers, and I guess the weirdest part of that job was climbing three-storey buildings and having spiders in my hair. I had a fear of both of heights and spiders, and I’d never cleaned a window before in my life! I decided I would have to get over all of that because I wanted to learn my own business.

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

The biggest break I ever got was coming to Canada. I didn’t do it on my own, I was a kid, and it was a gift that my mother gave us. She brought my sisters and me to Canada [from Afghanistan] so that we could get an education and have a future.

What would you say has been your most significant setback, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?

After university, I wanted to go back to Afghanistan, and help with the peace-building process there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t safe so I couldn’t go. It took me months to come up with a new plan, and find an opportunity. A job opened up at the same immigration settlement agency that helped my family settle in Peterborough when we first came to Canada. I didn’t know it at the time, but that experience working at the New Canadians Centre would go on to contribute significantly to my ability to help on the cabinet committee that supported the welcoming of tens of thousands of Syrians to Canada.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

“Don’t make their decision for them.” Many of us, particularly women, tend to disqualify ourselves from opportunities before we even show up to an interview. Too many of us don’t apply to a job because we feel like we have 75 percent of the qualifications necessary, not 100 percent. Do you think you could do a good job? If the answer is yes, then put your name forward, and let the hiring team decide.

What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now? What would fix it?

One of the biggest barriers is that the lack of representation leads to fewer role models. If she cannot see her, she cannot be her. I’ve heard from far too many Canadians, that if they don’t see someone who looks like them, who talks like them, who has experiences and struggles and aspirations similar to theirs, they can’t see that they too can do the job.

Do you think you earn a similar wage as your male counterparts in your industry?

Fortunately I do, but I will say: Up until Prime Minister Trudeau formed government, the minister for women wasn’t a full minister. All ministers are now equal, we all have a voice and we all have mandate letters that the public holds us all equally accountable to. We all earn an equal wage.

Looking to the future, what excites you the most about your career?

As Minister of Status of Women, I have the incredible opportunity to lead a file at a time of significant transformation for women and girls, but for men and boys and people of all genders. We can build a stronger Canada with this work. The best part is that I have a prime minister who is a champion for this, and Canadians are on board with it, and there are a lot of seeds we’re planting that will make things better for Canadians in the short- and long-term.

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