Paulette Senior is recognized as one of the most respected and vocal women leaders in Canada. She brings a wealth of grassroots experience and sensibility to her role as CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, spending several years on the frontlines of social and community development work. She has led, managed, and operated shelters, employment programs and housing, helping women, children, and youth in some of Toronto’s most economically-disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Paulette has captured significant attention at home and abroad as a leader and advocate for women and girls, and is unwavering in her pursuit to build a safe and just society where women and girls are equal and free from violence and poverty, and are equipped with critical supports to be leaders in their lives and communities.
My first job ever was… I was 14, and I was working for a company selling heavy-duty garbage bags over the phone. By noon, I was fired! It brought a lot of things home to me, particularly that this job thing is serious!
I chose my career path because… It made sense to my life. I was able to make the link between my life and my experiences and what I saw others experiencing. I realized it didn’t have to be that way. Something can be done about it.
My proudest accomplishment is… Being the best mother I could be and raising a healthy, balanced child into manhood. I realized that this vulnerable human placed in my care was my responsibility — that I was responsible for how he turned out.
My boldest move to date was… Leaving the comfort of YWCA Toronto. I had been there for over 12 years. And as I was leaving, I knew I was moving into a leadership role with an organization that was in disruption.
I surprise people when I tell them… That I once dropped out of university. Life was tough at that time. I had to work — I had to make money.
My best advice to people starting their career is… First thing: Don’t limit yourself. Just because you’re going to law school doesn’t mean you can only be a lawyer. See the possibilities. There are many paths. Second thing: Make sure your career choice really makes sense for you.
My best advice from a mentor was… Learn how to really think through something. Assess it, see around it, picture it in the future, solve it in your mind.
I would tell my 20-year old self… Not to worry. It’s going to work out.
My biggest setback was… Leaving university. Even though it was a setback, it was a huge learning for me. It showed me the value of pursuing my dreams.
“Learn how to really think through something. Assess it, see around it, picture it in the future, solve it in your mind.”
I overcame it by… Becoming focused. And finding my passion and purpose.
Work/life balance is… Day by day and week by week. It’s about tuning into yourself and how you’re feeling. It’s about building in that “me time” – and that time can include doing nothing at all. It’s also important to appreciate where you are, when you’re there. When you’re distracted, you can’t focus, and life can feel out of control and out of balance.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… That I have moments of shyness. And that I long for peace – not just personal peace, but the peace of knowing that everyone has everything they need and everything is ok. It can’t just be peace for me alone and those I love, or for women alone, or for Black people alone, it has to be peace for everybody.
I stay inspired by… The possibility of peace. If you don’t have equality, you don’t have peace.
The future excites me because… Everything is possible. There is that possibility of all that we’ve been working towards. There is that vision of just and lasting peace, where we can end hunger, poverty, and war. The future excites me because that possibility will continue to exist for me.
My next step is… Doing my part in all the ways I’ve talked about here. And supporting young women to take over – supporting that next group of leaders, and having them stand on my shoulders and surpass me.