Thursday, February 9, 2012

Gals We Admire: Margaret Eaton

With an MBA and well-honed skills in not-for-profit management, Maragret Eaton is putting her talents to great use by advocating for adult literacy. Plus, find out why being nice is on Eaton's list of must-have criteria for getting ahead in your career.

Name: Margaret Eaton
Job Position Title: President, ABC Life Literacy Canada

Describe your typical work day, from start to finish
I don’t think I ever have a "typical day" which is one of the things I really like about my job. I often refer to my job as a smorgasbord—I get to do lots of different things and interact with lots of different people which is very stimulating. I learned early on in my career that jobs that are deep in one narrow area make me a bit bored. I need variety. So my day might include a meeting with a corporate sponsor, an interview with someone from the media about literacy, planning meetings with our great staff team, or working on our organizational plans and budget for the year. I get to learn a lot of different things and use different skills.

When you were a kid, what did you want to grow up to be?
I wanted to be a teacher for a while, and then as a teen I wanted to be a sketch and improvisation performer. My job combines elements of both of these occupations. I do a lot of presentations and interviews, so I get to explain things and teach. I also have to be quick on my feet and improvisation training really helps with that!

What do you enjoy most about your job?
I’m very passionate about our cause—adult literacy. We think of Canada as being a nation of people with high literacy skills, but in fact many adults struggle with reading, writing and math. Our organization’s mission is to inspire Canadians to improve their skills. It’s a mission I really believe in personally and it infuses energy into all that we do. I also get to work with amazing people—our staff, board members and volunteers and others in the literacy field. I’m inspired by the dedication of those around me to bring more visibility and resources to ensure all Canadians have the skills they need to live a fully engaged life.

What do you find to be the biggest challenge in your profession?
In not-for-profit management, it is always a struggle to ensure you have all the resources (financial, human) to do all the things you want to do. It’s a challenge to balance the needs of all of the funders (government, corporate, individuals) who are helping your organization to meet its goals, but who have goals of their own that they need met. This is also what makes the job interesting!

Do you believe you had a "calling" for your profession?
I started my career in arts management and decided to get an MBA in arts and media management from Schulich in order to give me the skills I needed to make the difference I wanted to make in the arts. After many years in the arts, I decided to make a switch to a different kind of charity. I wanted to work in something that was more purely philanthropic and make a contribution to bettering the lives of Canadians, in whatever small way I could. I’ve worked hard on developing my management skills because I felt that was what I could give. Through good management, I hope to enable organizations to better achieve their missions. That makes for a very satisfying career.

What are the three most important pieces of career advice you would give to other Canadian Career Gals?
Keep learning – it’s so important to keep on growing and acquiring new skills. This may or may not be through formal education. One of my favourite ways to learn is to take someone to lunch who knows something that I want to know more about. People are happy to share their knowledge and experience and you get to benefit from their learning. Ask questions and listen—it’s powerful.

Be nice – I think niceness is under-rated in our culture. I’ve made a point of hiring staff who are smart, engaged and engaging, and ambitious for themselves and for our work. But they’re also all nice. By that I mean, they are interested in other people, empathetic, polite to each other, enjoy working in a team and understand that two heads truly are better than one.

Think big picture – Regardless of what position I’m hiring, I’m always drawn to the person who can think strategically. By that I mean they understand, at the highest level, what we’re trying to achieve and how their work fits into those goals. The person who asks, "why do we do it that way? Does that help us meet our goals?" is the person I want to work with.


  1. Fantastic for Margaret! I'm so pleased that such a wonderful person has found her niche! All the best for future success for her! <3 (A former FASSIE)

  2. "I think niceness is under-rated in our culture." This alone is reason to celebrate smart "gals" who are leaders and making a difference in our society.