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Women In Rail: Françoise Bertrand


Chair of VIA Rail’s Board of Directors

Françoise Bertrand has always been on the vanguard.

While professional moves and multiple career changes are commonplace amongst workers today, Françoise, now 72, eschewed the idea of staying at just one company for an entire career earlier than most.

“People close to me wondered if I was unstable,” she jokes. “In fact, I just have always hated monotony, boredom, routine, and repetition. I am curious, high energy, hard-working. And I need to feel excited by challenge and change.”

Coming out of grad school into the Montréal job market in the mid-1980s, Françoise says she’s never encountered a glass ceiling she couldn’t breakthrough or seen coming. If it couldn’t be shattered, she would simply move on to a new opportunity elsewhere.

“I’m fortunate that I’ve always known my worth; I’m well educated and very capable,” Francoise says with trademark candour. “I also know the importance of being true to oneself and not being afraid to move on.”

Françoise has also long been against diversity-as-tokenism, or diversity for the sake of it.

She says the organizations she has led – from l’Université du Québec à Montréal, to Quebec’s chambers of commerce, to Canada’s national telecommunications regulator, to the Télé-Quebec broadcast network – have all managed to find near-gender parity at the executive level by searching authentically and meaningfully for talented, qualified people who can do the work.

“You have to work to find the best people,” she says. “Anyone who tells me ‘I couldn’t find a good, representative mix of competent and capable people,’ I just respond ‘C’mon. Give me a break. You have to look.’”

She says the rail industry has an opportunity to attract a much more diverse mix of candidates that it has traditionally because of the breadth of roles and specialties modern rail operators require: engineers, welders, marketers, IT specialists, accountants, etc.

Professionally and personally, Françoise finds comfort in diversity and challenge.

She loves to travel with her common law partner, her daughter and son-in-law, and/or her grandchildren, now 20 and 18. Her passion for rail dates back many years to train trips with her grandson; her next trip will be to Churchill, Manitoba.

Facilitating rail travel for Canadians is a big focus in her current role as Chair of VIA Rail’s Board of Directors, which she points out is comprised of eight women and five men. (VIA’s executive team of four women and three men is also led by a female CEO.)

The Crown corporation is undertaking a major fleet renewal/replacement and preparing to deliver on a government commitment to introduce high-frequency rail in the Windsor-Québec City corridor.

Indeed, it would seem there is not slowing down in sight for a woman who’s made a fulfilling career – and life – being on the move.

Get to know all of our panelist for the Women In Rail event here.