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Women In Rail: Lisa Raitt

Keynote Speaker

Vice-Chair of Global Investment Banking at CIBC and former Minister of Transport, Labour and Natural Resources

On the 29th floor of Transport Canada’s Ottawa headquarters, there is a mahogany-paneled wall of photos of current and former federal ministers of transport.

Scanning from past to present, you see the shift from sepia to colour. You also quickly realize one photo is not like the others.

The Hon. Lisa Raitt is, to this day, the only woman ever to hold the office.

Appointed in July 2013, Transport was seen as a good fit for someone whose background included a career in law, tenure as CEO of the Toronto Port Authority, and whose prior ministerial responsibilities included natural resources and labour.

That said, she faced a test unlike any of her predecessors: the Lac-Mégantic derailment had occurred just nine days before her appointment, and she was tasked with overseeing the regulatory and political clean-up.

“When I was at the Port Authority, I couldn’t understand why the Transport Minister whom I reported to spent so much time fixated on rail…until I became Minister of Transport,” Lisa says.

She recalls her first meeting with Lac-Mégantic’s mayor, Collette Roy-Laroche, “wasn’t about clean-up, death, or destruction. It was about re-establishing the rail link. Everything started from there.”

Lisa’s countless meetings with (mostly male) rail executives confirmed a long-held suspicion that while more women have ascended to executive and board roles in rail over the years, women are still – by and large – in “advisory rather than decision-making roles.”

“To make your mark and make a difference, you have to move from HR, finance, communications to operations with responsibility for the bottom line,” says Lisa. “And more women need to want to make those decisions.”

She adds greater representation isn’t about equity, diversity, and inclusion quotas nor will it be organic.  Rather, she says, men will need the “clear the way” and women will have to choose to write their own success stories.

“Women have a different way of looking at matters than ‘the guys.’ Women are more risk-averse and seek to hear more information. Disruption comes when there are more women in the C-suite and, to get there, more women need to know their worth and their value.”

That “hopeful for the next generation” message is one Lisa conveys to people she mentors in her current role in investment banking. It’s among the many lessons she has gleaned from her own mentors – including Home Depot’s Anne Verschuren, TransAlta’s Dawn Farrell, and Logistec’s Madeleine Paquin.

Lisa has also in recent years served as role model to many families across Canada whose have loves ones with progressively debilitating medical conditions. Her husband, Bruce Wood, was just 56 when he was diagnosed with young-onset Alzheimer’s in 2016.

She has been very public how the disease’s progression has affected their lives, and the lives her two sons (JC, 20, and Billy, 17) in the hope that sharing their story may lead to better care, treatment, and support for others.

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