When people compare Nicole Beaudoin to Mother Theresa for the work she has done with women in Quebec, she humbly yet directly declines the honour of that connection. Instead, as she shared with me on the phone during our conversation for the Sister Leadership blog, Nicole prefers to see herself like Jeanne d’Arc, leading women as a collective and winning in the war for equality. She has shaped her business and her life to support those who are capable of changing the world. Reiterating that “You may lose some battles, but you win the war.”
As President and CEO of the Quebec Business Women’s Network, combining her incredible and high level success as a business woman (including positions such as Vice-President, Finance and Administration with VIA Rail Canada, General Manager, Eastern Manufacturing Division with Scott Paper Limited, and acting as an external, independent advisory panel for the strategic review of Canada Post), with her passion for uniting women and strengthening their presence in the workforce, Nicole brings the tools, the values, and the determination to the mission of the QBCN. She now maintains links throughout the world with many women’s groups, all of whom learn from the model Nicole herself established when she bought the QBCN and transformed what was then a phone direction into an ambitious and impacting women’s network.
But I’d go even further in linking Jeanne and Nicole, because both of these inspiring women built themselves up from nothing. Jeanne was a young, illiterate girl powered only by her determination as she approached Robert Baudricourt for an audience with the king in 1428. Nicole was married and raising a family when she began her night school classes in accounting – back then, the social norm wasn’t for women to go into business, (let alone rise to the top and become leaders in their fields) it was for them to care for their home-bound duties.
So here is the question: How do you stand by your convictions? How do you know – right there in your gut – that what you feel to be right is absolutely, undeniably, don’t-stand-in-my-way, right?
Jeanne d’Arc had the voices speaking to her, pushing her forward and insisting she follow their instructions. It is said that she protested after her initial failure with Baudricourt, saying: “I am a poor girl; I do not know how to ride or fight.” Whereas the voices only reiterated: “It is God who commands it.”
For Nicole Beaudoin, it’s all about the “gut feeling.” It is her intuition and her determination that pushed her toward the business world; however, women’s intuition is a difficult asset to introduce into an environment that is developed around a more masculine approach based on facts, figures and results. For instance, when she was VP finance for VIA rail, she couldn’t say aloud: “Please don’t hire that person because I feel they are not okay.” Instead she had to go softly.
Nicole shared with me one story about her time at VIA rail. She was VP finance and the only woman on the board. When she first began the position she was quiet and reserved. Then as time passed, she began to gently contribute her ideas to the discussion. Soon she caught the attention of the men who were amazed at her ideas, and who asked her where they were coming from. Nicole simply replied: “I’m a woman, I see things differently.”
In these more recent times, Nicole feels there’s more place for women’s gut feelings in the office, believing that “Women have that intuition, we should use it more often.” But nevertheless one still needs to go gently. Even Jeanne who again failed to convince Baudricourt of her mission had to take a more gentle approach – staying in the area, living her conviction and slowly but surely winning over the reluctant man with her incredible predictions.
Nicole suggests that “We are different, we see the world differently. We are complimentary to men.” She is glad she didn’t charge forward with a fight. “You go slowly . . . you come gradually, and you change their mind.”
Conviction and gut feelings are forces in themselves, but integrating them into a society that has in the past been ruled by masculin values . . . well that takes a little more finesse. However, both Nicole and Jeanne d’Arc prove that it is possible, and as more and more women rise up in the business world – the opportunity for support, mentoring, and women’s intuition is opening wide for the next generation of female conquerors.
We’ll be hearing more from Nicole in the upcoming weeks on finding courage to make mistakes, becoming a leader and bringing your ideas to the world.
It has been our honour to speak and share with Nicole Beaudoin, and receive these incredible stories and lessons from her experience.
Till next week,
Camille Boivin is founder of Sister Leadership, bringing her knowledge of resilience, perseverance, and changing perception to others. Camille is currently accepting applications for the Women’s Executive Network Senior Executives Wisdom Peer Mentoring program. Applications to this exciting and knowledge-sharing program are available here.