Women in Leadership Spotlight on Francine Charette

Today our Women in Leadership spotlight is on the outstanding Francine Charette, who talks to us about working in male dominated industries, the impact the pandemic has had on workplaces and what she finds encouraging about GenX.

Francine is the Director of Human Resources at Colas Canada and is based in Toronto. After graduating from HEC Montreal with a Certificate in Human Resources and a Bachelor of Commerce, she began her career focused on climbing the career ladder and honing her skills. Spoiler alert: she succeeded and has been crushing it as a Director of Human Resources since 1999.

Read on below to discover how Francine deals with imposter syndrome, her newfound focus on self-care and the importance of flexible schedules for employees.

Organize, agitate, educate, must be our war cry. (Facebook Cover) (4)

What quote inspires you the most?

“If you dream and you allow yourself to dream you can do anything” – Clara Hughes

What has been the most significant barrier in your career to date?

Letting myself be influenced by others. With experience, I learned to stay grounded and not let my environment decide for me. I developed an awareness and was able to observe negative influences and stay true to myself.

Have you ever felt the imposter syndrome, and if so how did you navigate your way through it?

I have worked in male dominated industries all my career and imposter syndrome has been a fact of life. Isn’t it for everyone? For me, it was linked to lack of confidence in my abilities. In my early twenties, I practiced skydiving on a regular basis and loved the thrill of feeling free. This feeling followed into my professional life where I loved to forge ahead, sometimes feeling that I was jumping into a situation without a parachute because I thought differently about equity in the workplace. I often skydived into new environments and new roles to explore and enjoy life to the fullest. These experiences have helped me gain confidence in my abilities, giving me the tools to overcome those moments of fear which in the past would have prevented me from moving forward.

One example happened years ago when I was asked to make a presentation on the benefits of gender diversity. I accepted, though I had never done a live presentation before. I can still vividly remember how nervous I was prior to the event. Afterwards, much to my surprise, I was praised for how natural I appeared! Wow, if the audience only knew.

In hindsight, what was I scared about? Making a mistake? Looking silly in front of my colleagues and peers? This experience helped me learn not to be so hard on myself, life is one experience at a time, and you gain nothing by not taking that risk. Now when I get nervous, I remind myself of a quote I came across sometime ago: “Failure doesn’t exist, you succeed, or you learn” and it reminds me to continue to push my boundaries and focus not on nerves, but on growth.

What do you think are the three most important characteristics to be an amazing leader in your organization?

There are four characteristics which have served me well:

• Listening and being curious about people.
• Having methods/skills to stay true to yourself and grounded.
• Be resilient, keep moving forward
• Caring and working with people.

How do you balance career, personal life and passions?

It can be challenging at the executive level as there is always work to be done. But like I tell my team, we need to take care of our well being and make the effort to keep a balance. I try to keep a separation between personal and professional life; and reserve my weekends for my passions (family, exercise, hiking in nature and mindfulness).

What has been your biggest learning when it comes to work-life harmony during the pandemic?

The pandemic has put life, our relationships and our careers in perspective. For me, the need for self-care became more important and I had to set boundaries to not let the virtual/remote working environment take over all my time. I devoted more time to reading and relaxing because remote working means no commute. It’s amazing how the world is connected, we were all experiencing the pandemic differently and, in some ways, the same.

The pandemic also allowed me to connect more personally with fellow colleagues, becoming a source of bonding and strengthening our relationships. At Colas, we rolled out virtual training, virtual healthcare support, methods to work remotely and several good programs to support our people. People were taking care of each other.

What is the role mentorship and sponsorship have played in your career?

I never had opportunities for mentorship or sponsorship programs. Despite this, I had great people who came in and out of my life, some with very good learnings. I learned to reach out to people around me for help. You don’t have to do this alone. If I wanted something, I would inquire, put my hand up so it was known. You can’t be afraid to ask.

At one time in my life, I requested to reduce my hours (4 days/week) for personal reasons. It was granted for approximately 18 months before I went back to 5 days/week. What a difference this schedule meant for me and my family. Now it’s more important than ever that companies continue to offer flexible arrangements to recruit and retain their employees.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Dare sooner to follow my ambition and trust the timing of my life. We make our happiness, it’s a state of mind.

In honour of International Women’s Day 2022, has there been a time where you or someone around you has had to #BreakTheBias? What was your biggest learning from this experience?

Several times, I learned that it takes courage to call someone out for derogatory remarks or bias jokes. It’s not always easy. However, despite the challenge, I continue to take that stand as I strongly believe the world, both in and out of work, will be a better place when equality exists. I think we are heading in the right direction as the new generation of professionals are more open to, and insistent upon, diversity, equity and inclusion.

Bonus Question – Who has been the most influential woman in your life/career?

There isn’t one person in particular, but rather several along the way. In recent years, women leadership coaches I have had the privilege to work with have had a big impact. Also, my former boss, the President of a large corporation, was an inspiration as she would see the potential in all employees and push our boundaries, challenging us to go beyond. We need more leaders like her.



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