A conversation with one of Canada’s top 100 most powerful women: Colonel Josée Robidoux, Commander of 35 Canadian Brigade Group

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Article / December 14, 2015 / Project number: 15-0203

Toronto, Ontario — On November 26, 2015, Colonel Josée Robidoux was named one of Canada’s top 100 most powerful women of the year by the Women’s Executive Network (WXN).

 “To be a part of such an amazing group of strong, intelligent and determined Canadian women is a true honour,” said Col Robidoux, Commander of 35 Canadian Brigade Group (35 CBG). 

Founded in 1997, Toronto-based WXN is a leading Canadian organization dedicated to the advancement and recognition of women. There are 10 award categories that honour women in business, the arts, public service and others.

Col Robidoux was named one of the Trailblazers & Trendsetters, a category which has the stated goal of “Recognizing women who are first in their field and have made a great contribution to Canadian society.” 

In June 2015, Col Robidoux became the first female commander of 35 CBG and the first woman to command a brigade group in the province of Quebec. Headquartered in Québec City, the brigade has more than 2,200 Reservists and 60 Regular Force members who make up 12 units stationed in Shawinigan, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières, Quebec City, Chicoutimi, Lévis, the Beauce and the lower St. Lawrence.

Col Robidoux has spent 30 exceptional years in the Communication Reserve and the Canadian Army Reserve, including a deployment to Afghanistan in 2011/2012 where she served as a senior advisor to the Afghan National Army. Currently, in addition to commanding 35 CBG, she is studying for her Master’s in Public Administration. She lives near Ottawa with her husband of 20 years, Major Shaun Funk, a staff officer at Army Headquarters in Ottawa and the Deputy Commanding Officer of The Royal Canadian Hussars (Montreal).

Shaun has given me tremendous support throughout my career. He is my strongest supporter and always tells me how proud he is of me and that I can do anything I set my mind to do,” she said.

 

Q & A with Colonel Robidoux

The following is an interview with Col Robidoux in which she describes how she came to join the Army Reserve, her philosophy of leadership and her work with the Afghan National Army.

Q: Congratulations on being named one of the top 100 most powerful women in Canada. That is quite a title, how do you feel about that?

A: (With a chuckle) Yes, well – it makes me sound a little bit intimidating. When I first heard it, I pictured myself surrounded with guns and lightning bolts and all sorts of powerful things, but that’s really not the case.

Q: Why did you join the Canadian Army Reserve? Are you from a military family?

A: Not at all. I started in the air cadets. I came from a small village called Omerville, just outside of Sherbrooke. My parents decided to send my two older sisters and me to a private boarding school because they believed that a good education was essential to a successful career.

They encouraged us to join the cadets, and so I was in boarding school during the week, at cadets Friday nights, and spending lots of weekends with the cadets and also at cadet summer camps.

While I was with the cadets, I kept seeing the Reservists training …You know, coming in on Friday nights to go on training and they were telling me what the Reserves were and that I could pay for my studies in university by joining the Reserves. I joined the 714 Communications Squadron, in Sherbrooke.

Q: Why did you choose the 714 Communications Squadron?

A: Well, initially, I asked to join Les Fusiliers de Sherbrooke, which is an infantry regiment, because that was the best-known unit in Sherbrooke. So that’s where I went, and I wanted to be an officer because I was going to university and that’s what people were telling me I should do. And so I went to see them and they said, “Oh no, sorry, we don’t take women in the infantry.” This was 1985, a few years before combat arms were opened to women.

They told me that I should go and see the Communications Squadron, because they were taking women officers. That’s how I ended up in the Communications Reserve which turned out great for me.

Q: Your WXN award category is called “Trailblazers & Trendsetters.” Do you agree you are a trailblazer?

A: Well, I don’t consider myself as such, and to me it’s funny when I hear that, because you know I joined because I wanted to, mainly because I wanted to have a part time job doing something that was interesting. After I completed my training and got to know the people and learned about the profession – especially the values and the ethics of the military – I found it all really appealed to me. I feel this is where I fit.

The military gave me all of the opportunities that I was looking for, and I took those opportunities. So, to me, it’s not me who accomplished so much, it’s the organization that provided me the opportunities, and my contribution to my career is basically just doing the best job I could do because I love what I do. 

 

"The military gave me all of the opportunities that I was looking for, and I took those opportunities. So, to me, it’s not me who accomplished so much, it’s the organization that provided me the opportunities, and my contribution to my career is basically just doing the best job I could do because I love what I do." - Colonel Josée Robidoux, Commander of 35 Canadian Brigade Group

Q: Being a woman Senior Advisor to an Afghan general, what was that like?

A: Well, that was a bit of a problem. There was a lot of negotiation before one of the Afghan generals reluctantly accepted me because in that culture women are not the equal of men. He didn’t have a problem with me being there with him, personally. The issue was, “What are people going to think? People are not going to think I am not an important Afghan general if my senior advisor is a female Canadian.”

But he got over that. It took about two or three months before he accepted that I was actually helping him be more efficient in his organization and in the eyes of the Chief of the General Staff of the Afghan Army. After that, I felt that he really adopted me. He was very protective of me and very respectful and he would actually listen to the advice that I was giving him.

Q: How did you help the Afghan Army increase the number of women in their army?

A: One of my files was to help ensure the provisions were in place for that to happen. But again, culturally it was not as simple as in Canada. In Canada, 18 per cent of the military is women, 14 per cent in the Army. In Afghanistan, in any Muslim country, when you have women in an organization, they have to have their own washroom. But they also have to have a separate place to eat and to pray, there is a lot of infrastructure that was needed to be built in order to have those women join an organization.

But there was a woman officer, a Lieutenant Colonel. This woman, she was quite amazing. She was not afraid of anybody. She would walk into my Afghan general’s office as if she owned it. He was so impressed by her that whenever she walked in, he stopped what he was doing he listened to her and she was really the one person who was devoted to getting more women into the Afghan army. So I worked very closely with her and we did make some headway. When I left, the Afghan army was at four per cent women, which is not bad, especially since it was less than one percent in the past.

Q: In June of 2015, you became the first woman commander of 35 Canadian Brigade Group and the first woman brigade commander in the province of Quebec. I see your motto for 35 Canadian Brigade Group is “Honour and Courage.”

A: I didn’t choose that, but if I had to choose one I would choose that because I think it is really representative of what the military is all about. It really connects with me.

I mentioned earlier that the military gave me opportunities and I took them. When somebody offers you the chance to do something, it’s a little bit scary because you don’t know what you are getting yourself into. And I find that it takes courage to go towards something that is unknown.

And honour, it really defines the military because that’s what we try to uphold. That’s one of the reasons why I joined the military – not only why I joined but why I’m still in – because honour to me means how you treat people, not only those within the organization but the people of Canada and the people of the world that we are committed to help and assist and protect.

Q: Do you consider yourself a role model, not only for young women but also for young men?

A: Yes. I think that people look up to successful people and that encourages them to work towards excellence. I really don’t think about being a role model. All I can say is that I try, every day, to do the right thing for the right reasons. For young women to see me as the brigade commander, it tells them it’s possible for them as well. And it’s important for young men to realize that the young female soldier beside them is just as capable as they are.

 

"For young women to see me as the brigade commander, it tells them it’s possible for them as well. And it’s important for young men to realize that the young female soldier beside them is just as capable as they are." - Colonel Josée Robidoux, Commander of 35 Canadian Brigade Group

Q: What are your thoughts on mentorship?

A: I think that the key to a successful career is to find a mentor, to find people that you connect with, that you trust and admire. Find that special relationship with somebody to be a guide, to be a counselor, a confidante, be a sounding board for you to discuss your career, what your interests are, and how to tackle different challenges.

I was very lucky, I had excellent mentors, people I created excellent relationships with, who were very helpful and that really believed in my abilities and helped me get where I am.

My first mentor was Louise Bisson from my squadron in Sherbrooke. The message she gave me was, “If you want to get anywhere in the military, if you want to be successful in the military, you have to convince yourself and believe that you’re just as good as the guy next to you.”

By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs

 

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