Helping women dream big and succeed, with military flair

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Article / July 10, 2017 / Project number: 17-0131

By Lynn Capuano, Army Public Affairs

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Montreal, Quebec — Marching ahead into the second year of La Force au Féminin (FaF), Major Maryse Lavoie is only just getting started.

By day, Maj Lavoie is the Senior Public Affairs Officer with the National Defence Public Affairs Office – Québec Region, based at Canadian Forces Base/Area Support Unit Montréal. At night and on weekends, she focuses on her organization, whose name loosely translates as “A Strength of Women” as its president and founder.

She created FaF in May 2016 to boost the personal and business success of women through collaboration with both men and women from different walks of life. The membership is currently about 250 and growing.

Maj Lavoie, who holds a Master’s degree in Communications from Leicester University in England and has studied international diplomacy and governance in international communications, has a vision to bring women together with professionals from many fields in a collaborative male-female team approach to equip women with tools to further their workday and personal success and growth.

“Our mission is to gather women and men from all professional domains, people in civvies and in different uniforms, and to tool them into a mixed networking and leadership team to contribute to the success of women in general.”

She expects the organization, which launched in Québec in May 2016, to flow across Canada within 10 years. To that end, the group is migrating to a new bilingual website in the near future, and more events will take place outside of Quebec. Among those present at the launch was then-Commander of 2nd Canadian Division and Joint Task Force East, Brigadier-General Stéphane Lafaut, who has since retired; and Lieutenant-General Charles Lamarre, Commander, Military Personnel Command.

Maj Lavoie said, “We are composed of nine different Forces. Each Force has its own champion. For example, we have a military Force that has four co-champions. All of the rest are civilian Forces.”

Other champions have been drawn from the arts and culture scene and from the Indigenous community in addition to the business, education, construction trades, police and security, first-responder, public affairs, science, and sports realms to support the rest of the FaF Forces.

The calibre of the five female military co-champions is impressive. Maj Lavoie noted that their accomplishments are on the vanguard of change for women in the Canadian Armed Forces. They are:

  • Brigadier-General Jennie Carignan, Chief of Staff, Canadian Army Operations. She was the first woman to command the Royal Military College of Saint Jean, was Commanding Officer of 5 Combat Engineer Regiment and commanded the Task Force Kandahar Engineer Regiment.
  • Brigadier-General Lise Bourgon, Director General Operation of Strategic Joint Staff of the Royal Canadian Air Force. She is the first female commander of a Joint Task Force (JTF) for operations abroad, including Iraq.
  • Rear-Admiral Jennifer Bennett, Director General Canadian Armed Forces Strategic Response Team on Sexual Misconduct. She is the first Women's Defence Champion and the first woman to achieve the rank of Rear Admiral in the Royal Canadian Navy.
  • Captain (Navy) Josée Kurtz, Director Naval Operations and Plans. She is the first woman to command a major Canadian warship as commanding officer of HMCS Halifax during the Haiti mission in 2010.
  • Commander Bonita Mason, Principal Chaplain of 2nd Canadian Division and Task Force East, based in Montreal. She serves as the FaF’s Religion Champion.
  • Maj Lavoie believes that women and men must learn to be strong together to positively influence the evolution of society, and to this end, the FaF board of directors is comprised equally of men and women.

A military flavour

Maj Lavoie is proof positive that while a soldier may exchange her uniform for business clothes, her army training remains. Many of the events and approaches used to achieve the goals are related to leadership skills that she learned during her 29 years of military service. She joined the 12th Armored Regiment of Canada in 1988 at age 16, one of the first women admitted into the Army's combat professions.

Some of the organization’s events include:

  • A leadership program called BooSt-Camp (a clever take-off on Boot Camp) that is modeled on a military leadership course that took place at the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean sur Richelieu, Quebec.
  • Gala Hall of Femmes, which is a membership drive dinner and networking event featuring military; arts and culture; and businesswomen.
  • A two-day tour to visit military women at their places of work across Quebec, including Chief Warrant Officer Marie-Josée Garceau, the first woman sergeant-major of 62nd Field Artillery Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery.
  • Networking events called 5@7 held in military establishments in Ottawa and Montreal.
  • An event known as speed coaching with a number of male and female coaches from different professional domains.
  • A six-month-long job-readiness program that will include everything from confidence-building to dressing for success, interview coaching and help finding a job.

In July, there will be a cruise from Montreal to Trois Rivères for members on the Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Ville de Québec, a Halifax-class frigate, accompanied by Capt(N) Josée Kurtz to showcase the Navy.  “It is the conclusion of the two-day tour that we did that was mostly air force and army,” said Maj Lavoie.

The first leadership BooSt-Camp was held in the spring of 2016 with nine men and women. “It’s not a ‘boot camp’ but a ‘boost camp,’” said Maj Lavoie. “It’s given in a military mindset with no push-ups, no barbed wire, but we base it on a leadership potential assessment course we use to train our future leaders that has been in use since the Second World War.”

It involves solving physical and mental challenges using the whole team. “We teach them how to understand the mission, how to communicate the mission and how to use the whole team with their faults and their strengths and how to mobilize them. The final goal is to transform an individual into part of a team.”

Future plans

Maj Lavoie plans to marshal all her forces to reach her objective. Some of the work in progress includes elementary and secondary school visits from the champions.

“We want to show young girls as well as young boys that it is normal for women to be working hard to reach their dream,” she said.

“It is important that we create ‘ordinary models.’ What I mean by that is, for example, Julie Payette, people assume she became an astronaut because she has exceptional DNA and so on. No. It’s because she had a goal and she believed in it and she traced her own way there. Ordinary people could reach their dream. And so we have to create models of women to help us get there and we need women and men to help us to do that.”

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