Woman Up: Five Questions with Isabelle Daigneault

In May, Isabelle Daigneault took on the role of board president at the Alpine Club of Canada – the first woman to hold this post since the Club’s inception in 1906. Isabelle is passionate about outdoor adventures, diversity, and governance and is well poised to create a new era for this national organization that empowers Canadians from coast to coast to coast to reach new heights.

Isabelle has always loved being outside. As a child growing up in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, she spent her time skiing, biking, and enjoying the great outdoors whenever she could. Knowing that she wanted her son to grow up with the same appreciation for nature, she moved to the mountain haven of Canmore and found community in the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC). She joined the ACC’s board in 2006 and was recently elected as the first female board president in the club’s 116-year history. We sat down with Isabelle to learn a bit more about what the Club means to her, why this is a big moment in history, and what she hopes to accomplish as president.

Bespoke: What does the ACC mean to you? What makes the ACC such an important voice and presence in the community?

Isabelle Daigneault: The ACC has helped me access many wild and natural places that I wouldn’t otherwise have known about or had access to. It’s an organization full of people who love Canada’s mountains and wilderness, so it provides a wonderful source of community with people living both in my local area and across Canada. It also increases awareness around the need to care for our natural environment so that it’s still around for future generations to enjoy.

Bespoke: Your election as board President is a pivotal and long overdue moment for the club. Why do you think it took 116 years to elect a female President?

ID: A lot of this also had to do with governance. Until recently, ACC board members were selected through appointment, not election, which meant that the board was often made up of friends of existing directors. Men often adventured with other men, so when board members recruited people that they knew also enjoyed the outdoors, they were often male as well.

In addition, being on the board is a lot of work, because the ACC is a complex organization. Working full time while juggling family life and other priorities is a difficult task, and women often take on the brunt of this labour, which leaves them little opportunity to engage in something extra like a board position. To take on the President position you must have an intimate knowledge of the organization and its structure, which takes a big investment of time. There have been many barriers to entry for women to be a part of this board at all, let alone become President.

Bespoke: Despite the barriers you mention, you obviously feel like being part of a board is worthwhile. Why do you feel that female representation in governance is important?

ID: We don’t just need more women on boards, we need a diversity of thinking. We need diversity in all ways at our board tables in order to open peoples’ minds to different perspectives and create outcomes that benefit everyone in the organization. As the only women on the board for many years, I often felt like my ideas were brushed aside or not taken seriously. A board that is too homogenous creates groupthink, where everyone just agrees with each other, and no one challenges the status quo.

Bespoke: What has the ACC done to encourage more diversity on its board?

ID: When I became board secretary, I helped changed the selection process to a more democratic one – now board selection is done through vetting and voting instead of through appointment. We look at what we need on the board and ensuring we have the right mix of skill sets, as well as diversity in gender and geography.

Bespoke: What are your priorities as board president?

ID: The role of the board president is to ensure sound governance, so that will be a big focus for me. There is still a lot of work to be done around increasing our diversity and inclusion and eliminating the idea of privilege in the outdoors, as well as looking at the role of truth and reconciliation. I’ll also be overseeing the implementation of a meaningful strategic plan and exploring the role of ACC as an environmental steward that advocates for the protection of the wild places we love. Those are just some of my most important areas of focus over my three-year term.

For more information about the Alpine Club of Canada, visit their website.