The seven women at the head of Valero

The Valero Jean-Gaulin refinery in Saint-Romuald, with its majority-female steering committee, is an exception in the world of work and even more so in the petrochemical world. On this International Women’s Day, Le Soleil went to meet this tightly knitted group of leaders who managed to make their way into an atypical environment.

With its tangle of pipes and reservoirs, its countless lights that illuminate the night and its torchiere visible for miles, the Jean-Gaulin refinery has been part of the Québec City area for more than 45 years. In the field, some 480 employees are active, with the vast majority of men. However, to the steering committee, little known, there are women – seven in total, including five engineers, out of 11 members – who ensure the smooth running of the petrochemical complex.
View through the huge windows of the conference room of the administrative center, Chemin des Îles, the refinery embraces the whole landscape. The scenery may be familiar to him, the group of seven does not give the impression of getting tired of it, on the contrary. The refinery is an important part of the life of these women, the place where most of them dreamed of working after they left university.
“It’s like a baby. We take care of each piece of pipe, “says Marina Binotto, director of public and governmental affairs, driving the representative of the Sun to the meeting place.
It took a long time to get together all this beautiful people for this report. The calendars are loaded, time counted. At the appointed time, all are at the rendezvous in their overalls, for taking pictures, in a good-natured atmosphere. Only Chantal Forgues, Director of Human Resources, will be forced to leave the interview due to a scheduling conflict.
“Sometimes I look at the refinery and say, wow! I am working here … “, launches Véronique Roy, under the laughter of five of her colleagues, including Vice-President Martine Péloquin.
“For the oldest of us, we were hired at the end of the 80s,” says M me Péloquin, the only woman to head a refinery in North America. “At the time, a manager (Gilles De Bellefeuille) favored the hiring of engineers because there were not many. With equal qualifications, he preferred a woman. ”
“It was he who gave us a chance, entrusted us with responsibilities and provided career opportunities,” adds Danielle Beaulieu, who was hired at the same time. “He said that a woman capable of managing both a family and a career could be able to do much,” adds Francine Marois.

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Atypical timetables

Seeing the proper functioning of a “big machine” like the refinery Jean-Gaulin, which operates 24 hours, seven days a week, is not at all rest. The schedules are atypical and the hours sometimes long. “We have big schedules, but today, with technology, you can solve problems without having to travel. But we always stay connected, “explains Martine Péloquin.
“You’re responsible all the time, even at night. If there is a problem, you can not stop the refinery. It’s not a schedule, it’s a responsibility, “says Veronique Roy.

Winning formula

Within the Valero Empire, which has about fifteen other refineries in the United States and England, this feminine preponderance to its only Quebec branch “arouses the interest of many people who are trying to understand,” says Martine Péloquin Who regularly visits the company’s headquarters in San Antonio, Texas.
At one time, Francine Marois reminds us that an American executive wondered whether the award-winning Saint-Romuald refinery “did not have the winning formula with all these women. It intrigued him so much. ”
“When you have meetings with the committees of other refineries, there are very few women,” confirms Beaulieu.
The very rare profile of the steering committee was not a problem or internal friction. Even when they cross to go to the refinery on the other side, “where there are just men”, they never feel that they are not in their place. “I would say that the reports are asexual, launches M me  Marois. Whether I’m talking to a guy or a girl, for me there’s no difference. ”
Respect is a cardinal value at Valero, insists Marie-Éve Métivier. “I have worked in traditionally male circles and here, there is a great respect for women. I believe it contributes to the success of the company. ”

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“Wonderful spouses” …

All of Valero’s leaders share the common point of being the mothers of two, three or even four children, which forces them to juggle most of the time with the eternal work-life balance.
In San Antonio, Texas Conservative, members of the steering committee, mostly men, do not have to worry about this problem, their spouses staying at home to take care of domestic stewardship. “We have wonderful partners …”, sneaks Veronique Roy, under a burst of collective laughter.
A situation that the four men of the steering committee also live, they say. Without forgetting all the other workers in the refinery, members of a generation that wants to see its children grow. “One of our managers even exchanges recipes with us …”, ends one of the engineers.

“Their success is theirs”

The preponderant presence of women on the management committee of the Valero Jean-Gaulin refinery is not the result of a specific “policy” but rather “the culmination of a quest for the” “Said Gilles De Bellefeuille, director of the firm’s technical services until his retirement last summer.
“The result is quite spectacular, but the change has been smooth. After a while, we realized that there was a significant female presence. It’s unique at Valero, “said the ex-executive in a telephone interview from Vancouver.
The one who acted as a mentor for several chemical engineers in the company said that many of them had the opportunity to showcase themselves during internships in the company. In his view, the “chemistry” of these hires had improved exchanges between the different levels of the company.
Under the advice of his wife, Mr. De Bellefeuille remembers having promoted a female candidate for a specific position. A decision he never regretted. “The candidate’s performance exceeded my expectations, so I did it again.” But above all, Valero’s engineers owe their appointment to their labors and skills. “Their success is what they did.”