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François Plourde invests in the future of women in engineering at Concordia

‘When you put different approaches together at a table, you come up with amazing solutions,’ says the former CIMA+ CEO
August 3, 2023
By Sandra Evoughlian

Portrait of a man smiling at the camera, wearing a black blazer over a white dress shirt and black bow tie François Plourde: “Issues such as climate change and resource depletion bring challenges, and who better than engineers to solve them?”

François Plourde, BEng 84, has always been driven to give back to the community — and his motivations for doing so have only continued to grow over the course of his lifetime.

Upon his retirement in 2022, the former CEO and president of CIMA+ engineering company created the François Plourde Scholarships for Women in Engineering and EDI Programming at the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science. Backed by a career that has spanned nearly four decades, and the acumen of a forward-thinking builder, Plourde’s $100,000 gift to the Campaign for Concordia is a pledge to support the next generation of women in engineering.

‘The strengths of diversity and inclusion’

Adopted at birth at a time when forced adoption was common, Plourde was forever moved by the compassion of his adoptive parents. They taught him and his adoptive brother the value of exposure to multiple worldviews — an experience reinforced during his years as a student at Concordia and a tenet that he adhered to as he progressed from classroom to boardroom.

“I learned quickly that diversity is important, even at an early age. It was one of the principles in growing the firm — seeing the strengths of diversity and inclusion,” says Plourde.

He joined CIMA+ in 1989, became a member of the executive committee in 1996, and served as vice-president of Transportation from 2000 until his appointment to president and CEO in 2014. During that 14-year period, Plourde expanded the department from 50 to 450 employees across Canada.

“Back in 2000, there were around 50 partners. I was the first to integrate a woman as a partner in my division. Now, 30 per cent of the partnership is women,” he says. Today, CIMA+ stands as one of Canada’s largest private consulting engineering firms, and just this year, was the first in the industry to receive the Women in Governance Parity Certification.

Relative to the general population, women are vastly underrepresented in engineering. According to Engineers Canada’s 2022 National Membership Report, women accounted for 14.4 per cent of total national membership and 19.8 per cent of newly-licensed engineers in Canada in 2021. Plourde wants to help change that.

“When you put different approaches together at a table, you come up with amazing solutions,” he says. “Gender and cultural diversity lead to a better performing and more open company, which is also very important for younger generations.”

Group photo of the CIMA+ board of directors in 2022 Plourde, far right, stands next to Gina Cody, MEng 81, PhD 89, and other members of the CIMA+ board of directors at its 2022 annual general meeting.

‘It’s in my DNA to give back’

Plourde remains grateful for the opportunity to pursue a Concordia degree, and the doors that opened as a result. “I consider myself privileged. Giving back was a priority for me during all those years as a junior engineer, project engineer, VP and CEO of the firm — among all the recognition and accomplishments,” he says.

“I had the chance of being adopted by amazing parents. They gave me compassion and love. How could I do something similar? It’s in my DNA to give back in the same way that I received.”

Knowing first-hand the impact of higher education, Plourde was also influenced by Gina Cody, MEng 81, PhD 89, who, in 2018, made a $15-million gift to Concordia’s Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science. In recognition of Cody’s generosity and accomplishments, the faculty was renamed in her honour. In 2021, Cody joined the CIMA+ board of directors.

“She is an inspiring woman and there is tremendous respect for her among engineers,” says Plourde. “It was a huge recognition for our firm and her contributions to the industry.”

‘Engineers have a big job’

From his service as a member of the Gina Cody School Advisory Board since 2017 to his latest gift, Plourde is committed to cultivating the next generation of engineers at his alma mater. His hope is that the François Plourde Scholarships will encourage more women from all backgrounds to enter the field.

“Engineers have a big job. In the next several decades, we should be taking ownership of solutions. Issues such as climate change and resource depletion bring challenges, and who better than engineers to solve them?”

With a sense of responsibility for the future, Plourde is convinced that in the coming years, engineers will be key to tackling the major environmental concerns facing the planet. Whether in academia or industry, he believes that broad perspectives and a global outlook are necessary in developing solutions for tomorrow.

He credits his sons, aged 30 and 32, as his benchmarks for reality. “They made me a better man. Now, I am the grandfather of two grandsons. You cannot just close your eyes. You must do your part,” Plourde adds.

“For me, philanthropy is something that is natural. I want to make a difference.”

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