To highlight the contributions of women who innovate every day and dare to break the rules, this article is part of our portrait series on some of our inspiring creative leaders.
Strong leaders often embody character traits that, on paper, may seem contrasting. This is certainly true of Isabelle Brosseau. She’s compassionate but resolute, supportive yet independent, open to ideas and still sure of her own. This equilibrium has well-lit her journey to becoming VP Creative.
Isabelle was born in Montreal’s South Shore to a family of civil servants. Realists, she refers to them, a spark in her eye. “My parents always directed us towards fields where there were openings for employment; it took me a while to realize that my temperament was more of a dreamer.” With her parent’s advice in mind, Isabelle studied Infographics in school, an industry ripe with opportunities. When an internship opened at a small downtown agency called Diesel, she applied and was accepted.
During her internship at what would eventually rearrange itself into Sid Lee, Isabelle glued herself to the agency’s only Infographist and worked restaurant jobs on weekends to stay afloat. She left at the end of the contract. For good, she thought. But a year or so later when Sid needed an Infographist for 3 weeks she agreed to fill in—and 3 weeks became 20 years. Isabelle grew to Brand Director, then Lead Creative Producer, Executive Creative Manager, and finally: VP Creation.
When asked if she always had leadership qualities, a core memory bubbles up: counting the timing during figure skating choreography as a pre-teen. The skating rink is where Isabelle spent most of her childhood, and where she established herself as someone who could lead. “I had a strong voice, so I think that helped. But there was something more to it. I just knew that my timing was tight, I felt that I could lead.”
A feeling of belonging is central to Isabelle’s story. At school, she wasn’t the girl on every committee, or class president, or even in any theater productions. But the figure skating world gave her the foundation to become herself. Perhaps it’s this that inspired Isabelle’s commitment to making Sid Lee a workplace where people feel safe enough to thrive. “Every morning I tell myself that happy people make good work,” she says. This philosophy was central to helping the agency navigate COVID-19 and emerge on the other end as a hybrid workplace.
Isabelle has two words of advice for young women in the industry. The first: don’t stay in your corner. “I’m not an expert, but I do think it’s a feminine behaviour to hesitate to ask for help. To be as self-reliant as possible. But not being able to do something by yourself is not a sign of weakness...you must trust yourself to trust others.” Her second piece of advice is to give everything 2 years. This will empower you to say yes to opportunities without being burdened by an intimidating timeline. If the decision aligns with you, 2 years can become 4, 8…maybe even 20.
Nowadays Isabelle spends her free time in the place that still feels like home: the figure skating arena. But now she’s there in a different role: a Board Chair to her daughter’s organization. “It’s not me who pushed her!” Isabelle laughs, “I think it was in her DNA.” Her mornings and evenings in the arena are spent alongside people from all industries: education, IT, government workers. It helps her keep things in perspective; to see the city around her as a whole.
“I feel really lucky. I think that if we have a good life, we have the responsibility to give back a little bit. Without judging those who lack time, I feel this my responsibility. That’s why I do it.”
Isabelle Brosseau may be lucky. But with her as VP Creative, so are we.