#MOMBOSS: 5 Career Lessons From Working Mothers


The discussion of whether women can “have it all” seems to be never-ending.

A simple Google search will reveal thousands of articles, all providing advice on how to achieve that ever elusive work-life balance.

For the ambitious university woman, it can sometimes be daunting having to confront that question, with the overwhelming number of opinions and resources in front of her. That’s why this Mother’s Day, we decided shine a spotlight on five Canadian women who have successfully risen to the top of their respective fields, while raising children at the same time.

Each of them serves as an example to all women out there; that you can have a family and be ambitious all at once.

1) Christine Magee, Co-founder and President of Sleep Country Canada

Christine founded Sleep Country Canada in 1994. At the time, she had already spent a decade within the Financial Services industry and held a senior position at the National Bank to Canada.

It wasn’t easy for her to leave the banking world to sell mattresses. Her peers had a lot of opinions when she chose to leave a very safe and respected position to become a mattress and pillow entrepreneur.

Despite her early struggles, she still firmly believed that, “the experience of starting my own business was going to be beneficial regardless of the outcome.” Her co-founder, Gord Lownds, also said, “I was convinced that she wasn’t a lifelong banker because she had more entrepreneurial spirit than I would expect in a banker.”

Christine’s first child was born three years after Sleep Country Canada began, the same year the company’s 50th store opened.

At the 2013 Leading Moms Conference, Christine commented on the experience of building a brand at the same time as building a family. As a busy entrepreneur, and the face of the Sleep Country brand, Christine also recalled many occasions where she had to balance both roles simultaneously, such as when she did a radio interview whilst cradling her newborn daughter.

Despite this, Christine says that motherhood was “eye-opening” for her and that, “children have a way of teaching you about yourself.” Of her family, she says, “If I were to be successful at business and not to be a good mum, then honestly, I truly have failed.”

The Lesson: Don’t let negative voices discourage you from achieving your goals. If you have an idea for something great, take the risk and invest in yourself. You never know where your dreams can take you!

2) Jeanne Beker, Television personality, fashion designer, columnist

Jeanne Beker is a Canadian television host and fashion designer with a career spanning more than 20 years across fashion, entertainment, and creative media. A graduate of York University’s theatre program, she started her career as an actress,later became an Arts and Entertainment Reporter for CBC before going on to host Fashion Television.

So, after such a long and diverse career, how does Jeanne stay motivated?

“Drive. No, overdrive,” she says. “When you’ve got a passion, it’s exhausting yes, and you’re spent, but it’s exhilarating at the same time. I’m not stopping anytime soon. I always say if you think you’ve arrived, it’s probably time to leave.”

Jeanne’s mother was one of her biggest inspirations and their relationship was characterized by a mutual appreciation for grooming and fashion. In a way, Jeanne’s career, in addition to establishing herself as a force in the fashion world, has also acted as a way for her to communicate the same love to her daughters, by passing on lessons she learned from her work, as her mother did for her.

“I marvel each time I see Bekky and Joey, drinking in every nuance of their expressive style voices, savouring their unique tambours and relishing the way their fashion sense continues to grow. Sometimes, I’ll go to them for style advice. And I often wonder what they think of me… and whether they can see any of the things in me that I saw — am still blessed to see — in my own stylish mother.” – Jeanne Beker

The Lesson: Pursuing your dream career is never easy – it takes hard work, dedication, and creativity to be successful. But, if you’re not challenging yourself, you’re limiting the potential for your own growth.

3) Leslie O’Donoghue, Executive VP of Corporate Development and Strategy and Chief Risk Officer at Agrium, Inc.

Leslie has been honoured numerous times with awards for female leadership and initiative. In fact, she’s been named one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women four times since 2009! For years she has provided encouragement, mentorship, and opportunities to other women in her executive role, having founded and established the Agrium Women’s Leadership Group.

A Calgary native, Leslie has a background in law; in 1999 she was a partner at national law firm of Blake, Cassles & Graydon LLP. As of today, she also serves as the chair of Community Impact Committee, a member of the Pembina Pipeline Corporation Board of Directors, and as a member of Queen’s Law Dean’s Council at Queen’s University. She currently resides in Calgary with her husband and two teenage sons.

She has noted that women often face difficulties when it comes to taking chances in their careers, and she speaks from experience. However, she has learned that the key to success is knowing that it won’t come easy.

“Sometimes you need the confidence to step out and be okay with being a little bit uncomfortable,” says Leslie.“ With hard work, you will find that you can do something just as well as the next person.” She continues: “It is also important to have the right support systems, people and culture around you to help you succeed.”

The Lesson: You don’t have to do everything by yourself! In fact, the most successful people understand that having the right team around can help take you to places you never thought you could reach on your own.

4) Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of MaRS

After graduating with a D.Phil in chemistry from Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, Ilse launched numerous emerging technology companies before joining MaRS in 2005.

Ilse is married to former University of Toronto President David Naylor, with whom she has several children. She has spoken extensively about the challenges women face in the fields of entrepreneurship, innovation, and venture capital, lamenting that archaic attitudes and restrictive workplace policies were ‘misaligned with the reality of women’s lives.’

For instance, she recalls being hired to work at a startup while pregnant. She received a promotion before her due date, and at the time, was forced to bring her newborn to work in order to care for her child.

This type of work environment has “huge implications for women founders that are trying to build businesses,” says Ilse. She encourages women to be ambitious, but to avoid toxic workplaces, and to remember that their time is valuable. She herself admits that motherhood was a valuable lesson for her, in learning ‘not to sweat the small stuff.’ She urges young women to make meaningful, involved choices in their life, whether in regards to family or career, and to not be “a spectator” in their own lives.

The Lesson: Learning to say “no” is something many young women struggle with, but it’s an important thing to master early on in your career. Don’t let the pangs of guilt dictate your life – say ‘yes’ only to the things you enjoy or can help you develop personally and/or professionally.

5) Sabrina Geremia, Managing Director of Integrated Solutions, Google Canada

Having studied at both the University of Pavia, in Italy, and Wilfred Laurier University, Sabrina began her impressive career at Proctor & Gamble in Rome for five years, where she had the opportunity to learn about marketing and brand management.

Since then, she has spent 18 years working in global marketing, PR, sales, and management across traditional and new media industries – seven of those years have been spent at Google Canada.

Sabrina is passionate about diversity efforts at Google, particularly in the area of integrating women into tech. Aside from founding Women@Google Canada and the G(irls)20 advisory, she has openly called integrating women into tech her “20% project.” This is an overall strategy at Google, where employees spend 20% of their time working on something not included in their job description.

She has stated that one of the top three challenges women leaders face is “balancing demanding leadership positions at home and at work.” She believes technological literacy may be a way to combat this challenge.

“This discussion is often framed around “having it all”, but I prefer to focus on how you do it,” says Sabrina. “How you manage your schedule. How you find the right help. How do you say no. How you bring your partner into the equation. How you integrate work and family demands.”

Since motherhood, Sabrina has admitted that time prioritization is important to her. She encourages other women to value their time highly, and engage in what she calls ‘minute mentorship’ – in other words, openly asking for advice and mentorship in short opportunities, rather than waiting to feel prepared or confident. For Sabrina, a big part of work-life balance is learning how to be in the moment.

“When I’m with my kids, I put technology away and focus on just being with them,” says Sabrina. “Technology is like another person in the room, so I try to be aware of that when I’m around my children. Once my kids are in bed, I usually hop back online and work.”

The Lesson: Even if you’re not a mother, there will always be times when you have multiple priorities competing for your attention. Multitasking can seem like a quick fix, but it often leads to increased stress and reduced productivity. Instead, focus on limiting the distractions around you so you can focus on the task at hand.

These women worked hard to reach the top of their individual careers, and balanced motherhood to boot! While you might be a long way off from having kids of your own, there is nothing like some motherly advice to help get you motivated to achieve your dreams.