Canada’s First Maternity Leave Program Invests in Mothers
By: Jenn Wint
Whether you’re a first time Mom or having baby number three, leaving your workplace, your career and
your professional identity can be challenging. Maternity leave isn’t a vacation, it’s a full–time job. And
often, once you start to figure motherhood out there’s a new transition, back to your previous role, but
with added full time responsibilities as a working mother. There’s crucial identity shift — both personally
and professionally — that happens during the transitions into and out of maternity leave.
Jen Murtagh and Sonja Baikogli Foley each struggled with the transition out of their C–Suite leadership
positions. Both high achievers and ambitious professionals, it was a shock to suddenly live in sweatpants
and care for babies who couldn’t speak back to them. These experiences led them to creating Maturn,
Canada’s first comprehensive maternity leave program. The program offers first of its kind resources,
tools, overdue support and expert advice delivered to expectant and new mothers.
We got the chance to learn from Jen and Sonja’s lived experiences and hear how they created Maturn as
well as share their visions for the futures of working mothers.
How does the Maturn program work?
SONJA: Maturn works with women before, during and after maternity leave. It begins from the moment
you find out you’re expecting whether you’re a birthing mother or not. The tools, frameworks and
systems ensure a mother’s career stays on track while supporting their personal wellbeing and the
formative experiences of early motherhood.
Maturn can be initiated by a woman on her own or through her organisation. We offer organisations a
concrete way to advance gender equity and retain and grow talent by developing long–term investment
strategies in mothers, rooted in evidence and lived experience. Corporate programs build inclusive and
equitable organizational cultures by supporting mothers throughout the maternity leave lifecycle and
through their transition back to work. We are excited to have SAP Canada as one of our founding
partners whose employees are being offered the Maturn program right now.
JEN: The program is a hybrid model with many ways of participation. A combination of online and live
interactive pieces make it easy to accommodate a new mother’s fluctuating schedule. The program
includes guest expert videos, extensive workbooks, resources and monthly live coaching calls. There’s
also a community forum where mothers can connect.
One of the most common words in our research and focus groups was ‘isolation’ when women
described maternity leave. So, an important component of the program is a platform to bring mothers
together to share, post, contribute, comment and facilitate real and raw conversations. Maturn offers a
safe and supported environment to facilitate those conversations new mothers are craving.
Q: What are your professional backgrounds?
SONJA: We both come from corporate backgrounds, jobs we felt really connected to and that played a
strong role in how we defined ourselves. I have 15+ years of diverse experience in non–profit, public and
private organizations and have always been drawn towards impact–driven work. I’ve participated in the
United Nations, served as a board of director on the YWCA Canada Board, and was appointed to a Police
Board. Most recently I led a municipal intergovernmental relations and strategic partnerships team until
I turned my focus to Maturn. In addition, I have two young kids under 5 so there’s a lot on my plate!
JEN: I have over two decades of experience in both corporate and non–profit and have raised millions for
national campaigns on anti–bullying, vulnerable youth, and advanced gender equity through my work
with a variety of women’s organizations. I am a Business in Vancouver ‘Forty Under 40’ Award Winner
and Greater Vancouver Board of Trade ‘Women of Promise.’ I’m also a mother and step–mother to four
kids. It’s a busy house but I love it.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Maturn?
JEN: Maturn was inspired by my own struggles with maternity leave. During that time, I tried to make
connections with other women about how challenging motherhood was and I was met with a lot of
blank stares. I felt like the only one who missed my job and found it hard being home with a baby that
cried a lot. I felt really lost. And then I struggled again on the return to work. My maternity replacement
was a man that everyone in the office had grown to love. My inner critic got really loud but I pushed it
down and buried it. I’ve thought about my experience so much over last few years and wanted to find a
way to support mothers and offer them a different experience than I’d had. I knew I couldn’t do this
alone, so I reached out to Sonja and that’s when Maturn became what it is now.
SONJA: I was on maternity leave when Jen called and I jumped at the chance to have the conversation. I
was immediately invested in what this program could look like and the impact it could have. Naptimes
suddenly became very busy and I became very passionate about what we could create.
Q: What is the Motherhood Penalty and have you personally experienced it?
JEN: The Motherhood Penalty, also referred to as the Motherhood Tax, is the professional punishment
women experience after having a child. In addition to the 12% decrease in earnings, mothers are 8.2
times less likely to be promoted. Mothers can be perceived as less committed, less invested in their
careers. Before women shatter the glass ceiling, they must climb the maternal wall. Success involves
having to prove themselves twice as much as before.
Q: What is important for Mothers to know before they leave their job to begin maternity leave?
JEN: Maternity leave and the years surrounding it represent the largest single point that women off
ramp from organizations, and generally with the birth of the first child. Often that’s not because women
want to be stay at home moms. It’s because of all the other things in place that make it difficult to
return to work. Women think they can’t do it and there’s no one to normalize that juggle. For me I felt
very isolated, like I was the only one going through the experience. It would have been helpful to have a
forum and support system. Or a structure that could anticipate those challenges ahead of time so I could
SONJA: Planning ahead is key. You don’t know what you don’t know so it’s nice to have a prompt and a
checklist of paperwork to look into, things to research and women to lean on. Developing a transition
plan and knowing the questions to ask around vacation accrued while on leave, health benefits,
budgeting etc can make a huge impact to the confidence of a women entering motherhood.
Q: As working mothers who went through two maternity leaves each, what supports would you have
SONJA: A community of other parents to connect with and learn from would have been so valuable.
JEN: I wish I had had mentors or that women spoke more openly about not only the challenges but the
solutions for some of the issues we face. I don’t want any more women to feel that isolation.
Q: What does it mean to have the support of a global company like SAP?
SONJA: It means a lot to have SAP on board. It’s proof the world is ready to deliberately invest in
mothers and really commit to their equity, diversity and inclusion efforts instead of just tokenism. If a
large global tech firm is so eager and willing to put their mothers through this program, that gets me
excited. That says we’re on our way. We have received such positive feedback from most organisations
we’ve met with; they’ve been waiting for a program or tool like this, to make it easy for them.
JEN: Having such an influential company as a founding partner shows us we’re heading in the right
direction. There’s an appetite from organisations to do their part for their female team members. They
understand the benefits this will have on their business.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing working mothers?
SONJA: Our work forces, our systems, our organisations are not compatible with having children. We
penalize mothers for having babies which doesn’t make sense because we need our populations to
grow. The success of our future depends on mothers continuing to bring babies into this world, yet
they’re not supported. We don’t create space in our society for women to thrive when they become
mothers and that’s what the motherhood penalty shows. Women with children earn on average 12%
less than their childless counterpart while research shows a 6% ‘fatherhood bonus’ because men with
children are perceived to be more competent and more committed to their careers.
That gender equity piece is really motivating because this program is the first in Canada that could really
change the whole narrative around maternity leave. Instead of rejecting the reality of what will always
be, that women will have babies, we should embrace it and make the best of it so that women can
continue to contribute to our workforces and the labour shortage that exists in Canada.
Q: Do you have tips for how working mothers can prepare themselves to be out of the workforce, on mat leave, if their hope is to continue an upwards career trajectory?
JEN: I believe it’s about coming to an understanding around new measures of success. For me
personally, I’ve had to look at the ways I’m going to show up to value myself as an individual, as a
mother and as a leader. Previously, most of my value came from production, either producing at work or
at home, being a mom. There was very little value I derived from myself. We need to redefine what
success looks like for a woman and understand that what’s important can change throughout a woman’s
life and her career.
SONJA: Unrealistic expectations of maternity leave and capacity upon return are damaging in the long
run to both working mothers and their employers. We can change this through planning,
communication and support systems.
Q: What is your vision for the next generation of working mothers?
JEN: Many maternity leaves are announced by saying “whoops, I’m pregnant” or “sorry I’m expecting.” It
shouldn’t be like that. We want to empower women to take back ownership of their transition and
celebrate their choices. Maturn offers the tools to plan and prepare, not to apologize. Whether you’re
going through pregnancy, surrogacy or an adoption process – motherhood is a universal experience and
we can all support one another.
SONJA: If you want to build inclusive workplaces you need to make sure you have everyone at the table,
including mothers. This means you must look at structures, policies, procedures that are in place that
prevent mothers from participating. If you have an 8am Monday team check–in and daycare opens at
8am, that’s going to be a challenging time for Mother’s to participate. Organisations need to recognize
these barriers and ensure they’re inclusive and that everyone can be at the table.
The reason we built the training program for People Leaders is because the onus shouldn’t be only on
mothers. We can’t just expect mothers to take Maturn and come out stronger. We have to bring
everyone up and we need to support organisations and HR managers who don’t have experience and
the understanding to navigate the before, during and after maternity leave.
Q: What has motherhood taught you?
SONJA: I’ve learned that letting go is a beautiful thing. When you’re attached to outcomes and
expectations it can really hinder your ability to be present Motherhood is such an intense experience.
Everything is about the baby, not about you. I wish I had known that it was okay to let go of some things to
be present for myself so I can be the best person for myself, my partner and my child.
JEN: I’ve learned self compassion; that love is a greater motivator than fear. For a long time, I was
motivated by fear and continually proving myself. I’ve shifted my approach and speak to myself in a
different way and as a result I’m more motivated than ever. When we’re constantly driven by guilt and
not being enough for the people we love, we burnout. Self compassion is essential. Let yourself be in it
and love yourself through it. Motherhood is a radical new relationship with yourself.
Q: How do expectant mothers and organisations learn more about Maturn?
SONJA: You can visit our website www.maturn.com to learn more or connect with us on social media
JEN: Expectant mothers can download a free Maternity Leave Transition Plan at www.maturn.com/join