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August 15, 2012The appointment of Marissa Mayer as Yahoo!’s new CEO sparked many conversations—including on Catalyzing and MARC. Adding one more voice to the mix, today we’re featuring Catalyst’s Cheryl Yanek, who highlights an important parallel between moms who are professional athletes and those climbing the corporate ladder.

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The challenges of motherhood—late nights caring for a baby, daytime rituals thrown off balance—no doubt create difficulties for serious athletes who normally participate in long hours of training, healthy eating, and the many hours of sleep critical for success.

Yet motherhood doesn’t stop talented women athletes, as we saw most recently in the 2012 Olympic medalists.

One count had thirteen mothers competing in London for the USA Olympic Team. Kerri Walsh Jennings spent much of the past four years (since winning Gold in Beijing) away from the beach volleyball court only to win a gold in London with her beach volleyball partner, Misty May-Treanor. Lashinda Demus, who took 2007 off to give birth to twin boys, came back for a silver medal in the 200 meters with a time of 52.77. And we can’t forget Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi, who participated in the 2012 Olympic Games in the 10-meter air rifle competition eight months pregnant.

London Olympians are not alone in combining motherhood with their passion. World record holder for the women’s marathon, Paula Radcliffe, won the NYC Marathon just eleven months after giving birth to her daughter. Three weeks after giving birth, Dara Torres set a world swimming record at the Masters Nationals. Liza Howard, one of the top ultramarathoners in the world regularly winning 100-mile, 100-kilometer, and 50-mile races, even named her blog “Liza Howard: Ultrarunning Mom.” You get the idea—these women have all succeeded in combining professional athleticism and the challenges of motherhood.

If these women can be at the top of their game as athletes, why do critics still doubt the ability of women to combine their careers with being mothers? Thus far, pregnancy hasn’t dented the career of Marissa Mayer, the first pregnant women to be named CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Most of our Fortune 500 CEOs—men and women alike—are parents. What’s the big deal? Yet one study found that given identical resumes, a mother is 79% less likely to be hired and 100% less likely to be promoted.

Leading companies understand the value of hiring, developing, and retaining women who are mothers. Just like award-winning female athletes, the sky is the limit for talented working moms.

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Cheryl Yanek, Senior Associate Librarian, leads the Catalyst Global Issue Specialty Team and the Twitter Team. Cheryl is an ultramarathon runner and race director of the Black Rock City 50k, a 50 kilometer foot race in Nevada. She has an MLS in Library and Information Science from Queens College and an MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University.