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Akhila Satish Headshot

The Women Who Have It All

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SCIENCE WOMEN
Thomas Tolstrup via Getty Images

There are a thousand seemingly obvious contradictions we throw at girls and women every day. We ask our daughters to shatter glass ceilings and dream big in the same breath that we caution them to be polite and respectful and not too aggressive. We fill their lives with princesses and play kitchens even as we remind them to study hard and get good grades and be independent.

Yet out of this foggy, commentary filled landscape, there is a group of women who break free. They are beautiful, brilliant, and unapologetic about their choices. These women are the scientists -- and because of their training, they see things differently.

Science is a rigorous, demanding discipline. To be a great scientist, you have to be balance between paradigms every single day. You have to be intellectually curious and passionate about new knowledge -- while staying patient through days of repetitive experiments. You have to restrain from making logical leaps and analyze each piece of data critically, but be willing to pursue a bold, game changing hypothesis tirelessly. It is a careful tightrope walk that over years of study becomes a sophisticated pattern of thinking. In many ways, this tightrope journey resembles the juggling we imprint on girls and women.

Over the past year, I have had the privilege of working with Women in the Healthcare and Life Sciences to create The Science Runway. The Science Runway is a catalog of stories of women who have excelled in health care and the life sciences. The concept is to use the stories to motivate and inspire young girls to join the industry.

As part of these efforts, we spent months reaching out to hundreds of relevant women. In deeply personal, candid interviews, women opened up and shared their journeys with us. We asked them to share their stories the way they might with a fifteen year old girl beginning her journey into science.

The interviews provide a unfiltered look at a group of women who work in varied roles, but share a way of thinking. They speak passionately about the future of science and their future ambitions. They share stories from their childhood and speak about favorite teachers. They are cognizant of their past, but curious for the future.

They share their choices around families in a clear and frank manner. Proud mothers bring their children into the interview in every possible way -- from mentioning the children's books that they are reading to keep up with their kids to joyfully stating that their kids are their inspiration. In one memorable interview, one role model, after sharing stories about her career that left me in awe of her strength, grace and courage, paused to mention that actually, her husband was her hero because he always motivated and encouraged her to pursue her latest career goals. Another role model spoke candidly about her choice not to marry, to not have kids. She was frank, and very clear that it was not something she felt pressured into -- it was something she truly wanted.

These women are multifaceted individuals in a revolutionary way. They speak lightheartedly about their love of chocolate, Downton Abbey, and People magazine. You can feel their comfort and knowledge when they start discussing genetics or nanotechnology or the new scientific innovation they are excited about. They discuss their challenges -- from battling imposter syndrome to failing college chemistry classes.

One of our boldest questions was to ask the women about a fashion tip that they could share. It is a provocative question to ask a professional woman -- particularly with the knowledge that the answer would be catalogued online permanently. While a few balked, I was amazed by the energetic answers that emerged. These are women who aren't afraid to be brilliant or to be women. In a country where stock prices still shift over a tech executive posing on the cover of a fashion magazine, these women were beautifully unapologetic. They wanted little girls to know that they still wore heels, even though they worked behind a research bench. They wanted little girls to know that they did get to wear bold colors and prints to work, and they still loved jewelry.

These women see an opportunity where others see a juggling act and contradictions. They don't compromise, and they are all the more powerful for it. They are politicians, surgeons, genetic counselors, executives, researchers, entrepreneurs, small business owners and journalists. They win Nobel Prizes, run for Congress and chair global organizations.

The women in health care and life sciences are using their lives and successes to prove the boldest hypothesis of all: women can have it all, and scientific education for our girls might just be the key to that dream.

To learn more, please visit www.thesciencerunway.com or follow @sciencerunway on Twitter.