“Diversity is the only true thing we all have in common, so we should celebrate it,” said Dr. Yvonne Maddox, NICHD deputy director, who recently helped launch a staff seminar series sponsored by CSR’s new diversity committee.
“Yvonne is one of the spectacular success stories of NIH,” said Dr. Richard Nakamura, CSR director. “Her career and way of making progress are a great inspiration.”
Maddox titled her talk “Since Arriving: NIH Then and Now” and shared lessons she learned rising up the ranks at NIH.
In 1985, she joined NIGMS as a health scientist administrator. It wasn’t long before she was named chief of the institute’s physiology sciences section.
While at NIGMS, Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, former NIH deputy director, encouraged Maddox to apply to be NICHD’s deputy director. It was a big jump and Maddox had her doubts. “Even if you don’t get the job,” said Kirschstein,”you’ll have made a positive impression that you’re someone to look out for.”
In early 1995, Maddox got the job and came to enjoy it. In 2000, Kirschstein again encouraged her forward—asking her to become acting NIH deputy director.
Today, Maddox is well known for being a mentor to many. She encourages others to reach out to people who can guide and coach them. “Don’t just look for folks who look like you,” she said. “Get help from anybody you think can take you a step further in your career. Listen to advice and never be afraid to take chances. You may not always succeed, but if you don’t try, you will never get ahead.”
Maddox said one of the keys to having a successful career is to have a grounded and positive approach to work. “Who am I and how can I contribute?” are the questions every employee should ask. Maddox listed the pillars of her approach to success:
- Work from your strengths and set high expectations.
- Keep a sense of optimism.
- Make your own luck and find your own way to your dreams.
- Have an exceptional work ethic.
- Always see yourself as a role model.
Setting high expectations and pursuing them is not just a philosophy; it’s a way of life for Maddox. She has led major scientific advances related to women’s and children’s health, health disparities and underserved populations in America. She counts herself blessed for the way NIH embraced her from day one.
Maddox said much still needs to be done to increase diversity at NIH and in the extramural community. After mentioning some of NIH’s key diversity programs, she focused on what individuals can do:
- Value diversity. This value will reverberate to others.
- Embrace the diversity of your colleagues and together you will make each other better at what you do.
- Know that you can make a difference and use your abilities to do it.
She is heartened by the increased attention NIH is giving to advancing diversity. “I have seen what NIH can do when it sets its mind to it,” she said. “I am hopeful.”