The Training Page

Women’s Education—Women’s Empowerment

A Panel Discussion on Women’s Leadership


(Left to right) Yvonne Maddox (deputy director for NICHD), Susan Shurin (acting director for NHLBI), Belinda Seto (deputy director for NIBIB), and Janine Clayton (acting director for ORWH) shared their stories of being pioneers in a male-dominated scientific world.

Four of NIH’s accomplished women shared their stories about what it was like to be pioneers and fight for having it all–a career and a family: Yvonne Maddox, deputy director for NICHD; Susan Shurin, acting director for NHLBI; Belinda Seto, deputy director for NIBIB; and Janine Clayton, acting director for ORWH. Only 30 years ago, this panel might not have been possible: Women then were expected to be homemakers. It took many strong-willed women to rebel against tradition and carve a path for us all. Nowadays women are becoming increasingly involved in conventionally male-dominated fields such as science, engineering, and politics.“Educate a boy, and you educate an individual. Educate a woman, and you educate a community,” said NCCAM Director Josephine Briggs, who delivered the opening remarks for a NIH Women’s Leadership Panel Discussion entitled “Women’s Education—Women’s Empowerment,” held in observance of the 2012 Women’s History Month (March).

The panelists led us through their journeys of acquiring an education and the crucial people and events that shaped their career paths. A story shared by Maddox left a deep impression on me. She told us how she used to sleep in her office during graduate school and when her female mentor discovered that, she simply advised her to get used to it: Being a woman in science meant working harder than any man. Maddox followed the advice and worked hard to build a career that would give her a long-lasting satisfaction while also raising her family.

All panelists had accumulated their own pieces of wisdom to impart to the next generation of leaders, both men and women: Seek out many mentors and be a good mentee, be proactive, tackle the situation at hand, know what you want and go for it at your own pace, let the life you lead be of your creation, take calculated risks, adopt rigorous standards and always challenge yourself, and finally, be a generous mentor and teacher to others.

A true leader is one who learns from the difficulties to be overcome and turns them into victories, added Seto. Other advice also emerged from the panelists’ incredible personal stories: Don’t give up, don’t accept that something is impossible, be true to yourself, be your own advocate, be a good role model—you are one even if you don’t realize it. Shurin also reminded us that we must take responsibility if we really want to make a change.

I think that we, the women in the audience, all felt similarly that day—the times are changing. Some argue that women still need to work harder than men, but it is not as difficult as it once was, because we have a choice. It is up to us to take the challenge and in pursuit of a career, to become an integral part of a drive to shape a society that is tolerant of sex differences in any profession.