Washington Update

ACD Receives Updates on NIH Diversity Efforts

By: Jacqueline Robinson-Hamm and France-Elvie Banda
Wednesday, June 22, 2022
On June 10, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) received updates on two efforts focused on increasing diversity and inclusivity in the scientific workforce. First, NIH’s progress on its diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) strategic plan was highlighted. Currently, NIH is refining the strategic plan framework, selecting content, and drafting the strategic plan. The final strategic plan is expected to be released this summer. 

Second, the ACD heard about the UNITE initiative. Each committee presented background information and notable projects. Particularly relevant for extramural scientists are projects from the U, T, and E committees.

The U committee, focused on understanding elements that perpetuate structural racism, shared themes that emerged from 14 listening sessions held between December 2021 and February 2022.  Summaries of the individual listening sessions can be found on the UNITE events webpage. Overall, listening session participants shared their perception of systemic inequalities across the biomedical research ecosystem and NIH funding structures disadvantaging scientists from historically excluded backgrounds. Participant feedback highlighted the lack of resources for infrastructure and capacity building in most grant mechanisms as a compounding barrier to already existing funding inequities. Proposed solutions focused on the institutional and community levels. Suggestions included increased NIH investment in more health disparities and community-based participatory research studies and training, as well as grant application mentorship between R1 and small institutions. 

Charged with ensuring transparency of UNITE efforts, the T committee emphasized accomplishments thus far in 2022 to the ACD. NIH’s Ending Structural Racism webpages house a variety of resources to keep the community abreast of UNITE progress. Newly launched this year is the UNITE Co-Chairs’ Corner, where monthly blogs are posted to continue communications with the scientific workforce outside of ACD meetings. The committee also pointed to updated racial and ethnic demographic data found via the UNITE Data Dashboard.

NIH extramural policies and processes are the focal point of the E committee, which informed ACD of priority areas with implementation teams currently working to launch new programs and policies. A key area of interest for extramural scientists is the E committee’s plan to incorporate additional diversity and mentor training language into parent training grant and individual fellowship funding opportunity announcements. To help combat the minority tax, the E committee is creating Excellence in DEIA Investigator’s Grants to provide research and mentoring grants to principal investigators who have demonstrated excellence in promoting DEIA in biomedical research. Promoting healthy work environments is also of key pertinence. A newly planned program is being developed to grant institutions support to conduct objective climate assessments, perform self-studies of the results, and develop action plans to create positive culture change.