TH E   N I H    C A T A L Y S T     S E P T E M B E R  –  O C T O B E R   2008


From the Deputy Director for Intramural Research

Improving the Intramural Environment for Women Scientists

DDIR Michael Gottesman

In January 2007, Dr. Elias Zerhouni charged a committee of senior NIH scientists and science-administrators to formulate recommendations to facilitate careers for women in biomedical research. This was partially in response to a National Academy of Sciences report from a committee chaired by former DHHS Secretary Donna Shalala that pointed out the clear under-representation of women in many branches of science, including medical research, and partially in response to growing concern within the NIH that not enough was being done to foster career development of women in science.

I was asked to co-chair with Joan Schwartz, Assistant Director for Intramural Research, a subcommittee of the "NIH Working Group on Women in Biomedical Careers," which focused on changing the NIH work culture and improving the recruitment, retention and advancement of women at the NIH. We have had an outstanding group of intramural scientists and NIH leadership to help us identify areas of concern and develop workable solutions. The impediments we identified to successful careers for women at the NIH included:

Many of these problems reflect a necessity to change the culture at NIH to respect the needs of not only women but also all staff with personal responsibilities outside of the workplace. Dr. Zerhouni initiated this call for a culture change when he issued a statement entitled "Enhancing the Work Culture at NIH," which you should have received via e-mail on July 23, 2008, about the importance of respecting family and personal responsibilities and making the NIH a model family-friendly workplace.

In addition, several tangible steps were taken to address the issues listed above, which I think are an excellent start. These include:

Obviously, this is a work in progress and additional steps will be taken to improve the situation for daycare on and off campus, including the construction of a new daycare facility as soon as funding is available. Additional steps to enable spousal recruitments, to disseminate information about workplace flexibilities, and to provide back-up childcare are in progress.

I describe some of these initiatives in the May 2008 edition of the DDIR web board, archived at Joan Schwartz describes them in even greater detail at a forum at Lipsett Amphitheater on June 2 called "Initiatives to Promote Scientific Success in the NIH Intramural Program" with Drs. Raynard Kington and Vivian Pinn, archived at

Please send me additional ideas so that we can make more progress in ensuring successful careers for women scientists at the NIH.

—Michael Gottesman, DDIR

[Editor's note: See also the March-April 2008 Catalyst article, "Bias Against Women in Science: It's Still There, and It's Got to Go." The 2006 NAS Report, "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering," is available at]


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This page last updated on October 1, 2008, by Christopher Wanjek