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February 9, 2023
Celebrating and Accelerating UNITE’s Progress
UNITE Co-Chairs’ Corner
As we approach the two-year mark since the official launch of UNITE and the first anniversary of the Co-Chairs’ Corner, it is a pleasure to reflect on and share UNITE’s progress thus far. We extend our sincere gratitude to all the committed volunteers who embraced UNITE wholeheartedly over the past two years and made it the most far-reaching effort to address racial and ethnic equity at the NIH.
We started this blog a year ago to provide monthly updates on UNITE activities and progress, with most posts written so eloquently by the co-chairs of UNITE’s five committees. We are now shifting the format to highlight recent actions UNITE has taken toward its focus area goals.
2022 UNITE Activities and Achievements
Last year was transformative for UNITE. We began 2022 by wrapping up our stakeholder listening sessions and launching the Co-Chairs’ Corner. Then NIH expanded the NIH Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) Program, heightening its focus on K-12 STEM and projects that generate resources to increase career opportunities for underrepresented groups while conducting more outreach and engagement with institutions that have a demonstrated or historical commitment to or track record of training students from underrepresented groups. In the spring, we were encouraged to see four concepts approved by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences and the National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities that will hopefully soon become funding opportunity announcements.
We ended the year with a presentation to the Advisory Committee to the Director in December, which described additional UNITE accomplishments, including a summary of the inaugural UNITE progress report. We also shared progress on these four focus areas:
- Focus Area 1: Elevating Health Disparities and Minority Health Research. Activities include evaluating trends in new NIH funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) related to minority health and health disparities. Data from 2018–2022 show an increase in these FOAs and focus on these topics across NIH ICs. Future analyses will examine the number of applications received in response to such FOAs, the number of awards made, and the prominent themes of these FOAs.
- Focus Area 2: Promoting Equity in the NIH-supported Biomedical Research Ecosystem. Work supporting this goal includes requiring NIH awardees to establish codes of conduct as part of the terms and conditions of receiving funding. Funded organizations will need to establish and articulate codes of conduct that ensure work environments are safe, free of discriminatory harassment, and aligned with UNITE’s core principles.
- Focus Area 3: Promoting Equity in the Internal NIH Workforce. Major efforts include significant changes to the NIH Director’s Awards to ensure that the accomplishments of staff at all levels and across all workforces are recognized and celebrated. Also, skills development opportunities will now include specialized training for staff at the GS-11 and lower levels.
- Focus Area 4: Improving the Accuracy and Transparency of Racial and Ethnic Equity Data. Progress includes publication of the UNITE 2022 Request for Information (RFI) Report. The RFI sought ideas for advancing racial equity within the biomedical and behavioral workforce and expanding health disparities research. The report summarizes the input received, with responses grouped into five key topic areas and six crosscutting themes to help inform NIH’s plans and approaches.
UNITE Leadership Enhancement
We are delighted to welcome our new UNITE co-chair Noni H. Byrnes, Ph.D., director of the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR). An analytical chemist by training, Dr. Byrnes joined CSR in 2000 as a scientific review officer. She advanced her career at CSR and was named its director in February 2019. She is now at the forefront of CSR’s efforts to address bias in peer review, and her leadership will be a fantastic asset to UNITE. Next month’s post will spotlight Dr. Byrnes, so that you can learn more about her work and interest in UNITE.
Fiscal Years 2023–2027 NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for DEIA
We anticipate publication of the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) in February. The DEIA Strategic Plan focuses on advancing DEIA across NIH’s operations, its workforce, and the research it supports. It will help guide actions across NIH in a transparent and accountable manner to achieve NIH’s vision of being a people-centered organization where all feel a sense of belonging. UNITE activities fall under the umbrella of this strategic plan and will contribute to advancing its goals. We will share more about the DEIA Strategic Plan and how it will affect UNITE’s actions in a future Co-Chairs' Corner.
UNITE will benefit enormously from the knowledge, ideas, and enthusiasm of Dr. Byrnes and the new UNITE members and leaders who are picking up the relay baton from prior UNITE members. Efforts will be further accelerated by the focus brought to DEIA by the soon to be released Strategic Plan.
We are inspired by UNITE’s progress and look forward to catalyzing further change during the next phase of this marathon.
Much work remains, but together we will optimize racial and ethnic equity in biomedical and behavioral science.
Authored by the UNITE Co-Chairs
This page last reviewed on February 9, 2023