Foundations and Professional Societies Virtual Listening Session

Monday, December 6, 2021, 12:00pm-1:30pm ET


The purposes of the listening session were to listen and learn about perspectives and experiences related to racial and ethnic equity in the biomedical research enterprise among individuals who lead, work within, are members of, or are otherwise connected to U.S. foundations and professional societies. The listening session, facilitated by an outside contractor, was attended by more than 100 participants. Dr. James Gilman, Chief Executive Officer of the NIH Clinical Center, welcomed attendees and summarized the mission and goals of UNITE.

Summary of Discussion

  • Topic 1: The overall state of racial and ethnic equity in the biomedical sciences
    Participants expressed that racism is deeply embedded in medicine, which impacts the health and wellbeing of racial and ethnic minority populations. They perceived a widespread lack of racial and ethnic diversity and multiculturalism in higher education and research institutions. Also noted, was the missed opportunity for meaningful academic-community partnerships with organizations that have direct connections with racial and ethnic minority communities. Participants highlighted the need for stronger support of community-based organizations (CBOs) and for healthcare professionals to work with communities that have been impacted by structural racism and health inequities.

    Additionally, participants pointed to the lack of information and data that could help communities and researchers identify and address structural racism in healthcare. They emphasized the importance of collecting and disaggregating racial and ethnic demographic data for participants in all funded research projects to grow the body of available information and findings on health outcomes.

  • Topic 2: Opportunities and challenges to pathways and workforce equity– education, hiring, and research opportunities
    Participants discussed various challenges that prevent racial and ethnic minority students from entering and advancing in careers in the biomedical sciences. One example, echoed by the group, was the limited (or no) resources committed to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in K-12 education. The group also described the lack of diversity among college and university leadership and faculty members as well as the low compensation for trainees in graduate or professional programs as significant challenges to equity. Participants noted the lower likelihood of promotions or appointments to leadership positions among URM faculty members.

    Participants described several opportunities to strengthen the pathway and increase workforce equity. They expressed the need for more support and funding of K-12 programs to equip students with a quality STEM education and improve awareness of biomedical research career opportunities. Attendees also suggested that NIH leverage its resources to increase support for recruiting and hiring diverse graduate and post-graduate trainees. Once recruited, the robust training and opportunities for success in early-stage research will be important for increasing diversity and inclusion in research settings, professional organizations and societies, as well as partnerships with community organizations. Doing so will have positive effects on pathways to careers in science and medicine, as well as overall diversity in college and university settings, URM faculty members in leadership roles, and students’ views of possibilities and sense of belonging.

  • Topic 3: Needs and challenges in racial and ethnic health disparities research​
    The discussion centered on several needs and challenges to increase the emphasis on health disparities and support science seeking to promote health equity. There is a need for robust data collection to identify health disparities. Moreover, there is a need to collect and report data that reveal the root causes of health problems – beyond surface-level socioeconomic factors. Participants also discussed the need to address the significant distrust of biomedical science and healthcare expressed among members of racial and ethnic minority groups, which has been exacerbated by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

    Community-based researchers have an important role in asking the scientific questions that are most important to community members and facilitating change in the types of data collected. These scientists also have the relationships needed to bridge connections between NIH-funded research and non-profit organizations (NPOs), CBOs, and advocacy groups that engage with families and students. Thus, the group advocated for increased funding for community-engaged research, meaningful community engagement, and promoting better health outcomes. Participants also described opportunities for extramural researchers to leverage relationships with local doctors, who are poised to communicate research goals to community members, encourage clinical trial participation, and disseminate research findings into communities. The group also highlighted that community-based participatory research (CBPR) requires competencies that some researchers do not practice in basic science; thus, requirements for investigators to obtain funding for CBPR projects should include demonstrated competency and a track record of successful partnerships.

  • Topic 4: Actions and initiatives to address racial and ethnic equity provided or leveraged by your organization
    Participants highlighted the increased attention to diversity and inclusion and noted the importance of initiatives at their organizations. They described components of successful diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs in higher education and biomedical sciences, which include inclusive recruitment practices, multicultural awareness, and mentorship to increase diversity and the success of URM persons. Participants shared examples of efforts to recruit early-stage URM faculty cohorts, research programs designed to strengthen pathways into biomedical research careers among URM students, and NIH-supported DEI programs at their institutions. They noted that virtual presentations have increased public access to research findings and engagement with scientists and community partners. Participants described programs in their communities to increase awareness of career opportunities, as well as provide support, resources, and educational courses to help manage financial and cultural challenges that URM students often experience.
  • Topic 5: Practices and policies as barriers to racial and ethnic equity​
    Participants discussed several practices and policies that might affect racial and ethnic equity among scientists. Noting the complexity of grant application requirements, they described the potential for bias favoring large research institutions over minority serving institutions (MSIs) and smaller institutions. Providing training for URM trainees, faculty members, and researchers on best practices in the grant application process was raised as a mitigation strategy and endorsed by other attendees. The group also observed that the racial funding disparity for R01-level (and larger) grants has additional structural consequences, including a lower likelihood of selection for NIH study sections and being viewed as a less qualified training grant mentors. These ostensibly biased practices create disadvantages for faculty members at smaller, less-resourced institutions. Participants also indicated that NIH does not hold institutions accountable for diversity, and that DEI report cards would enable validation for the extent of diversity among faculty members and within research teams, as well as support for DEI initiatives.
  • Topic 6: Proposed solutions for NIH– tactics, actions, initiatives, policies, and engagements
    Participants’ solutions included actions related to the NIH application review process, institutional accountability for DEI, and community engagement. It was suggested that grant applicants report the diversity of leadership, faculty members, and students, which could be a component of the review process. This may prompt for institutions to follow through on equitable hiring and advancement goals. Participants also encouraged NIH to increase its involvement with CBOs and NPOs by supporting and attending local events within underserved communities.

NIH is grateful for the participation and perspectives provided by the wide variety of stakeholders in these listening sessions. For more information about past listening sessions, and to follow the efforts of UNITE, please visit the UNITE events webpage at

This page last reviewed on June 2, 2022