February 24, 2022

U Committee

Listen. Learn. Act.

UNITE Co-Chairs’ Corner

Listening and learning from the NIH workforce and other NIH stakeholders is a crucial aspect of UNITE. The U Committee is charged with conducting a broad evaluation to delineate elements that perpetuate structural racism and lead to a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the NIH and the external scientific community. Thus, the gift of feedback is essential to this work and informing the overall goals of UNITE. The U Committee has gathered data on equity, diversity, and inclusion activities across the NIH and conducted internal listening sessions and focus groups among NIH staff. The U Committee also hosted external listening sessions within the broader biomedical research enterprise and solicited input from all stakeholders through a request for information (RFI). In this monthly UNITE update, we will share high-level findings from the RFI.

To date, the UNITE RFI received one of the largest responses of any NIH RFI. We invited the public to provide input on how NIH can advance equity, diversity, and inclusion, as well as expand research to reduce and eliminate health disparities and inequities. Organizations and individuals submitted more than 1,100 responses. The willingness of so many stakeholders to contribute ideas and express their opinions is encouraging as this feedback, combined with insights from listening sessions, will be a powerful tool for informing areas of needed change and moving UNITE forward. To fully harness the information contained in the responses, the U Committee has been collaborating with staff volunteers and third-party consultants to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the RFI results. The initial analysis surfaced three preliminary cross-cutting findings:

  1. Action Beyond Words
    Respondents observed that NIH is saying the right things to acknowledge structural racism, but not enough has been done to support these words. Specifically, data demonstrates the lack of diversity in the biomedical workforce, particularly at leadership levels, and funding discrepancies among NIH grantees. Yet, respondents noted a lack of tangible actions to address the historical, societal, institutional, organizational, and governmental structures that influence disparities within the biomedical workforce as barriers. Specific actions are needed to change those existing structures to dismantle systemic racism.
  2. Enhance Programs and Activities
    Respondents conveyed that existing NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiatives are well-designed but often under-resourced. They suggested that NIH increase funding and support for these initiatives and improve monitoring and program evaluation. Further, communication and coordination across initiatives to address EDI could be improved. Finally, suggestions emerged that NIH should expand UNITE to be inclusive of all dimensions of diversity by including other underrepresented groups and factors beyond race, such as socioeconomic status, geographical region, disability, and gender, with a focus on intersectionality.
  3. There is No “Easy Button”
    Respondents recognized that ending structural racism will require a multifaceted approach that reviews and possibly modifies NIH’s policies, processes, practices, and cultural norms while ensuring accountability, sustainability, and transparency. Proposed solutions reimagine how NIH approaches multiple aspects of its business, including grantmaking and research priorities; recruitment, hiring, training, retention, and promotion practices; mentorship, sponsorship, and networks; and communications, support, and partnerships with underrepresented groups and communities.

The U committee is in the final phases of analyzing and synthesizing the RFI findings. The Committee anticipates sharing a full RFI report in March 2022.

The U Committee will continue to listen, learn, and recommend actions to support UNITE’s goals. Future listening activities include a climate survey of the NIH workforce and focus groups to follow up on findings from the RFI and listening sessions. Please sign up to be notified about future UNITE Co-Chairs’ Corner editions and remain updated on UNITE progress.

Authored by the UNITE U Committee Co-Chairs

Courtney F. Aklin

Courtney F. Aklin, Ph.D.

Acting Associate Deputy Director, NIH

Mia Rochelle Lowden

Mia Rochelle Lowden, Ph.D.

Health Science Policy Analyst, Office of Research Infrastructure Programs

Monica Webb Hooper

Monica Webb Hooper, Ph.D.

Deputy Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities

This page last reviewed on March 29, 2022