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Scientific Workforce Diversity
In 2014, the NIH Director appointed the first Chief Officer of Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD) to lead NIH’s thought in efforts to diversify the nation’s scientific workforce, expand recruitment, and support retention. The COSWD’s centralized coordination of NIH scientific workforce diversity was established in response to recommendations by the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) based on input from the Working Group on Diversity in the Biomedical Workforce. The working group was charged with examining the factors that contribute to the current state of diversity in the scientific research workforce. The working group also was tasked with examining the findings and implications of an NIH-commissioned study that found that African American/Black applicants were less likely than White applicants to receive NIH research funding. NIH established several key programs in response to the ACD recommendations.
“As a woman of color in science, I have seen the missed opportunities to take advantage of the full spectrum of scientific talent. It is profoundly important for all members of the biomedical workforce to feel included, welcome, supported, and that they have a fair and equal opportunity to pursue their passion for research and scientific discovery; our institutions and society must take steps to eliminate threats that create barriers such as structural racism, incivility, harassment, and bias.”
The mission of the Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD) team is to be NIH’s thought leader in the science of scientific workforce diversity, using evidence-based approaches to catalyze cultures of inclusive excellence. As these cultures mature, the COSWD ultimately aims to enable NIH and NIH-funded institutions to benefit from a full range of talent, fostering creativity and innovation in science. The COSWD team is led by the Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity, Marie A. Bernard, M.D.
Guided by its strategic plan, the COSWD aims to achieve its mission through three strategic goals:
- BUILD the evidence
- DISSEMINATE the evidence
- ACT on the evidence
UNITE collaborates with the COSWD to enable the development of new programs and the enhancement of diversity within NIH and throughout the extramural scientific ecosystem.
The COSWD pursues its strategic goals through strong internal and external collaborations. Below are select examples of recent and ongoing initiatives in the intramural and extramural environments.
Programs Within NIH
- Each year, the NIH Distinguished Scholars Program (DSP) recruits a group of investigators to the NIH Intramural Research Program to provide them with mentoring and other professional development activities that foster research and career success. DSP aims to build a more inclusive community by reducing the barriers to the recruitment and success of principal investigators from diverse backgrounds, including groups underrepresented in biomedical research.
- Since its inception in 2015, the Future Research Leaders Conference (FRLC) has focused on attracting and providing career guidance to early-career scientists interested in pursuing careers in NIH’s IRP, including through core pathways such as the Stadtman Tenure-Track Investigators program, Lasker Clinical Research Scholars program, Distinguished Scholars Program, and the Independent Research Scholar Program.
- Since 2016, the COSWD has served scientific search committees across NIH to recruit exceptional talent to the biomedical enterprise through the COSWD Recruitment Search Protocol. The COSWD developed and implemented the first phase of an effective, systematic recruitment search protocol for identifying highly qualified, diverse candidates for various scientific positions, from tenure-track investigators to the highest levels of Institute, Center, and Office (ICO) leadership. This strategy has enabled search committees to recruit top talent often overlooked when relying on traditional recruitment practices, with approximately 10 percent of the COSWD-identified candidates ultimately hired. With this initial phase realized, the COSWD has turned to expand and enhance its impact through an NIH‑wide Recruitment Protocol Scale-Up initiative, enabling ICO-designated recruitment strategists to support their ICOs’ hiring needs.
- The Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) offers training and education for future researchers and physician-scientists:
- The 21st Century Scholars Program is a six-month curriculum established by the COSWD for newer NIH extramural scientific staff to receive cohort-based and personal mentoring, learning opportunities, and resources toward professional development in the diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) realm. The initial cohort of 21st Century Scholars Program mentors and participants has been selected in 2022.
- Across the agency, NIH Institutes and Centers are developing and implementing diversity programs.
Programs in the Extramural Community and Beyond
- Enhancing the Diversity of the NIH-Funded Workforce, also known as the Diversity Program Consortium (DPC), is an NIH-wide program that supports effective approaches to improve training and mentoring across the consortium with the goal of increasing the participation and persistence of individuals from diverse backgrounds in the biomedical research pipeline, as well as on transforming the culture and efficacy of biomedical research training and mentoring nationwide. The DPC consists of three integrated initiatives:
- NIH’s Division of Biomedical Research Workforce (DBRW) provides tools and resources to cultivate a skilled and diverse biomedical research workforce.
- Since 2019, the NIH Center for Scientific Review (CSR) has initiated a number of efforts to mitigate bias, both at the individual and systemic levels. In response to multiple calls from the external community for NIH/CSR to address racial disparities in NIH funding and potential bias in peer review, CSR held three public forums in July 2020 on Racial Disparities in Peer Review and more.
- NIH launched the Common Fund’s Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program, designed based on research showing that cluster hiring leads to more diverse, inclusive environments. In 2021, NIH awarded funding to six institutions to enhance DEIA, support faculty cohorts, and change institutional culture, and to one institution to serve as the Coordination and Evaluation Center to help assess the impact of institutional change strategies and other innovative approaches implemented at FIRST cohort sites. Two additional rounds of competitive award cohorts will be funded in FY 2022 and FY 2023.
- Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs), such as PA-21-071: Research Supplements to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research, are provided to enhance the diversity of the research workforce by recruiting and supporting students, post doctorates, and eligible investigators from diverse backgrounds, including those from groups that have been shown to be underrepresented in health-related research. There also are many other diversity-focused NIH FOAs. Some have begun requiring that applications include a Plan for Enhancing Diverse Perspectives in the proposed research to foster diversity and inclusivity in the research community (e.g., BRAIN Initiative, Bridge to Artificial Intelligence [Bridge2AI] Program).
This page last reviewed on May 25, 2022