UNITE - Milestones & Progress

Venn Diagram of the NIH UNITE initiative. Health Disparities, Minority Health, Health Equity Research, External Workforce and Internal Workforce.

On February 26, 2021, the NIH-wide UNITE initiative was established to identify and address structural racism within the biomedical research enterprise, as well as bolster the efforts of the NIH offices involved in diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. Guided by five committees consisting of staff from across all NIH Institutes and Centers, UNITE is committed to ending racial inequities in the greater scientific community via strategic, short- and long-term actions and funding initiatives that will result in significant, lasting change.

The UNITE initiative focuses on three primary areas—Health Disparities/Minority Health/Health Equity Research (HD/MH/HE), internal NIH workforce, and external biomedical research workforce—that intersect and enable greater transparency, accountability, and communications across the NIH and the biomedical research community. This list of accomplishments highlights UNITE milestones and progress since February 2021.

Dr. Francis Collins publicly committed to stand against structural racism in biomedical research by identifying and correcting NIH policies and practices that may have helped to perpetuate structural racism. Foundational to these efforts is listening to and understanding the needs of the internal and external biomedical community. To that end, we developed the Request for Information (RFI): Inviting Comments and Suggestions to Advance and Strengthen Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion in the Biomedical Research Workforce and Advance Health Disparities and Health Equity Research, which received more than 1,000 responses (closed April 23, 2021). We will continue with other efforts to better understand the needs of the community. Numerous activities have been generated by, or as a result of the work of, the NIH UNITE initiative. Here is a sampling of those achievements.

Health Disparities/Minority Health/Health Equity Research

The disparities in morbidity and mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that the NIH needs to accelerate work to address these disparities. Thus, one of the foundational focus areas of NIH UNITE is enhancing health disparities/minority heath/health equity research. We need to both understand the basis of disparities and develop effective interventions.

HD/MH/HE Progress

Internal Workforce

The UNITE initiative works closely with the NIH offices involved in racial diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility, including the NIH Office of Human Resources, NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, and the NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity Office. The initiative is identifying internal policies, procedures, and structural norms that may be barriers to full equity, and creating diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility performance standards for NIH leaders. UNITE is working on several evaluation techniques, including listening sessions and focus groups, as well as analyzing workforce demographics to inform the NIH’s efforts in addressing structural racism across the biomedical research enterprise.   

Internal Workforce Progress

  • Established an Anti-Racism Steering Committee, akin to the Anti-Harassment Steering Committee established in 2018, with more than 515 NIH staff volunteers.
  • Developed FY 2022 performance plan element for Institute and Center Directors to be held accountable for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
  • Updated internal NIH policy to acknowledge the full range of protected categories for reporting harassment and discrimination.
  • Published NIH’s Intramural Research Program data dashboard to capture 2019/2020 data on employee demographics and allow cross-tabulations of sex, race/ethnicity, and career stage.
  • Expanding recruitment efforts for NIH investigators to include Senior Distinguished Scientists.
  • Developing Racial and Ethnic Equity Plans that set expectations for each Institute and Center as a component of the FY 2022 performance plan element.
  • Diversifying portraiture within NIH buildings and its digital spaces to reflect the full diversity of the NIH staff.

External Workforce

Working closely with the Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity and the Office of Extramural Research, the UNITE initiative is expanding NIH’s efforts to enhance the participation of underrepresented groups in the biomedical workforce. The initiative acknowledges the inequities in access to training, support, and persistence in science and medicine that have historically prevented talented individuals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives from contributing to the biomedical research enterprise in the United States and around the world. UNITE is committed to fostering an open and welcoming institutional culture.

External Workforce Progress

  • Expanding the NIH Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program. This includes heightening its focus on the K-12 STEM community and projects that generate resources aimed at increasing career opportunities for underrepresented groups while conducting more outreach and engagement with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal College and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), and other minority-serving institutions (MSIs).
  • Enhanced reporting of NIH grantee demographics in the NIH Databook, which provides basic summary statistics on extramural grants and contract awards, grant applications, the organizations that NIH supports, the trainees and fellows supported through NIH programs, and the national biomedical workforce.
  • Updated eRA Commons to include racial discrimination as a specific concern that NIH grantee institutions can report to the NIH.

This page last reviewed on November 16, 2021