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Because You Asked: More Information About the NIH Scientific Workforce Diversity Toolkit

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4 years 8 months
09.18.18 By Hannah A. Valantine
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Recently, on July 30, 2018, my office partnered with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to host a webinar aimed at promoting NIH’s evidenced-based strategies to promote inclusive excellence through the use of the NIH Scientific Workforce Diversity (SWD) Toolkit. This interactive resource is the culmination of NIH’s efforts over the past few years to i) identify barriers to inclusive excellence, ii) design tools to overcome them, iii) develop and use an integrated approach in the NIH intramural research program, and iv) to disseminate this toolkit to our partners in the NIH-funded extramural community.

AAMC was enthusiastic to partner with us on this effort, as they continually monitor the pulse of the academic community. They know first-hand that a need exists for providing tools to institutions to go beyond will and toward action with regard to diversifying faculty. We were thrilled that, of 700 registrants, we had 405 live participants and 189 who viewed the webinar after the fact.

We were also intrigued by responses to a survey AAMC administered before and after the webinar and interested in participants’ questions (see below in this blog). Although the numbers are relatively small, this survey information helps us understand people’s knowledge gaps and how we might be able to continue to partner with the academic community to promote scientific approaches to advancing inclusive excellence. One interesting observation was that survey respondents ranked search committees’ resistance to attract and hire talent as a key barrier, and there is still a view that diverse talent is elusive. I have addressed this and other myths about workforce diversity here and in a previous blog post. As I’ve noted before, it is important for us to look beyond individual-level approaches and toward systematic, institutional methods that embrace the value of diversity as a key component of research excellence. These approaches hinge on leadership buy-in and accountability.

One striking observation from webinar participants is how few people know about SWD resources—but that when they do, they are inclined to use and recommend them. Pre-webinar, only 30% of respondents (N=130) knew about the NIH SWD Toolkit, and only 3% had used it (N=122).

Pie chart showing 30% of respondents were aware of the SWD Toolkit, while 70% were not.Pie chart showing 3% of respondents have used the SWD Toolkit, while 97% have not.

After participating in the AAMC webinar, however, 91% of participants (N=105) intended to use the NIH SWD Toolkit to enhance faculty diversity and inclusion at their institution, and 98% said they would recommend it to colleagues at their institution.

Pie chart showing 91% of respondents intend to use the SWD Toolkit, while 9% do not.Pie chart showing 98% of respondents would recommend the SWD Toolkit, while 2% would not.

While we are encouraged by this information, we know we have more work to do to disseminate evidence-based tools such as the NIH SWD Toolkit and to communicate other approaches NIH is using to promote inclusive excellence. To this end, we’ve compiled a list of questions that came in during and after the webinar, and through this blog post I share them with you.

Q. How does the SWD recruitment search protocol identify diverse talent?

A. The recruitment search protocol is a multi-step process that includes i) a bibliometric, person-blind search for top published authors in a field ii) subsequent searching of multiple databases and other resources to narrow down the initial dataset of top authors, and iii) combining these disparate data into a package for any given potential candidate. Such searching may involve online resources such as social media, faculty research pages, and professional society websites. Note that informationists at academic libraries are experts at bibliometric analyses and are often eager to help with the first (bibliometric) step.

Q. Can you trust social-media information to help vet potential candidates?

A. Yes, but in context. The SWD recruitment search protocol is intentionally multidimensional, as are candidates. While bibliometric tools and indicators provide one gauge of a potential candidate’s credentials, other sources of information can provide a more holistic view of an individual and her or his credentials, experiences, and interests. Social-media platforms such as LinkedIn and other online resources (such as faculty pages) provide information about leadership, community involvement, society membership, and other human characteristics not apparent in a publication record.

Q. Since early-career scientists are unlikely to have extensive publication records, what is a good way to identify diverse talent at the post-doc or early-faculty stage?

A. There are several sources that can be used to initiate a search for early-career scientific candidates. Many institutions and recruiters already employ various resources including the following (note that subscription fees may be required):

Q. Are there resources and/or workshops available to train majority faculty on successful strategies for mentoring faculty from underrepresented groups?

A. Yes! A growing body of evidence demonstrates that effective mentoring increases persistence of trainees in STEM fields. The National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) initiative was established to develop a highly-networked set of motivated and skilled mentors from various disciplines linked to mentees across the country and to disseminate evidence-based, effective mentoring methods. NRMN is developing best practices for mentoring, providing training opportunities for mentors, and providing networking and professional development opportunities for mentees, including grant writing.

My team and I are excited about a gaining momentum in academia toward making inclusive excellence a strategic priority, and effective tools can help. There is much progress to come, and I am eager to hear about what works for you, and also feedback about use of our tools!

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