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Answering Dr. King's Call to Action

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2 years 5 months
01.17.23 By Marie A. Bernard
A stylized illustration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

January honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and compels us to examine why and how we champion his commitment to equity. As Dr. King said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” In a December interview for The Lancet, I was asked to reflect on my motivation to work to promote scientific workforce diversity. On Martin Luther King Day 2023, I hope you were able to answer the call to service and similarly reflect upon what motivates you to confront injustice and catalyze change in your community.

Dr. King’s legacy guides NIH’s efforts to promote diversity, inclusiveness, and equity throughout the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise and prompts us to ask what we can do to make science more equitable.  Whereas equality ensures all have the same level of access to resources and opportunities, equity ensures that everyone has what they need to succeed.

NIH is committed to fostering equity within its ranks and among the institutions it supports through significant, evidence-based diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) investments. The creation of the Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD) position is one of many NIH approaches to enhancing DEIA. NIH established the position in 2014 in response to a seminal paper by Ginther et al., reporting significant racial and ethnic disparities in funding for NIH R01 equivalent grants.  NIH is making progress toward rectifying those inequities, as noted in our blog and demonstrated through the efforts of the NIH UNITE initiative.

A scientific workforce that embraces many types of diversity is essential to accomplishing the NIH mission of improving human health. Diversity leads to greater creativity and innovation in science, advancing knowledge for the benefit of everyone in the nation.

Recent NIH Approaches to Enhancing DEIA

A new NIH report recommends strategies to support people with disabilities in biomedical and behavioral science. A subgroup of the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) Working Group on Diversity (WGD) developed the report, which the ACD endorsed as a set of recommendations to NIH in December. NIH is now evaluating these recommendations, including their potential implications and implementation. We also anticipate the publication of the NIH DEIA Strategic Plan in the near future. The plan will be pertinent to many of the recommendations from the ACD WGD.

UNITE, the NIH initiative to identify and address structural racism within NIH and the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise, published its first progress report in late 2022. The report highlights some of UNITE’s achievements and is a critical milestone for an initiative that was publicly unveiled less than two years ago.

NIH continues to initiate funding opportunities that enhance DEIA by addressing disparities and equity in research and training. The following four concepts are among those in development:

In addition, the forthcoming DEIA Institutional Prize will recognize higher education institutions for innovative interventions that enhance faculty and student DEIA. And a COSWD-led Notice of Special Interest provides administrative supplements to acknowledge excellence in DEIA mentoring; applications are due by February 17.

A Call to Action

In 1963, Dr. King wrote, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Sixty years later, his words still resonate. Addressing injustice requires direct action on numerous levels. In the spirit of Dr. King, consider how you can make the biomedical and behavioral research enterprise more diverse and inclusive.

My office has resources to get you started. Our implicit bias training modules can help you recognize and minimize bias, but this training must be linked to planned actions and measures of outcomes. In addition, our Scientific Workforce Diversity Seminar Series promotes DEIA, such as the impact of diversity on science and cohort recruitment to enhance faculty diversity.

Dr. King’s legacy will continue inspiring NIH to advance justice in biomedical and behavioral science through widescale, systematic change. Thank you for taking actions that reflect Dr. King’s values and enhance DEIA in your communities.

Related Resources:

Scientific Workforce Diversity Seminar Series—How Does Diversity Impact Science? | Achieving Equity in Faculty—Pros and Cons of Cohort Recruitment



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