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NIH UNITE Continues Momentum to Advance Diversity

June 22, 2022

I co-authored this post for the UNITE Co-Chairs’ Corner in my role as a co-chair of UNITE, the NIH-wide effort to identify and address structural racism within the NIH-supported and the greater scientific community. First published on June 15, it describes UNITE’s progress and recent government-recognized DEIA observances, including Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday.

The COSWD team works closely with UNITE to advance its mission and the charges of the five UNITE committees. In addition to providing strategic leadership to all UNITE activities and our Co-Chairs’ Corner contributions, we have provided tactical input for UNITE activities such as the proposed NIH DEIA Prize Competition and The Power of an Inclusive Workplace Recognition Project; COSWD team members also serve on the UNITE I and U Committees and several ad hoc committees that are implementing activities outlined in the June Co-Chair’s Corner. I appreciate your interest in UNITE’s progress and encourage you to sign up to receive the UNITE monthly update.

It is hard to believe that the NIH UNITE initiative was publicly unveiled just 16 months ago on February 26, 2021, at a special meeting of the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD). At the time, we stated that we were starting a marathon in which we must keep the same energy, patience, and passion in reserve for the “miles” to come. All involved have certainly felt the haste as we work to establish and implement foundational elements and structure, such as finalizing a clear articulation of the UNITE Goals to serve as the basis for an overall evaluation.

At the June 10, 2022, ACD meeting, UNITE leadership and committee members provided an update on UNITE’s progress and projected activities. Please review the UNITE committees’ ACD updates below.

  • The U Committee provided an outcomes summary of the internal and external listening sessions that they conducted with approximately 1,300 participants. This valuable information has been used for current UNITE proposals and will continue to inform the way forward for UNITE.
  • The N Committee reported on the successful FY 2021 launch of the Common Fund’s Transformative Research to Address Health Disparities and Advance Health Equity initiative and the upcoming Common Fund FY 2023 initiative Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society (ComPASS). The ComPASS initiative was presented at a recent Council of Councils meeting and is available on NIH VideoCast. The two combined initiatives commit $360+ million to health disparities and health equity research. Additionally, the N Committee is working closely with the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities to develop a NIH-wide coordinating committee for health disparities research.
  • The I Committee provided updates on several ongoing and developing activities that help deliver on their charge, which includes:
    • Establishing a performance metric for all Institute and Center Directors (ICDs) to focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA), including the development of a racial and ethnic equity plan for each Institute and Center (IC).
    • Working to generate reliable and accessible data regarding the demographics of the NIH extramural staff.
    • Initiating actions to rectify inequities found in the awarding of NIH staff recognition.
    • Developing a listserv for federal affinity groups and other internal and external NIH groups to promote vacancy announcements.
  • The T Committee projected an expansion of the Power of an Inclusive Workforce Recognition Project, and outlined plans to enhance UNITE communications, including developing an internal communications plan of NIH staff who serve as “knowledge ambassadors” for UNITE and DEIA efforts.
  • The E Committee noted that there are currently 13 active implementation teams working on funding opportunity announcements (FOAs), prizes, policies, and training and outreach. Notable among their plans is a currently open Request for Information (RFI) Inviting Comments and Suggestions on the Development of a Prize Competition for Institutional Excellence in DEIA (NOT-OD-22-109). Additionally, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences Council recently approved the following concepts: Institutional Climate Assessment and DEI Action Plan Development Grants, Excellence in DEIA Investigator’s Grants, and Instrumentation Grant Program for Minority-Serving Institutions. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities Council recently approved the concept Institutional Research Capacity Building Needs Assessment and Action Plan Development Grants.

These excellent presentations were followed by a brief overview of the framework by which the long-term impacts of UNITE may be measured. As previously mentioned, we recognize that the long-term goals may not be realized for years to decades. However, in the interim, we should be encouraged by the numerous milestones we have achieved.

We will continue to provide updates via the UNITE Co-Chairs’ Corner, with the committee co-chairs going into greater detail regarding their activities than is feasible in this broad overview. To be alerted to the periodic releases, sign up for UNITE updates. Alternatively, visit the NIH UNITE webpage, where the Co-Chairs’ Corner and other content is updated regularly.

group of illustrated people all of different races, abilities, and backgrounds

DEIA Observances: UNITE is focused on activities generated by NIH to address racial and ethnic equity. In line with this, we recognize observances that are important to the cause. Thus, starting with this edition, we will provide a summary from the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion of government-recognized observances/events pertinent to enhancing diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.

During the month of May, NIH joined the nation in celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) Heritage Month. This year’s theme, We Are Not a Monolith, helped us better understand the diversity of the AA and NHPI communities.

During the month of June, we celebrate Pride Month and Juneteenth.

  • This year’s Pride Month theme is Together Toward Discovery. Pride Month is an annual celebration that recognizes the 1969 Stonewall Uprising as a tipping point for acknowledging the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer and questioning, and intersex (LGBTQI+) community’s challenges and contributions throughout history.
  • Juneteenth is the 12th holiday recognized by the Federal Government, commemorating the day June 19, 1865, when enslaved people in Texas learned of their freedom, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was declared by President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863. Stay tuned for the Juneteenth webpage coming soon!