DR. BERNARD'S REFLECTIONS
Marie A. Bernard, MD
Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity
I was honored to be named the NIH Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD) in May. In this role, my goal is to facilitate true equity in the scientific workforce ecosystem—as I have throughout my entire career. We are in a special time in history, with a large focus on diversity and inclusion, making it the perfect time for us to make great strides together toward this goal. The SWD team cannot achieve this vision alone. We intend to serve as a catalyst and work through our many partnerships to transform the scientific workforce.
SWD values diversity as broadly defined: We want to ensure the participation of all underrepresented groups in science. To this end, the articles in our June newsletter feature research on the barriers to entry underrepresented scientists face in the workforce, how mentoring networks can help members of underrepresented groups in science achieve their goals, and the potential for data-driven approaches to catalyze action on scientific workforce diversity.
SWD continues to build an evidence base around diversifying the scientific workforce and developing programs and activities to accelerate achieving true inclusive excellence. I look forward to sharing new directions for our work in the coming months.
Evidence-based Strategies to Enhance Diversity in the Scientific Workforce
"Any barrier to entry weakens science and its societal impact … when science is more inclusive, the range of questions asked will broaden," write Tilghman and colleagues in a recent Science Policy Forum article. In addition to explaining what is lost in science by the lack of diversity and inclusion, the authors describe promising efforts to achieve it and propose urgent, larger-scale actions that can redress the inequities embedded in science.
Tilghman et al. applaud the NIH Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) initiative, launched in January 2020. FIRST intends to help about a dozen universities and medical schools expand their faculty in emerging research areas, with a requirement that every person hired must have a track record of promoting an inclusive culture in science.
FIRST and other successful efforts to increase the inclusion of underrepresented groups in science have several key features: reducing the sense of isolation by using faculty cohorts to create communities in the professoriate, making solid institutional and individual commitments to mentoring and sponsorship, removing barriers to research careers by providing full financial support during training, and creating an inclusive and diverse culture.
When institutional cultures lack the necessary elements of inclusion and equity, they send a message to certain groups that they do not belong in science. To address this challenge, FIRST employs a faculty cohort model to foster cultures of inclusive excellence—scientific environments that can cultivate and benefit from a full range of talents—at NIH-funded institutions with a sustained commitment to diversity and inclusion in biomedical research.
We should consider FIRST and other evidence-based programs as program models that the NIH and other institutions can replicate and build on to foster equity in their hiring practices and the scientific workforce. Our office, working collaboratively with the NIH Common Fund and multiple Institutes and Centers, envisions a convening to discuss the FIRST initiative and other cohort models in late November or early December. We will share more information as we get closer to the date.
Mentoring Networks to Promote Diversity and Inclusion in Science
Mentoring is a critical part of recruiting and retaining an inclusive scientific workforce, and mentoring networks are especially beneficial for scientists underrepresented in their field. A recent paper by Termini et al. defines scientific mentoring networks as "expansive groups of connections between a mentee and many mentors (peer or senior mentors) supported by communities (e.g., formal mentoring programs, societies, networking events, and mentoring networks."
Traditional mentorship is generally assumed to occur between one mentor and one mentee. But emerging evidence shows that networks have a more significant impact on the pathways of underrepresented groups in science. The support such programs provide diverse populations along their academic and career paths can lead to wider professional networks, reinforce scientific identity, and help underrepresented scientists overcome unique challenges to achieve their goals.
As a result, mentoring networks make the process of scientific development easier and more accessible, which ultimately promotes diversity and inclusion in science. The Termini et al. study is part of a growing body of evidence about developing and sustaining inclusive mentoring relationships; I described two of these studies in the February SWD newsletter.
Achieving Goals Related to Workforce Diversity
Research repeatedly demonstrates that the lack of scientific workforce diversity is detrimental to patient trust and outcomes, access to care, workplace experiences, and employee retention. While the moral imperative for diversity is clear, rigorous measurement and incentives that move relevant actors toward action are still needed. An article by Rotenstein et al. addresses the challenges associated with recruiting and retaining scientists from underrepresented groups.
The authors recommend data-driven approaches to catalyze action on scientific workforce diversity. This approach is based on their examination of the contemporary health services quality care movement, where similar implementation of measures related to structure, process, and outcomes put pressure on institutions to outperform their peers to transform patient safety.
For example, an outcome measure that could improve recruitment and retention in the scientific workforce is publicly reporting workforce diversity data. When data on hospital-acquired infections was published, it drew attention to infection metrics. The authors argue that being more transparent with workforce diversity could similarly lead to change. Legal issues related to publishing workforce diversity data are unclear; still, the authors say similar information is available for many public hospital systems, for example, who must report all state employee salaries.
The quality care movement results suggest that advancing workforce diversity requires additional measurement, reporting, and adequate incentives. Approaches informed by data may be vital to ensuring that the scientific workforce is diverse, inclusive, and reflective of society.
June SWD Blog Posts
If you have not had an opportunity, please review this month’s blog posts at our website.
- Amplifying the Voices of URG Scientists with NIH’s Women of Color Committee
- Experiences and Inclusion of Sexual and Gender Minority Scientists in the STEM Workforce
Please listen to my recent interview on “After the Fact," a podcast from The Pew Charitable Trusts. I discuss the role of diversity in medical care—from the patients to the doctors and medical research—and how we’re working to ensure that the scientific workforce represents all individuals.