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September, 2020 E-Newsletter


September, 2020



Hannah A. Valantine, MD
Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity

This month’s newsletter will be a departure from previous installments. At the end of this month, I will be retiring from the NIH as the Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity. Instead of focusing on recent scientific workforce diversity news, I will instead look back and reflect on the history of the Scientific Workforce Diversity office and what we have accomplished in the years since its inception.

The Charge

A wake-up call was sounded in April 2011. Donna Ginther and other authors published a report in Science investigating the connection between an applicant’s race/ethnicity and the likelihood of receiving an NIH R01 grant. After controlling for several factors (including education, affiliated institution, and publication record), the report concluded Black/African American scientists had a 10 percent lower funding rate than white scientists.

A little over a year later, in June 2012, the NIH’s Advisory Committee to the Director released a report codifying 13 recommendations, outlining a comprehensive strategy to enhance the diversity of the biomedical research workforce.

In October 2013, Christy Sandborg and I published a hallmark paper in Academic Medicine focused on what it would take to eliminate the gender leadership gap (“50/50 by 2020”). The article highlighted the small number of women at the highest ranks of academic medicine. We looked at a model for addressing this issue (used by the Stanford University School of Medicine) and described the institutional changes needed to eliminate this gap within a six-year timeline. I have also described the problem in the years since in other publications, including Science Has a Gender Problem and 50 Years to Gender Parity in STEM.

Around this time, I was engaged in several diversity efforts, particularly an evidence-based intervention to reduce implicit gender leadership bias. My team and I at Stanford engaged department chairs to help develop an implicit bias module then asked them to present it to their faculty in the context of their departmental meetings. This resulted in a diminishment of their measured implicit bias. We concluded the change in the perceptions of implicit bias occurred in both men and women, and it reduced implicit bias about leadership and men.

A few months later, I was appointed as the first permanent Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity. I was charged with developing and implementing strategies that promote inclusion and enhance diversity throughout the biomedical research enterprise. In my time here, my office has helped to make great strides in this space.

The Work

Over the last several years, the Scientific Workforce Diversity office has advocated for, developed, and implemented programs to address the various disparities present in the biomedical workforce. I jumped at the opportunity to forward progress within the realm of diversity at the NIH. Early on, I co-authored a paper with the NIH Director, Francis Collins, modeling an NIH approach to diversity which highlighted four cross-cutting challenges ripe for scientific exploration: research on diversity’s impact on science outputs; evidence-based approaches to recruitment and training; individual and institutional barriers to workforce diversity; and a national strategy for eliminating barriers to career transition. Throughout my time here, I have used these areas to guide the focus of the office’s efforts.

In line with this, I would like to bring attention to a few of our flagship programs and initiatives that were inspired by these areas and exemplify the breadth of our work.

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Equity Committee

Programs to enhance diversity and inclusion are necessary but not sufficient to achieve sustained progress. In November 2017, my office and the Office of Intramural research established the NIH Equity Committee (NEC) which was a direct outgrowth of the NIH Gender Inequality Action Task Force (a group I co-led). The NEC reviews a set of diversity, inclusion, and equity metrics to inspire institutional transformation and culture change within the NIH intramural program. The core metrics assessed focus on tenured and tenure-track investigators: demographic data, salaries and resources for hiring, equity of review practices, promotion and tenure committees, diversity of speakers at seminars hosted by an NIH Institute or Center (ICs), and many others. These efforts have helped to address inequities like the gender gap in leadership and inspire institutional transformation and culture change.

Implicit Bias Education & Recruitment Tool

My work on the NEC, the Gender Inequality Action Task Force, and other groups inform our work on recruitment and implicit bias education. During my tenure, our office designed an implicit bias education module which we present across NIH to other ICs. Most recently, the information has been leveraged to develop an online e-Learning implicit bias module which is now available for NIH staff. Additionally, my team established the Recruitment Search Tool which is a protocol that can help diversify faculty in biomedicine. At NIH, this valued resource is used to enhance the pool of highly qualified applicants from underrepresented groups for positions within the NIH intramural research program using a systematic, unbiased approach.

NIH Scientific Workforce Diversity Toolkit

When speaking with NIH-funded institutions, I am often asked, “How can we enhance faculty diversity?” My office put together the Scientific Workforce Diversity (SWD) toolkit to answer this question. The information packet provides evidence-based suggestions for promoting diversity at an institutional level. The toolkit covers topics ranging from hiring/promotion procedures, implicit bias education, and effective outreach.

Distinguished Scholars Program

Instituted in 2018, the Distinguished Scholars Program aims to enhance the pool of Principal Investigators committed to diversity, inclusion and mentoring in the NIH Intramural Research Program. The program recruits a cohort of up to 15 investigators from diverse backgrounds, including  those underrepresented in biomedical research. Investigators are provided with mentoring and professional development activities that foster research and career success. In two years, NIH has seen the diversity of its tenure track investigators dramatically enhanced, including Hispanic and African American researchers that together make up 13% tenure track investigators in the IRP. This reflects those core principles about institutional change and an inclusive institutional culture that I envisaged and championed.

Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation

Seeing the success of the Distinguished Scholars Program, I advocated for expanding the cohort model for faculty diversity in the extramural NIH community. The Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation (FIRST) program is the result. The goal of the FIRST program is to create inclusive cultures at NIH-funded institutions through a combination of faculty cohort hiring, mentoring, and professional development which will establish institutional systems that enhance equity and representation.

Advancing Diversity Program Conference

My office organized the inaugural Advancing Diversity Program Conference in 2019 to compile successful models and best practices for enhancing workforce diversity and inclusion across the academic career trajectory. We brought together senior thought leaders and early-career scientists to share their unique experiences and perspectives. The results will inform future efforts at the NIH.

The Hand-Off / Sign-Off

I am pleased to state great strides towards equity and inclusion in the biomedical workforce were made during my tenure with the NIH’s Scientific Workforce Diversity office. Over the years, I have been proud to discuss and assist the NIH’s rapid development in moving the needle forward on a host of diversity issues, including how the NIH is building its own diversity, assessments of workplace climate and harassment, and sharing insights on workplace diversity.

Since Ginther et al.’s 2011 report found that Black/African American scientists were less likely to obtain R01 funding compared to white scientists, we have made progress. Although a gap still exists, R01 grant applications by Black/African American scientists have gone up 29% between 2013 and 2018 (compared to a 19% increase by white scientists). Over the same period, the number of awarded R01 grants by Black/African American scientists has increased from 52 to 113 funded grants, a 117% increase (compared to a 73% increase for white scientists). Importantly, we have seen tremendous progress with another set of grants, the K-awards, which are critical career development awards researchers tend to receive just before getting the R01. From 2013 to 2018, the number of Black/African American K awardees grew from 26 to 63, a 142% increase, which greatly diminished the funding gap that existed between them and their well-represented counterparts. With this kind of progress, I am hopeful the change in K awards will influence the R01 award rates in the future. Dr. Collins and I discuss this and several other promising metrics of change in our recent Science article.

With respect to progress in gender representation, in 2013, I proposed the audacious goal of equal gender representation in academic medicine’s leadership by 2020. However, we have arrived in 2020 with more work to do. I have written previously (and have reiterated recently) that addressing the gender gap-parity issue requires focusing on institutional cultural changes. I also published in Academic Medicine once again to reflect on my 2013 proposal. I shared optimistic indicators of women representation among NIH intramural tenure-track/tenured researchers and directors. While encouraging, we are not at parity yet—but we know what we need to do to get there.

Under my leadership, the NIH’s Scientific Workforce Diversity office has made significant progress in enhancing diversity within the biomedical workforce. I am honored to pass the mantle to my successor and welcome Marie A. Bernard, M.D., who will serve as acting Chief Officer of Scientific Workforce Diversity while continuing in her role as Deputy Director of the National Institute on Aging, as the NIH searches for a permanent replacement. I am certain she will continue to support and advance the gains made, and I am grateful for her service. NIH will mount a nationwide search for the permanent position.

My time here at the NIH has been a wonderful mixture of challenges and successes. I have had incredible experiences being featured in media interviews, engaging with trainees and staff, and leading committees which have all helped to expand the interests of diversity in the sciences. For my parting words, I will leave you with a quote from the great Martin Luther King that served me well as a guiding principle: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability but comes through continuous struggle.”


facebook_crop.pngThe links above are pulled from the top news articles trending on the subject of diversity in science and technology.

twitter_crop.pngThe stories selected are not a reflection of the views of the National Institutes of Health.


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