The biomedical research enterprise is powered by people committed to scientific advancement and innovation to improve human health and reduce the burden of disease for all. NIH is committed to breaking down the barriers that prevent the full breadth of talent from contributing to the biomedical enterprise. The enterprise is strengthened when it harnesses the complete intellectual capital of the nation, bringing diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and skillsets to apply to complex problems. We recognize our efforts aimed at achieving scientific workforce diversity are hindered by organizational structures, systems, and policies that perpetuate exclusion and inequity based on race. Organizational structures, policies, practices, and social norms that perpetuate bias, prejudice, discrimination, and racism limit the pace of scientific progress.
Historical racism has led to the marginalization and oppression of Indigenous peoples, African Americans, Latinos, and other communities of color. This discrimination has extended to sexual and gender minorities. Structural racism has resulted in persistent health disparities, poor health status, and premature mortality as demonstrated by the current disproportionate burden of morbidity and mortality from COVID-19. Within the biomedical research enterprise, structural and institutional racism has resulted in inequitable access to funding, training, and workforce opportunities. NIH is in a position of influence to contribute to positive, visible, and sustainable change to break the cycle of institutional racism with systems, policies, social norms, and practices that remove stereotypes and mitigate the pervasive effects of racism. We must practice science in a way that ensures employing the full breadth of talent and with attention to any unintended consequences of our research that might amplify health disparities.
NIH established the UNITE initiative
to address structural racism and promote racial equity and inclusion at NIH and within the larger biomedical research enterprise. UNITE has five committees with the following specific aims:
U — Understanding stakeholder experiences through listening and learning
N — New research on health disparities, minority health, and health equity
I — Improving the NIH culture and structure for equity, inclusion, and excellence
T — Transparency, communication, and accountability with our internal and external stakeholders
E — Extramural research ecosystem: changing policy, culture, and structure to promote workforce diversity
As part of its overarching efforts to perform a broad, systematic self-evaluation to identify elements that may perpetuate structural racism and lead to a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the NIH and the larger biomedical research community, UNITE plans to:
- Collect and share information on relevant past, ongoing, or planned activities of the Institutes and Centers to inform efforts that enhance equity, diversity, and inclusion within NIH and across the biomedical research community.
- Conduct listening sessions with internal and external stakeholders.
- Publish a Request for Information to seek input on practical and effective ways to improve the racial and ethnic inclusivity and diversity of research-centered environments and workforce.
- Work with the NIH Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives to develop a strategic plan to address racial, ethnic, and gender disparities at NIH.
NIH’s efforts are consistent with President Joe Biden’s Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities and is part of an overall effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to respond to the executive order to improve equity, diversity, and inclusion in the federal workplace.