NIH - National Institutes of Health

01/22/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 01/22/2021 12:27

Enhancing Diversity at NIH-Funded Conferences

A recent Harvard Business Review article noted that the gap between awareness and action when it comes to gender equity is 'gender fatigue' - a 'phenomenon of simultaneously acknowledging that gender inequality exists in general while denying that it exists in one's immediate work environment.' And the article questions why organizations are not making more progress towards gender equity, while making recommendations to avoid the mismatch.

At NIH, we have and continue to focus not just on gender equity but on ensuring greater diversity in all aspects of the biomedical workforce. This means, that along with women, members of racial and/or ethnic minority groups, people with disabilities, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are also included. To help ensure that the nation remains a global leader in scientific discovery and innovation, NIH needs the richness and breadth of varied perspectives that comes from having a pool of highly talented scientists from diverse backgrounds.

In that spirit, today we released a guide notice (NOT-OD-21-053) that updates guidance for NIH R13/U13 Conference Grant applicants and recipients. These new requirements are part of a wider series of initiatives at NIH aimed at diversifying the biomedical workforce (something we frequently discuss here). You may recall, for instance, that in 2019 we expanded the definition of socio-economically disadvantaged background in our Notice of NIH Interest in Diversity (see this related blog and podcast).

Conferences' ability to bring people together expressly to share perspectives can have a large effect. Diversity in thought, expertise, perspective, and experience add noticeable value to what is discussed at a meeting. In 2019, the NIH Director issued a bold statement announcing that he will decline to take part in speaking invitations where inclusiveness is not evident in the agenda. Too often, groups underrepresented in science are conspicuously missing in speaking slots at scientific meetings and other high-level conferences.

The new conference grant policy describes plans to enhance diversity by increasing the participation of individuals from diverse backgrounds in all aspects of the conference. Such plans will be required, as a separate attachment, for applications received beginning for the April due date (the revised FOA coming soon, see active funding opportunities here). If a plan to enhance diversity is not included, the application will not be reviewed. Applicants can also outline, in the biosketches for their key personnel, past experiences in enhancing diversity in the biomedical sciences.

We encourage conference grant applicants to consider the following points when putting together a Plan to Enhance Diversity:

  • Identify ways to increase participation from underrepresented groups throughout the entirety of the conference, including selection of organizing committees, speakers, panelists, attendees, and other participants
  • Consider the geographical area where participants will come from and expected size and composition of the conference
  • Develop strategies (with appropriate data) to monitor effectiveness
  • Highlight success at enhancing diversity at previous conferences, especially for those which reoccur

Peer reviewers will take an application's diversity plan into consideration as part of the overall impact score (see R13/U13 reviewer guidance here). They will assess how well it demonstrates efforts to enhance diversity by increasing the participation of individuals from different backgrounds in all aspects of the conference. Reviewers will also consider experiences enhancing diversity when assessing the investigators' suitability for organizing and fulfilling the goals of the conference. Recipients, following award, must report on their progress and outcomes implementing the plan.

Lastly, the guide notice also reminds organizers of NIH-supported research conferences are expected to maintain an inclusive, safe, and respectful work environment for all attendees (see also NOT-OD-15-152). Various effective strategies exist to prevent or mitigate harassment at conferences and applicants should explore those that are most appropriate. Examples include establishing conference codes of conduct, eliminating barriers to participation, conducting harassment climate surveys, providing resources for individuals who report incidents of harassment, be it sexual or otherwise, all the way to expelling offenders. More recommendations are available from the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director and their 2019 working group report on changing the culture to end harassment in science (see recommendations 1.7 and 3.2 as examples).

We look forward to seeing your R13/U13 application and your specific plans for incorporating diversity.

Questions? Please reach out to R13/U13 program and grants management staff at the NIH Institute or Center that best fits your research.