|T H E N I H C A T A L Y S T||S E P T E M B E R O C T O B E R 2004|
|F R O M||T H E||D E P U T Y||D I R E C T O R||F O R||I N T R A M U R A L||R E S E A R C H|
DIVERSITY IN THE NIH SCIENTIFIC
STAFF: NEXT STEPS
It has been 10 years since I wrote an essay in the Catalyst pointing out the need to improve racial and sexual diversity among NIHs principal investigators and suggesting several steps that we would take to make improvements (The NIH Catalyst, July 1994, "Increasing Diversity in the NIH Scientific Staff").
These steps included an institutional dedication to finding qualified scientists from diverse backgrounds, requirements that search committees include underrepresented scientific members, development of training programs to increase the pool size of qualified applicants, and fostering an atmosphere that would encourage minority scientists and women to apply for positions as independent investigators at NIH.
Despite these efforts, the picture for most minorities at NIH is only incrementally improved, and for African-American scientists has actually deteriorated (see Tables 1 and 2).
This situation has occurred among our principal investigators despite evidence that NIH as a whole over a similar time period (19902000) has been more effective in hiring doctoral-level minority scientists into management or scientific oversight positions (see Table 3).
Why have we failed to make more progress, and what can we do about it?
Because progress is more evident among our scientists of Hispanic or Asian-Pacific Islander ancestry, I will focus my comments on women, African-American, and Native American scientists. Women make up approximately 50 percent of the postdoctoral pool in biological sciences at NIH and elsewhere, but either choose not to compete or do not compete as successfully as men for jobs as tenure-track investigators.
1. Demographics of Tenure-Track Investigators
|Women||44 (28%)||82 (27%)|
|African American||7 (4.5%)||5 (1.7%)|
|Hispanic||7 (4.5%)||17 (5.7%)|
|Native American||1 (0.6%)||0|
|Asian/Pacific Islander||16 (10.2%)||65 (21.6%)|
|White||126 (80%)||213 (71%)|
In addition, women leave the tenure-track more frequently than men, for reasons we have not yet fully determined, but not because they are less successful once they get to the Central Tenure Committee for consideration.
Under the chairmanship of Joan Schwartz, the Second Task Force on the Status of Intramural Women Scientists at the NIH is exploring these issues and promises to release a report defining the problems and suggesting ways to improve representation of women among both our tenure-track and tenured investigators.
There are two main problems that reduce representation of African-American and Native American scientists at NIH. The first is that there are few such applicants for positions, reflecting not only the smaller pool size of doctoral level minorities compared with their representation in the population as a whole, but also a strong perception among African-Americans and Native Americans that NIH is not a welcoming environment for them.
Second, African-American scientists in particular leave the tenure-track at a higher rate than other investigators, reflecting both their recruitment to jobs outside of NIH (a positive development for these scientists) and inadequate mentoring and career support at NIH.
Unfortunately, the continuing failure of NIH to improve its minority representation understandably reinforces this perception. To do better, we need to work much harder to change both the reality and the perception.
2. Demographics of Senior Investigators
|Women||189 ((16.5%)||178 (19%)|
|African American||8 (0.7%)||10 (1.1%)|
|Hispanic||17 (1.5%)||24 (2.5%)|
|Native American||1 (0.1%)||2 (0.2%)|
|Asian/Pacific Islander||82 (7.2%)||81 (8.5%)|
|White||1038 (91%)||835 (88%)|
The Diversity Council is partnering with the Office of Intramural Research to identify defects in the search process that affect recruitment of a diverse population of principal investigators.
One clear finding is that our search committees are too often "selection committees" that screen and make recommendations regarding individuals who present themselves as applicants. We need to encourage these committees to be more proactive in their efforts to identify candidates and invite them to apply.
Additional recommendations about how to improve our search processes will be forthcoming.
One encouraging sign is that many of our training programs have been extremely successful in finding outstanding candidates from diverse backgrounds, especially the Undergraduate Scholarship Program for disadvantaged students and the postbaccalaureate NIH Academy program dedicated to the elimination of domestic health disparities.
These programs and others throughout NIH have created a cadre of talented, highly trained individuals who are knowledgeable about NIH and are likely to be interested in scientific careers here. We must do everything we can to foster the careers of these individuals and encourage them to return to NIH to be part of our future scientific staff.
Scientists Association at NIH has proved to be a major asset in encouraging
scientists to pursue scientific positions at NIH at all levels and in helping to support minority scientists once they get here (see "A Decade of Growth: Quality Outshines Quantity").
Table 3. Doctoral Level NIH Scientific Staff (>GS13)
|Women||263 (17.7%)||726 (33.1%)|
|African American||38 (2.5%)||91 (4.1%)|
|Hispanic||20 (1.4%)||56 (2.6%)|
|Native American||1 (0.1%)||6 (0.3%)|
|Asian/Pacific Islander||93 (6.2%)||243 (11.1%)|
In addition, the BSA has suggested several new programs to encourage career development among minority scientists at NIH, including interdisciplinary training programs. With the support of our scientific leadership, we hope to implement these ideas.
NIH leadership is strongly behind efforts to improve workplace diversity, and my office will be increasing its efforts to improve diversity at NIH. But this problem cannot be solved from the top down. We all need to be part of the solution by encouraging our colleagues to apply for NIH positions and by creating an atmosphere that is conducive to the success of all scientists at NIH.
I welcome your comments and suggestions.
Deputy Director for Intramural Research
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