NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Committed to Diversity

Second DEIA Town Hall Provides Updates, Plans

NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility cover

Kevin Williams envisions an NIH that’s welcoming to all, a workplace free of racism, discrimination and biases that exclude underrepresented groups from leadership opportunities.

“We want to create an environment that fosters psychological safety, so that everyone can share ideas and solutions,” said Williams, director of NIH’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) during the 2nd Virtual Town Hall on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) held on May 18. “We need your help. We need your buy-in. We need your support as we work to get this done.”

In March 2023, NIH released its agency-wide strategic plan for DEIA. It articulates NIH’s commitment to embracing, strengthening and integrating DEIA across all agency activities, including the intramural and extramural communities. 

The plan has three objectives: 

  • Grow and sustain DEIA through structural and cultural change
  • Implement organizational practices to center and prioritize DEIA in the workforce
  • Advance DEIA through research

These objectives promote transparency, communication and engagement; foster sustainable change; and harness data, said NIH Acting Principal Deputy Director Dr. Tara Schwetz. “NIH efforts on DEIA did not start and will not end with the release of the strategic plan.” 

Last year, NIH leadership conducted one-hour listening sessions organized by EDI with seven special emphasis populations. During the sessions, members of each population shared their experiences and offered recommendations for change. 

Each population emphasized the need to unify DEIA activities across NIH, create a greater sense of belonging and inclusivity, standardize cultural-competency training and focus on targeted outreach and recruitment for all underserved populations. Summaries of the sessions can be viewed at:

The NIH steering committee DEIA working group is responsible for implementing the plan and synchronizing all activities developed by institutes and centers, said Dr. Marie Bernard, NIH’s chief officer for scientific workforce diversity. The working group works closely with the UNITE Initiative. 

Since launching in 2021, UNITE has made progress identifying and addressing structural racism. The initiative required each IC to develop Racial and Ethnic Equity Plans. The plans will identify, and provide a framework to dismantle, any racial and ethnic disparities that may exist. Planned strategies are broad and will be of benefit to the overall workforce. 

“Each IC has leaned into this process of making sure that they looked at things with a racial and ethnic equity lens,” Bernard said. 

Other accomplishments include revising the selection process for NIH Director’s Awards and launching the NIH Common Fund’s Faculty Institutional Recruitment for Sustainable Transformation program. Funding opportunities are now available for science education, researchers who are involved in DEIA initiatives and institutions that have received limited amounts of NIH grants historically. 

The Office of Human Resources (OHR) supports NIH’s commitment to DEIA, said Julie Berko, director of human resources and chief people officer. In 2021, the office launched NIH’s new employer branding to recruit a diverse pool of candidates. 

“The new look and messaging are specifically designed to incorporate the real faces and places of NIH—not stock photos,” she said.  

OHR has taken steps to reduce implicit bias during the NIH management intern selection process. They have worked with EDI to develop new senior executive DEIA applicant requirements. Candidates must now provide examples that illustrate their commitment to DEIA. 

In future, Berko said OHR is ready to provide tools to help inform hiring, pay and recognition decisions being made by IC leadership, managers and supervisors. 

“The strength of our agency derives in large part from our diversity,” concluded Acting NIH Director Dr. Lawrence Tabak. “We need to do more to foster a culture in which all feel welcomed at NIH and within the research communities we support.” 

The event was coordinated by NIH’s Office of Communications and Public Liaison. To watch the full town hall, visit:

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