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Vol. LXVI, No. 4
February 14, 2014

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NIH Holds Diversity Workshop, Taps Experts

Recently, NIBIB director Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, who is also acting chief officer for scientific workforce diversity, with support from NIH director Dr. Francis Collins and NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak, held a “Diversity at NIH” workshop.

Prominent researchers from across the country came to NIH to present a case for diversity. Experts educated NIH leadership and the community about the psychosocial and psychological phenomena that influence perceptions and social interactions, which may interfere with enhancing diversity.

Dr. Brian Nosek of the University of Virginia demonstrated how an unwanted bias is a consequence of ordinary cognitive processes, which helps explain why it can be difficult to change a perception even when we become aware of it. Stanford University’s Dr. Hannah Valantine, who was recently appointed by Collins to be NIH’s first permanent diversity officer, shared results that identified physiological manifestations of stereotype threat and how those “triggers” can be used to develop interventions. Dr. Pauline Rose Clance of Georgia State University, the first to characterize the “impostor phenomenon,” shared how common it is to feel like you are not good enough at work; for some, those feelings can be extreme and threaten their success.

The workshop challenged the audience to consider ways to bring changes to policies and programs that will enhance diversity. Dr. Marc Nivet of the Association of American Medical Colleges asked NIH to bring rigor to solve the complex issues of diversity and inclusion, much as it does to solve complex scientific problems. And as UNC’s Dr. Joseph DeSimone stated, we often learn the most from those with whom we have the least in common. Diversity, he said, is a fundamental tenet for innovation.

To encourage dialogue about diversity post-workshop, Rice University’s Dr. Erin Cech stressed the need to talk about these issues regularly, outside of workshops and meetings. Dr. Jack Dovidio of Yale stressed how we need to be color conscious and attentive to the inequalities that exist because colorblindness and common identity do not translate into social action and only reinforce the status quo.

As for next steps, Collins asked the IC directors to continue the discussion with their staff and identify barriers preventing diversity. In order to achieve a diverse and inclusive workforce at NIH, diversity needs to become a priority, policies and programs need to be in place to overcome psychological and social obstacles and interventions need to be effective and long-lasting.

The workshop is archived at—Irene Avila

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