P01: Scientific Workforce Diversity: Opportunity for Enhancing Research Excellence

Hannah Valantine, MD, National Institutes of Health

A diverse scientific workforce is a key contributor to research excellence, said Hannah Valantine, Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity at NIH, in her opening keynote address at the conference. Research has shown that diversity leads to better solutions to complex problems, such as those encountered in biomedical and behavioral research (Page, 2007). Moreover, a more diverse scientific workforce could broaden the scope of biomedical and behavioral research inquiry and narrow existing health gap.


“Diversity is also needed to ensure fairness. NIH controls a large amount of national resources,” said Valantine. It needs to ensure that everyone can participate in research, and it has to recruit and retain the best talent into research. (Video: Day1Valantine1 DEMOGRAPHICS) Given that minority groups also constitute the majority of the population in some states, drawing participants from those groups is essential. “If we’re not pulling from our entire intellectual capital, we will not be ensuring that we have the right and the brightest people doing this research,” Valantine said.

Yet diversity falls steadily from the undergraduate years through the professionals ranks. While the members of groups underrepresented in STEM fields constitute 30 percent of college age Americans, they earn only 18 percent of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees and 7 percent of PhD degrees. The same process of attrition is seen among women in academic medicine (Figure 1-1).(Video: DIVERSITY & CAREERS)

This attrition is not inevitable. When she was appointed to the position of Senior Associate Dean at Stanford in 2004, Valantine instituted a comprehensive and integrated plan to increase diversity. The plan included active and early engagement with search committees, changing the composition of committees and applicant pools, expanding outreach, research awards, mentoring programs, women’s networking, child care, and professional development (Valantine et al., 2014). Those interventions raised the percentage of women faculty members at Stanford above the national average and the average rate at peer institutions. Yet even with this improvement, it would take 28 years for women to achieve parity with men at Stanford, compared with 40 years for peer institutions and 48 years for national institutions. “Conventional approaches are necessary but not sufficient to get the change in pace that we want,” Valantine said.

Day1Valantine3 STEREOTYPES

Changing Attitudes and Cultures (Video: Day1Valantine3 STEREOTYPES)

Going beyond conventional approaches, in part, requires changing people’s attitudes and institutional cultures. For example, implicit bias and stereotype threat can both lead to decisions that perpetuate inequities. Stereotypes often operate outside of conscious awareness, Valantine noted. For example, when CVs were sent to more than 200 eminent scientists and they were asked whether or not they were going to hire a person as a lab manager, the CVs with male names were more likely to be selected, and with higher salaries, than for CVs with women’s names (Moss-Racusin et al., 2012). Valantine said, “these stereotypes are happening in terms of how people make their decisions about who is entering into science, as well as the individual’s feeling a sense of belonging in the workforce and whether or not they fit into this great endeavor.”

“Interventions are available that can help modulate such behaviors,” Valantine stated. The Recruitment to Expand Diversity and Excellence (REDE) program at Stanford had department chairs or division chiefs deliver short talks in 40 departments and divisions to more than 300 faculty participants. Implicit Attitude Tests were completed before and after the talks showed that the intervention significantly reduced implicit bias for both men and women (Academic Medicine, 2016).

Another significant attitudinal and cultural issue involves faculty career flexibility and achieving and maintaining a work-life balance. More than half of faculty says that their institutions are not supportive of work-life balance, and this issue is the second most cited reason for considering leaving academia. At the same time, career paths have become very lengthy, so many biomedical investigators do not receive their first independent grants until their late 30s or 40s. To address these issues, Stanford conducted focus groups with 105 faculty members, gathered survey data, and did an ethnographic study of eight faculty members in 2010-2011. “The overall conclusion,” said Valantine, “is that the problems have less to do with the availability of opportunities and more to do with a misalignment between those policies and with the culture of academic medicine.” Among the core beliefs of academic medicine are:

  • It’s not worth the risk to stray from the established path.
  • I always need to be advancing my career.
  • I am most productive when I plan and document my goals.
  • I always keep score because things that aren’t measured don’t count.
  • Success is about individual accomplishments.

These beliefs make it difficult for faculty members to take advantage of programs that support work-life integration such as consulting days, paid sabbaticals, tenure clock extensions, family travel grants for conferences, part-time options, reduced teaching and clinical responsibilities, child care leave, and family and medical care leave.

To address this cultural mismatch, Stanford developed the academic biomedical career customization program, which establishes a culture that fosters work-life integration and development to recruit, retain, and advance the most talented physicians and scientist in academic medicine. A customized career tracks component, in-depth interviews, and a needs assessment were conducted to develop support mechanisms such as help for grant writing, career planning, and access to life coaches. A banking system component for faculty service was developed to ease work-like and work-work conflicts — for example, by providing support for clinical work, teaching, mentoring, and administration so that faculty can remain current in research. “The faculty really resonated with this,” said Valantine. “There were reports of better work-life balance and less stress. As a pilot, this is something to be thinking about as we move forward to integrate our work and our lives.”

NIH Programs

Valantine brought many of these innovations with her to NIH when she moved from Stanford. As in other areas of science, the workforce diversity for research project grants is low (Figure 1-2). The Advisory Committee to the Director Working Group developed 13 recommendations, including the appointment of Valantine as the Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity, along with the following:


  • Systematic review and evaluation of all diversity programs.
  • Develop interest in STEM in K-12 and beyond.
  • Additional financial support for undergraduates.
  • Assess reasons for disparity in grant awards.
  • Establish a working group of the Advisory Committee to the Director to address #4.


  • Establish a system of mentorship networks.

Peer Review

  • More detailed explanation for unscored grant applications.
  • Text-based analysis of grant review commentaries.
  • Implicit bias/diversity awareness training for scientific review and program officers.
  • Design experiment to determine effects of application anonymization.


  • Establish bold multiyear awards to enhance diversity at under-resourced institutions.
  • Appoint chief diversity officer and establish office of diversity.
  • More comprehensive search for tenure-track investigators.

The NIH Transformative Diversity Initiative achieves some of these recommendations by enhancing the diversity of the NIH-funded workforce with the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) program, the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), and the Coordination and Evaluation Center (CEC). Other initiatives include ensuring fairness in peer review and increasing engagement by all NIH leadership. Awards were made in October 2014 for the NIH Transforming Diversity Initiative, with total funding of about $30 million per year for five years. The BUILD program is being funded at ten sites, including several minority-serving institutions; the NRMN is based at Boston College; and the CEC is based at the University of California, Los Angeles. “We can take all of that wonderful theory and translate it into action very much in the way that many of you are doing in your programs here,” said Valantine.

The mission of Valentine’s office mission is to build a diverse trans-NIH scientific workforce that will serve as a model for capturing the most talented biomedical researchers both in the intramural program and in the extramural program, with an early focus on the intramural program. The initial focus is to establish the intramural research program at NIH as a hub for innovation in scientific workforce diversity, centering on each transition stage of the career path. It will create climates of inclusion and a sense of belonging for the scientific workforce in the intramural research environment. And, it will assemble an interdisciplinary and diverse team to define and execute a robust research agenda for discovery and implementation of the science of diversity.

Day1Valantine5 NIH HIRING

Valantine concluded by discussing a national strategy to enhance the diversity of the scientific workforce, which will while produce rapid changes by creating interventions that address the barriers at key career transition points. (Video: Day1Valantine5 NIH HIRING) “As you look through the career pathway of training from undergrad right through to the tenured scientist to leadership, you see that there’s attrition all along the way,” she said. A coordinated national initiative could create strong networks and an infrastructure to support career transitions seamlessly across career pathways. Essential components would include strategic partnerships, investments in the science of diversity, implementation and scaling, tracking and evaluation, and organizational commitment. The goal would not only create academic researchers but also produce trained scientific investigators for industry, government, and the community. Valantine added, “My real hope is that we will turn discovery into health, ultimately, for everyone.”

P02: Are We Measuring and Interpreting What We Value about Programs?

Don't forget to join us in San Antonio for the 2017 UI Conference!

Our 9th Conference on Understanding Interventions that Broaden Participation in Science Careers will be held at the Sheraton Gunter Hotel, in downtown San Antonio.