Challenges to Enhancing Diversity of the Scientific Workforce

As a founding member of the Collaborative for Enhancing Diversity in Science (CEDS), APA recently sponsored a Congressional briefing that focused on the challenges faced by all stakeholders, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), in creating a diverse scientific workforce.

As a founding member of the Collaborative for Enhancing Diversity in Science (CEDS), APA recently sponsored a Congressional briefing that focused on the challenges faced by all stakeholders, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), in creating a diverse scientific workforce. Moderator Mary Ann McCabe, PhD, Director, Office of Policy and Communications, Society for Research in Child Development, opened the briefing by noting some of the concerns shared by the more than 60 sponsoring organizations, including maintaining the United States global competitiveness and creating a more diverse scientific enterprise across all the disciplines. 

Acting NIH Director Raynard Kington, MD, PhD, illustrated some of the challenges NIH faces in trying to increase the success of underrepresented scientists at NIH. In the past eight years, less than two percent of research project grants supported African-American scientists and less than four percent were awarded to Hispanic scientists. For some populations, like Native Americans, the number of funded scientists is so small that any analysis is nearly impossible. In response to the lack of progress in increasing representation of ethnic minority scientists, NIH is taking a closer look at the data to see what factors are critical to the long-term success of research scientists from diverse backgrounds. In explaining some of their unexpected findings, Kington emphasized that everyone serious about addressing this issue should be prepared for unpleasant evidence that might be uncomfortable to discuss, but will be necessary to truly solve this problem.

Wanda Ward, PhD, Acting Director of NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate, agreed with Kington about the need to diversify the scientific workforce, including increasing the representation of women and people with disabilities. In particular, she discussed NSF’s Innovation Through Institutional Integration Program, which encourages institutions to think creatively about integrating across NSF-funded projects.

Art Coleman, Esq, highlighted the legal challenges faced by institutions and the federal government alike when seeking to retain programs that focus on increasing ethnic diversity among academic or training programs, which is critical for all stakeholders to keep in mind when trying to address these issues with policy solutions.