Enhancing Diversity at NIH-Funded Conferences


A recent Harvard Business Review article noted that the gap between awareness and action when it comes to gender equity is ‘gender fatigue’ – a “phenomenon of simultaneously acknowledging that gender inequality exists in general while denying that it exists in one’s immediate work environment.” And the article questions why organizations are not making more progress towards gender equity, while making recommendations to avoid the mismatch.

At NIH, we have and continue to focus not just on gender equity but on ensuring greater diversity in all aspects of the biomedical workforce. This means, that along with women, members of racial and/or ethnic minority groups, people with disabilities, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are also included. To help ensure that the nation remains a global leader in scientific discovery and innovation, NIH needs the richness and breadth of varied perspectives that comes from having a pool of highly talented scientists from diverse backgrounds.

In that spirit, today we released a guide notice (NOT-OD-21-053)  that updates guidance for NIH R13/U13 Conference Grant applicants and recipients. These new requirements are part of a wider series of initiatives at NIH aimed at diversifying the biomedical workforce (something we frequently discuss here). You may recall, for instance, that in 2019 we expanded the definition of socio-economically disadvantaged background in our Notice of NIH Interest in Diversity (see this related blog and podcast).

Conferences’ ability to bring people together expressly to share perspectives can have a large effect. Diversity in thought, expertise, perspective, and experience add noticeable value to what is discussed at a meeting. In 2019, the NIH Director issued a bold statement announcing that he will decline to take part in speaking invitations where inclusiveness is not evident in the agenda. Too often, groups underrepresented in science are conspicuously missing in speaking slots at scientific meetings and other high-level conferences.

The new conference grant policy describes plans to enhance diversity by increasing the participation of individuals from diverse backgrounds in all aspects of the conference. Such plans will be required, as a separate attachment, for applications received beginning for the April due date (the revised FOA coming soon, see active funding opportunities here). If a plan to enhance diversity is not included, the application will not be reviewed. Applicants can also outline, in the biosketches for their key personnel, past experiences in enhancing diversity in the biomedical sciences.

We encourage conference grant applicants to consider the following points when putting together a Plan to Enhance Diversity:

  • Identify ways to increase participation from underrepresented groups throughout the entirety of the conference, including selection of organizing committees, speakers, panelists, attendees, and other participants
  • Consider the geographical area where participants will come from and expected size and composition of the conference
  • Develop strategies (with appropriate data) to monitor effectiveness
  • Highlight success at enhancing diversity at previous conferences, especially for those which reoccur

Peer reviewers will take an application’s diversity plan into consideration as part of the overall impact score (see R13/U13 reviewer guidance here). They will assess how well it demonstrates efforts to enhance diversity by increasing the participation of individuals from different backgrounds in all aspects of the conference. Reviewers will also consider experiences enhancing diversity when assessing the investigators’ suitability for organizing and fulfilling the goals of the conference. Recipients, following award, must report on their progress and outcomes implementing the plan.

Lastly, the guide notice also reminds organizers of NIH-supported research conferences are expected to maintain an inclusive, safe, and respectful work environment for all attendees (see also NOT-OD-15-152). Various effective strategies exist to prevent or mitigate harassment at conferences and applicants should explore those that are most appropriate. Examples include establishing conference codes of conduct, eliminating barriers to participation, conducting harassment climate surveys, providing resources for individuals who report incidents of harassment, be it sexual or otherwise, all the way to expelling offenders. More recommendations are available from the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director and their 2019 working group report on changing the culture to end harassment in science (see recommendations 1.7 and 3.2 as examples).

We look forward to seeing your R13/U13 application and your specific plans for incorporating diversity.

Questions? Please reach out to R13/U13 program and grants management staff at the NIH Institute or Center that best fits your research and also check out this NIH All About Grants podcast too.



  1. Moving forward with inclusion…it is great to see that this also includes disabilities. So many programs of late are leaving this diversity category out.

  2. As someone from a socially-disadvantaged background, I think the inclusion and expanded definition are great progress. But how is NIH tracking its success in bringing members of this group into the bio workforce and increasing their representation? It seems it rarely measured in any tracking (disabilities too), and that, to me, sends a message we should stay hidden.

  3. The “phenomenon” from the first paragraph is very easy to explain: it is a cognitive dissonance between the personal observation that we do NOT discriminate against ANY talented INDIVIDUAL, and the social justice mantra (that everybody is afraid to openly challenge) regarding the inequality of outcomes in respect to gender/ethnic/racial groups. In other words, this is what happens when meritocracy clashes with identity politics.

  4. You might want to tread carefully when promoting something like “equity”. The word sounds nice – almost like “equality” – but its actual meaning is almost the precise inverse of equality. “Equity”, as used by its advocates, does not mean treating everyone by the same standards, but smashing all rules and standards in an effort to achieve an equal outcome. And “equal outcome” means equal by racial group.

    One of the most famous advocates of “equity” is Ibram Kendi, who writes, “The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist.” By this alchemy, colorblind standardized tests become racist, while relentlessly judging all people and their ideas according to skin pigmentation becomes antiracist. But since objective measures do a fairly good job of predicting success in scientific fields, it follows immediately that science itself must be racist. Thus we see the absurdity of Rochelle Gutiérrez, a Professor of Mathematics Education, declaring that “mathematics operates as whiteness”.

    If the intellectual fraud of “equity” is not stopped soon, it will simply devour science – and the rest of civilization along with it.

  5. The rescinded notice calls out the “Inclusion of Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in NIH-Supported Conference Grants” in the title. This “new” notice is an example of a retrograde policy. NIH won’t even say the words “minorities and persons with disabilities” as the title–even though one of the documents mentioned in the notice says that these groups have protections under civil rights laws.

    All of this talk about people from “diverse backgrounds,” “including individuals from underrepresented backgrounds” misses the point. It mimics the “All Lives Matter” response to discussions about “Black Lives Matter.” Shame on you.

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