A year ago, we began requiring plans to enhance and strengthen diversity in applications seeking funding for scientific conferences and meetings. Our guide notice NOT-OD-21-053 reiterated the long-standing expectation that recipients maintain a safe and respectful environment, free from harassment and discrimination. Building on these efforts, we are now asking recipients to proactively show how they will address safety and harassment.
Conferences, unfortunately, may present increased risks for harassment compared to campus environments. Increased harassment risks at off-campus events have been linked to a lack of awareness regarding codes of conduct, unavailability of reporting mechanisms, and power imbalances among attendees (see this 2019 report from the National Academies). The same standards and expectations of behavior must be upheld at meetings, conferences, and other off-campus environments to allow all individuals to fully participate and feel comfortable in exchanging their scientific ideas.
As a funder and organizer of scientific conferences, NIH is in a position to enable culture change at conferences. Following recommendations from the Advisory Committee to the NIH Director (see #1.7 in their 2019 report), all NIH R13/U13 conference grant applicants that are recommended for funding must submit a pre-award Plan to Promote Safe Environments (NOT-OD-22-074). Conference organizers are required to describe strategies that communicate “safety plans” to attendees, to describe how they will document allegations and resulting actions, and to describe information on steps to ensure a safe and respectful environment. These requirements are effective for R13/U13 applications submitted for the April 12, 2022 receipt date and beyond. And, as we feel strongly in these principles to promote culture change, we at NIH are planning to implement similar strategies to bolster safety at conferences and meetings that we organize.
Safety plans, unlike Diversity Plans, are not submitted with the application. Instead, they will be requested as Just-In-Time materials. Nevertheless, applicants should consider resources that may be needed to maintain a safe and respectful environment as they are preparing an application. The guide notice identifies a minimum set of required elements to be addressed, which include:
- Statement of commitment to provide a safe environment
- Expectations of behavior
- Instructions on how to confidentially report alleged violations of the expectations of behavior to conference organizers
- Description of how the organizers will assess allegations and the consequences for those who are found to violate the expectations of behavior
Through steps like these and other related efforts, we will continue creating meaningful reforms to end harassment in biomedical and behavioral science. We hope that attendees will feel welcomed at NIH-supported conferences to share their scientific ideas, perspectives, and points of view without concerns about harassment and discrimination.