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Diversity In Action

National Institutes of Health: reflecting a global community

To properly serve the public, the NIH wants to bring in the best and brightest. It aspires to be one of the most diverse organizations in government


Lawrence Self of NIH: incorporating the diversity initiative in all cultures.

Lawrence Self of NIH: incorporating the diversity initiative in all cultures.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) needs a diverse workforce to effectively conduct and support medical research. Dr Elias A. Zerhouni, NIH director, encourages diversity because "You never know where the next great idea, the next great cure is going to come from," reports Marcella Haynes, director of the division of policy evaluation and training.

Lawrence Self, director of the office of equal opportunity and diversity management, agrees. "In order for the NIH to properly serve the public, we need to get the best and the brightest. We aspire to be one of the most diverse organizations in government," he says.

The NIH guides America's efforts in medical research. Its goal is to uncover new knowledge that will help prevent, detect, diagnose and treat disease and disabilities. The agency trains scientists and communicates medical and health information to the general public. It's also working to confront new threats to Americans' health and safety with a focus on bioterrorism.

The agency's workforce reflects a global community. Some scientists from other countries work there temporarily, others are permanent staff members.

Most new hires are in areas like biomedical research, but they need techies and IT folks to back them up. Most people work in Bethesda, some at satellite institutes in Research Triangle, NC; Montana and Arizona. The IT pros are spread throughout the organization, but a departmental initiative is underway to consolidate IT into service centers, Self says.

The agency first launched an aggressive diversity program at a "diversity congress" summit in 1995. Its report listed recommendations on how the agency should structure and work with diversity. The recommendations were implemented, and "I think morale is still high because of that," Self says.

The agency also established "diversity catalysts" for many of its twenty-eight institute centers (ICs) to be sure recruitment efforts and workplace initiatives are addressed all-inclusively. Haynes notes that NIH offers individualized diversity training to the ICs on any issues they'd like.

There's also Web-based training, developed with input from IC reps. At some ICs participation in the Web program is optional, but some make it compulsory.

The NIH has a diversity council with reps from each IC. The council reports to the deputy director of NIH for issues of diversity. Each IC has its own organizational culture, "so we've had to work hard to incorporate our diversity initiative into all those different cultures," Self says.

The agency sponsors affinity groups for women, Hispanics, black people, Asian Pacific Americans, people with disabilities and gays and lesbians. Each group has a full-time manager and also sends reps to the diversity council.

A popular diversity education program at NIH is the "book bridge project." Participants read books that address contemporary diversity issues, then discuss them. "You get out the angst and other concerns that way," Haynes says. The activity also promotes respect and understanding of differences and similarities.

Another program focuses on recreation and welfare and includes activities like film and music festivals to bring employees together with the local communities. "It helps bridge that gap and fosters active communication," Haynes believes.

A very logical program, "share the health," sends institute people out to spread the latest health information in local communities.

NIH is part of a U.S. Department of Education project to adopt schools. "We get involved very closely with the schools," Haynes says. It's not just for potential recruitment, but "to provide them with information on health, nutrition and such from elementary school on up.

"Of course we also mention the kinds of scientific jobs they could get with NIH once they're qualified," she adds with a smile.


National Institutes of Health

Headquarters: Bethesda, MD
Employees: 18,627
Revenues: $27.8 billion
Business: Primary federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research


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