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Managing Diversity: Like Biomedical Research - A Long-term Effort

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is an operating division in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is the Federal Government's focal point for health research with a mission dedicated to uncovering new knowledge that will lead to better health for everyone. Managing diversity became an integral aspect of the mission of the National Institutes of Health in 1995 when the multi-dimensional initiative was introduced to the agency at a meeting called the Diversity Congress. The Congress was a two-and one-half day gathering of 115 delegates representing the NIH's Institutes and Centers (IC) and several employee advocacy groups. As a result of the Congress, the Workplace Diversity Initiative (WDI) was developed and has received tremendous support from the leadership of the NIH, beginning with Dr. Harold Varmus, NIH Director at that time, followed by the Acting Director, Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, and currently by Dr. Elias Zerhouni, who began his directorship at the NIH in May 2002.

It is the policy of the NIH to manage the diversity of its approximately 18,000 employees by building an inclusive work force, fostering an environment that respects the individual, and offering opportunities for all persons to develop to their full potential in support of science.

Initially the WDI developed the NIH-wide Diversity Council with representation from diverse communities such as scientific, administrative, and wage grade occupations as well as employees of different ages, races, genders, sexual orientations, physical abilities, and ethnic backgrounds. Currently, the Council's role is to advise the NIH Director and management officials on policies, programs, and areas to be addressed. Ongoing diversity training, both online and in the classroom, and accountability through a critical element in all manager's performance plans, all contribute to the challenge of managing diversity at the NIH.