Role of Funders in Addressing the Continued Lack of Diversity in Science and Medicine

Written by: Folakemi T. Odedina, Mariana C. Stern
Published on: Nov 26, 2021

man holds medical model of human brain
Photo credit: RapidEye/iStockphoto

During 2020 and 2021, the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion have risen to the top of the list of critical concerns that science and medicine faces.

The senseless murders of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor and others at the hands of police officers in the United States, as well as racism and discrimination against Asians globally due to COVID-19, have led to monumental impact and clear realization of the racial injustice in every aspect of our lives. The lack of diversity, equity and inclusion in science and medicine is, however, not new. In fact, it has been seen as a prevalent epidemic, with bias, racism and discrimination at the core of the problem.

In response to the movements and events within the last year, most academic and scientific institutions feel the urge to, and are now scrambling, to right these wrongs, focusing on eliminating and preventing institutional racism and inequities in science and medicine. For example, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) have affirmed their commitment to addressing structural racism in biomedical sciences, with support from President Joe Biden. Other organizations have also issued statements and plans to do the same. Time will tell whether these efforts are sufficient and/or efficient in reducing inequities and promoting a culture of inclusion and representation.

Multiple barriers have been identified as impacting scientists from under-represented minority groups in biomedical research, including the lack of committed role models, inadequate mentoring, insufficient preparation, low expectations and unfamiliarity with scientific culture and idioms.

To address the problems of diversity, equity and inclusion in science and academia, it is important to focus on extramural funding in science and medicine, specifically the funding allocated to health disparities and diversity, equity and inclusion and also the funding success of researchers from under-represented minority groups. In the United States, these groups include Blacks or African Americans, Hispanics or Latinx, American Indians and Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.

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