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About the NCI Equity and Inclusion Program

NCI - Equity and Inclusion Program graphic

Our Goals 

The NCI Equity and Inclusion Program (EIP) strives to increase the diversity of the cancer research workforce, build a more inclusive and equitable NCI community, address cancer disparities, and advance health equity.

Ending structural racism in biomedical research is a top priority for NCI leadership and staff.

Why We’ve Launched the Program 

In cancer, the challenges are too great and the progress is too promising not to embrace and lift up the voices of the best minds and the most innovative ideas as we continue our work against this disease. We must confront the fact that our efforts in the past have fallen short of this ideal. We must and will do better.

NCI Director Dr. Norman Sharpless

Equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) are core values at NCI, and the institute has conducted and supported research on cancer disparities for decades.

However, the events of the summer of 2020, including incidents of violence against people of color and other minority communities and the nationwide protests that followed, have prompted many organizations to take a hard look at how structural racism affects how they work.

And the disproportionate and alarming impact COVID-19 has had on people of color and other minority communities is evidence that more work must be done to end health disparities.

Social determinants of health, workforce discrimination, and unfair hiring practices all play a role in perpetuating health inequities. And while NCI has always been committed to fairness and addressing health disparities, we are now focused on identifying and eliminating the impact of deep-rooted structural racism that has hampered progress.  

NCI, like the rest of NIH, is taking a stand to address and eventually end structural racism within the biomedical community.

How We’ll Accomplish These Goals 

Overcoming structural racism won’t happen quickly. Real change requires an investment of time and resources, sustained commitment, input from stakeholders, and leadership from the top.

The NCI Equity and Inclusion Program is overseen and supported by a steering committee called the NCI Equity Council (NEC), co-led by NCI Director Dr. Norman Sharpless and Dr. Paulette Gray, director of NCI’s Division of Extramural Activities.

These issues have been talked about for a long, long time. I believe this time is different. NCI is part of a broader social movement that has captured the hearts of people in a way that we haven't seen in decades. There's also more direct engagement from staff throughout the organization, reflecting different experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives.

NCI Equity Council Co-Chair Dr. Paulette Gray

Five working groups have been tasked by the NEC with examining what NCI can do to bring about meaningful change in cancer disparities research, the cancer research workforce, and at NCI. Working group members themselves are a diverse group of employees from across the institute, with different roles and responsibilities, experiences, and points of view.

The working groups are charged with:

  1. Enhancing Research to Address Cancer Health Disparities
  1. Ensuring Diversity of Thought and Background in the Cancer Research Workforce
  1. Promoting an Inclusive and Equitable Community at NCI
  1. Systematic Tracking and Evaluation of Equity Activities
  1. Communications and Outreach for Equity Activities

Steps We're Taking Now

Work is already underway. The NEC has started by carefully examining NCI policies and practices that may contribute to structural racism or hinder equity, diversity, and inclusion at NCI as well as within the cancer research workforce. The NEC also recognizes that community input is critical to achieving its goals, so another initial step is to engage with stakeholders from inside and outside the institute.

NCI has posted opportunities to get involved in its equity efforts.

How We're Tracking Our Progress

The NEC is setting clear metrics to assess NCI's progress. The Systematic Tracking and Evaluation of Equity Activities working group is tasked with enabling and supporting the evaluation and tracking of NCI's equity efforts. The working group will work collaboratively to establish baselines, ensure activities have measurable outcomes, and provide insight as to whether the NEC's goals and activities are being met. NCI will disseminate its findings to the extramural research community and the broader public.

Useful Definitions

Racism: Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices. (Source: Dismantling Racism)

Structural Racism: Encompasses a history and current reality of institutional racism across all institutions combining to create a system that negatively impacts communities of color. (Source: The Government Alliance on Race and Equity)

Racial Equity: The condition that would be achieved if one's racial identity no longer predicted, in a statistical sense, how one fares. When we use the term, we are thinking about racial equity as one part of racial justice, and thus we also include work to address root causes of inequities, not just their manifestation. This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or fail to eliminate them. (Source: Racial Equity Tools)

Inclusion: Involvement and empowerment where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. An inclusive community promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; it values and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of living of its members. (Source: Ferris State University)

Diversity: Diversity includes all the ways in which people differ, and it encompasses all the different characteristics that make one individual or group different from another. (Source: UC Berkeley Center for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity)

Health Disparities: Health disparities are preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence, or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations. Populations can be defined by factors such as race or ethnicity, gender, education, income, disability, geographic location (e.g., rural or urban), or sexual orientation. Health disparities are inequitable and are directly related to the historical and current unequal distribution of social, political, economic, and environmental resources. (Source: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Implicit Bias: Also known as unconscious or hidden bias, implicit biases are negative associations that people unknowingly hold. They are expressed automatically, without conscious awareness. Many studies have indicated that implicit biases affect individuals’ attitudes and actions, thus creating real-world implications, even though individuals may not be aware that those biases exist within themselves. Notably, implicit biases have been shown to trump individuals’ stated commitments to equality and fairness, thereby producing behavior that diverges from the explicit attitudes that many people profess. The Implicit Association Test is often used to measure implicit biases with regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, and other topics. (Source: State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2013)

Conscious Bias: Biased attitudes about a group that a person is aware of; they can be invisible or visible and can be accessed. (Source: John M. Flaxman Library)

Social Determinants of Health: Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) are the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. SDOH have a major impact on people's health and contribute to wide health disparities and inequities. Some examples of SDOH include, safe housing, transportation, neighborhoods, racism, discrimination, violence, education, language, job opportunities, access to nutritious foods, physical activity opportunities, and polluted air and water. (Source: Healthy People 2030)