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Increasing Diversity in the STEM Workforce by Reducing the Impact of Bias

Interagency Policy Group makes recommendations to increase diversity in the STEM workforce in both the Federal Government and academia by reducing the impact of bias.

America’s role as a global leader in science, innovation, and equity is fortified by tapping into one of America’s foundational strengths—the unparalleled diversity of the American people and the diversity of ideas that they generate.  Research shows that diversity on teams leads to better outcomes; thus, America needs to capitalize on its diverse people to lead the world in innovation in science and technology. 

Systemic barriers, such as implicit and explicit bias, present challenges to efforts to draw upon a diverse community in building a STEM workforce for the 21st century. OSTP and OPM established the IPG to identify policies and practices to increase diversity in the STEM workforce by reducing the impact of bias, both in the Federal Government and in Federally funded institutions of higher education. The IPG inventoried current policies and practices; identified best, promising, and emerging practices; and developed recommendations for Government-wide and agency-specific policies and practices. The IPG then developed an implementation strategy for moving forward. 

On November 30, 2016, the OSTP– OPM IPG released the report, Reducing the Impact of Bias in the STEM Workforce: Strengthening Excellence and Innovation and a companion digest. Today, officials from OSTP, NASA, NIH, and NSF will discuss highlights of the report at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Colloquium on Reducing Implicit Bias, including research on bias; best, promising and emerging practices; and future directions such as gap identification, scaling, tool development, and living inventory development.

The IPG made three major recommendations. They are: 

In the Federal STEM Workforce

Recommendation 1Each Federal agency should exercise leadership at all levels, including senior officials, STEM-program and administrative managers, human-capital officials, and diversity and inclusion officials (or their equivalent), to reduce the impact of bias in their internal operations through:

  • Incorporation of diversity, inclusion, and bias mitigation into agency strategic plans;
  • Visible participation, deep engagement, and demonstrated accountability by agency and department leaders in dialogue and activities to increase diversity; 
  • Implementation of an organizational cycle of recruiting, hiring, and promotion practices that encourage diversity and inclusion, in part by reducing the impact of bias;  
  • Engagement and empowerment of employees through policies, practices, and programmatic activities across all groups, including managers;
  • Expanded research-based education and training on implicit- and explicit-bias mitigation; and
  • Establishment of bias-mitigation goals, techniques, and accountability mechanisms.

In Federally Funded Institutions of Higher Education

Recommendation 2.  Each Federal agency should incorporate bias-mitigation strategies into its proposal-review process and offer technical assistance to grantee institutions to implement bias-mitigation strategies.  Such strategies and activities should include:

  • Emphasizing to the academic community the importance of using bias-mitigation strategies to  achieve fairness and quality in the STEM endeavor;
  • Ensuring diversity in membership of grant-review panels to include representation of all, including women, underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and people with disabilities; 
  • Establishing a systematic means of collecting and analyzing data on the entire cycle of the grant-making process to analyze success rates in getting grants across groups;
  • Providing grantees with information about methods to reduce the impact of bias and enhance diversity and inclusion in their research groups and institutions; and
  • Collecting best practices from grantee institutions and sharing them among agencies and other grantees, including by supporting communities of practice.  

Cross-cutting Government Leadership for the Federal STEM Workforce and Federally Funded Institutions of Higher Education

Recommendation 3. OSTP, OPM, and the Department of Justice (DOJ), as appropriate, should exercise leadership to reduce the impact of bias in the Federal STEM workforce and Federally funded institutions of higher education by:

  • Serving as focal points, clearinghouses, and distribution points for bias-reduction strategies and best practices for both Federal agencies and Federally-funded institutions of higher education to reduce the impact of bias;
  • Coordinating civil-rights-compliance efforts;
  • Providing guidance to agencies related to performance and accountability in efforts to mitigate the impact of explicit and implicit bias by investigation of potential measurement tools;
  • Promoting greater strategic coordination, sharing, and collaborating on successful programs aimed at reducing the impact of bias and increasing diversity in Federally funded institutions of higher education; and
  • Strengthening university-community partnerships to mitigate the impact of bias and to increase access to Federal STEM employment.

By working together to implement these recommendations, the Federal Government will continue to provide leadership in the development of a vibrant, diverse, and inclusive STEM workforce. OSTP recently shared information and an Action Grid that leadership can use to drive best-practice diversity, equity, and inclusion improvements for STEM professionals that could be used by any organization. The United States leads the world in the innovation and diversity of its citizenry. The Nation needs to accelerate innovation by increasing the diversity of its STEM workforce.  As President Obama said regarding diversity, “it’s our strength.”


Jo Handelsman is Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Wanda E. Ward is Assistant Director for Broadening Participation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy