Engineering Diversity


Diversity in the Biomedical Workforce

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has looked both inward and outward to address the complex issue of parity in the scientific workforce. The agency has taken steps to better understand the science of diversity, approaches to increase opportunities for women and underrepresented minorities to succeed in biomedical research, and reflected upon systemic bias that has been shown in each stage of their submission and grantmaking process. This body of evidence is highlighted here.

Science of Diversity

A plethora of research has been conducted focusing on how diversity and heterogenous collaboration contributes to innovation across settings such as the workplace and in group discussion, research teams, and institutions of higher education. The following body of evidence explores how and to what extent demographic diversity impacts research proposals, faculty hiring practices, business performance, and more.

  • NIH funding longevity by gender. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    Hechtman, L. A., Moore, N. P., Schulkey, C. E., Miklos, A. C., Calcagno, A. M., Aragon, R., & Greenberg, J. H.
    This study found that women had similar funding longevity as men after they received their first major NIH grants, contradicting the common assumption that across all career stages, women experience accelerated attrition compared with men. Despite longevity similarities, women composed only 31% of grantees in our analysis. This discrepancy in grantee demographics suggests that efforts may be best directed toward encouraging women to enter academia and supporting their continued grant submissions.
  • Examining trends in the diversity of the U.S. National Institutes of Health participating and funded workforce
    Nikaj, S., Roychowdhury, D., Lund, P. K., Matthews, M., Pearson, K.
    This study findings suggest a need to prioritize investments and support early-stage investigators (ESIs) and new investigators, groups in which women and racial and ethnic minorities represent a larger proportion of the applicant pool, to enhance diversity in the NIH-funded workforce.
  • Effects of Racial Diversity on Complex Thinking in College Students.
    Antonio et al.
    An experiment varying the racial opinion composition in small-group discussions was conducted with college students to test for effects on the perceived novelty of group members’ contributions to discussion. The study found that racial and opinion minorities were perceived as contributing to novelty. The study supports the educational significance of race in higher education.
  • Gender-Heterogeneous Working Groups Produce Higher Quality Science.
    Campbell et al.
    This study found that a gender-diverse team produced journal articles perceived to be higher quality by peers than a team comprised of talented individuals of the same gender. Peer-reviewed publications with gender-heterogeneous author received 34% more citations than publications produced by gender-uniform authors.
  • Why Are Some STEM Fields More Gender Balanced Than Others?
    Cheryan S, Ziegler SA, Montoya AK, Jiang L.
    This study explores why some women represented in some science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields more than others. A review of the most commonly cited factors explaining gender disparities in STEM participation and investigation of whether these factors explain differential gender participation across STEM fields is conducted. A model with three overarching factors to explain gender gaps in computer science, engineering, and physics than in biology, chemistry, and mathematics are introduced: (a) masculine cultures that signal a lower sense of belonging to women than men, (b) a lack of sufficient early experience with computer science, engineering, and physics, and (c) gender gaps in self-efficacy.
  • Systematic Inequality and Hierarchy in Faculty Hiring Networks.
    Clauset et al.
    This study finds that faculty hiring follows a common and steeply hierarchical structure that reflects social inequality. Additionally, doctoral prestige alone better predicts career placement than a U.S. News & World Report rank, women generally place worse than men, and increased institutional prestige leads to increased faculty production, better faculty placement, and a more influential position within the discipline.
  • Does Female Representation in Top Management Improve Firm Performance? A Panel Data Investigation.
    Dezsö & Ross

    This study finds that female representation in top management positions improves firm performance but only to the extent that a firm’s strategy is focused on innovation, in which context the informational and social benefits of gender diversity and the behaviors associated with women in management are likely to be especially important for managerial task performance.
  • Collaborating with People Like Me: Ethnic Co-authorship within the United States
    Freeman et al.
    By examining the ethnic identity of the co-authors of over 1.2 million U.S. journal articles, a striking change in the ethnic composition of authors has been found from 1985 to 2008, with increasing collaboration among researchers from China and other developing countries. The greater variety of ethnicity is associated with considerable homophily among research teams, as persons of similar ethnicity tend to work together far more frequently than can be explained by chance.
  • Groups of Diverse Problem Solvers Can Outperform Groups of High-ability Problem Solvers.
    Hong & Page
    This study introduces a framework for modeling diverse problem-solving agents. The study found that when selecting a problem-solving team from a diverse population of intelligent agents, a team of randomly selected agents outperforms a team comprised of the best-performing agents. This result relies on the intuition that, as the initial pool of problem solvers becomes large, the best-performing agents necessarily become similar in the space of problem solvers. Their relatively greater ability is more than offset by their lack of problem-solving diversity.
  • Ethnic Diversity Deflates Price Bubbles.
    Levine et al.
    This study found that market prices fit true values 58% better in diverse markets, then in homogenous markets. The findings suggest that price bubbles arise not only from individual errors or financial conditions, but also from the social context of decision making. The evidence may inform public discussion on ethnic diversity: it may be beneficial not only for providing variety in perspectives and skills, but also because diversity facilitates enhanced deliberation and upends conformity.
  • When in Rome… Learn Why the Romans do What They Do: How Multicultural Learning Experiences Facilitate Creativity
    Maddux et al.
    Research suggests that living in and adapting to foreign cultures facilitates creativity, which this study found to be true. This study found that multicultural learning is a critical component of increased creativity.
  • Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students.
    Moss-Racusin et al.
    In this study, science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student-who was randomly assigned either a male or female name-for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent than the identical female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. Female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student.
  • What is the Impact of Gender Diversity on Technology Business Performance?
    National Center for Women and Information Technology
    This report, by the National Center for Women & Information Technology, provides a literature review of research on gender-diverse teams. Gender-diverse teams demonstrate superior productivity and financial performance compared with homogenous teams. The report also reviews strategies to maximize the potential benefits of gender diversity on technical teams.
  • Gender Diversity and Corporate Performance
    Rohner & Dougan
    This report assesses the impact of female board representation. Among its findings, the article reported that companies with at least one woman on their board of directors outperformed those with no women on their boards.

Building Evidence

Career transition gaps have proven to be major fault lines for women and underrepresented minorities where attrition from biomedical engineering careers grows at each passing stage. The following body of evidence explores diversity drivers and outcomes at various career stages for scientists.

Sustaining Diversity

Interventions, approaches, and innovative support programs designed to sustain and increase women and underrepresented minority participation and duration in research careers are an important part of ushering change to a homogenous research workforce. The following body of evidence explores these techniques for breaking through the glass ceiling and broadening participation in science. For more information, visit What Works.

  • The Effect of an Intervention to Break the Gender Bias Habit for Faculty at One Institution: A Cluster Randomized, Controlled Trial.
    Carnes et al.
    The authors implemented a pair-matched, single-blind, cluster randomized, controlled study of a gender-bias-habit-changing intervention at a large public university. This intervention facilitated intentional behavioral change that helped faculty break the gender bias habit and change department climate in ways that support the career advancement of women in academic medicine, science, and engineering.
  • Addressing the Gender Gap among Patent Holders through Invention Education Policies
    Couch, Stephanie; Estabrooks, Leigh B.; Skukauskaite, Audra
    This article reports findings from the study of the Lemelson-MIT Program’s 14-year-old high school InvenTeams initiative and related policy implications for increasing gender diversity among U.S. patent holders through invention education in high school. The initiative has engaged more than 2,200 high school students (34% female) in inventing, with seven of the 229 teams obtaining U.S. patents.
  • Incubating the Research Independence of a Medical Scientist Training Program Graduate: A Case Study.
    Dzirasa et al.
    The authors designed and implemented an alternative postgraduate training model characterized by early research engagement, strategic mentoring, unyoked clinical and research milestones, and dedicated financial support for a single trainee. The pilot training experiment was so successful that the trainee secured an NIH project grant and completed his transition to research independence 3.5 years after starting the experimental training schedule-nearly 9 years earlier (based on age) than is typical for MD/PhDs transitioning from mentored to independent research. This success has demonstrated that unyoking research engagement from conventional calendar-based clinical training milestones is a feasible, effective means of incubating research independence.
  • Closing Diversity Gaps in Innovation: Gender, Race, and Income Disparities in Patenting and Commercialization of Inventions
    Fechner, Holly; Shapanka, Matthew S.
    This article provides recommendations for policymakers concerning ways to close the gender, race, and income gaps that persist in the innovation ecosystem.
  • Career Development among American Biomedical Postdocs
    Gibbs et al.
    This study finds that postdocs report increased knowledge about career options but lower clarity about their career goals relative to PhD entry. The majority of postdocs were offered structured career development at their postdoctoral institutions, but less than one-third received this from their graduate departments. Postdocs from all social backgrounds reported significant declines in interest in faculty careers at research-intensive universities and increased interest in non-research careers; however, there were differences in the magnitude and period of training during which these changes occurred across gender and race/ethnicity.
  • Biomedical Science Ph.D. Career Interest Patterns by Race/Ethnicity and Gender
    Gibbs et al.
    This study finds that the persistence of disparities in the career interests of Ph.D. recipients suggests that a supply-side (or “pipeline”) framing of biomedical workforce diversity challenges may limit the effectiveness of efforts to attract and retain the best and most diverse workforce.
  • What do I Want to be With My PhD? The Roles of Personal Values and Structural Dynamics in Shaping the Career Interests of Recent Biomedical Science PhD Graduates.
    Gibbs & Griffin
    This study illuminates the complexity of career choice and suggests attracting the best, most diverse academic workforce requires institutional leaders and policy makers go beyond developing individual skill, attending to individuals’ values and promoting institutional and systemic reforms.
  • By Whom and When is Women’s Expertise Recognized? The Interactive Effects of Gender and Education in Science and Engineering Teams
    This article develops and tests a framework that identifies the conditions under which the expertise of men and women is recognized and utilized in teams. Results show that evaluations of the expertise of female targets are not directly predicted by their educational level but are contingent on the gender similarity between the actor and the target, the actor’s gender, and the actor’s gender identification. Furthermore, the expertise of highly educated women is utilized to a greater extent in teams with a higher proportion of women. Finally, teams with a higher proportion of highly educated women are also more productive in disciplines with greater female faculty representation.
  • The Effects of Team Diversity on Team Outcomes: A Meta-Analytic Review of Team Demography
    Horwitz & Horwitz
    In this study, the effects of task-related and bio-demographic diversity at the group-level were meta-analyzed to test the hypothesis of synergistic performance resulting from diverse employee teams. Support was found for the positive impact of task-related diversity on team performance although bio-demographic diversity was not significantly related to team performance.
  • How to Break the Cycle of Low Workforce Diversity: A Model for Change.
    O’Brien KR, Scheffer M, van Nes EH, van der Lee R.
    This study demonstrates how bias in employee appointment and departure can trap organizations in a state with much lower diversity than the applicant pool: a workforce diversity “poverty trap”. Results also illustrate that if turnover rate is low, employee diversity takes a very long time to change, even in the absence of any bias. The predicted rate of change in workforce composition depends on the rate at which employees enter and leave the organization, and on three measures of inclusion: applicant diversity, appointment bias and departure bias.
  • Strategies to Close the Gender Gap in Invention and Technology Commercialization
    Sexton, Kelly B.; Ligler, Frances S.
    This paper proposes practical approaches that technology transfer offices can implement to address the gender gap in invention and technology commercialization.

Mitigating Obstacles

Women and underrepresented minorities face many obstacles for success in biomedical engineering, including sociocultural factors that can contribute to attrition from the field. The following body of evidence explores these sociocultural factors and offers techniques to mitigate obstacles to broadening participation in science.