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From the NIH Director: 2020 Women’s History Month

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Dear NIH Family,

Women have played a vital role in American and world history, and each March, Women’s History Month provides an opportunity to pay special tribute to the contributions of women. At NIH, we are thankful for and inspired by the women of our workforce who help Americans live longer and healthier lives by “turning discovery into health” for everyone.

During the last year, NIH has strengthened policies, practices, and initiatives to address sexual harassment at the institutions we support and everywhere NIH research activities are being performed. In addition, we continue to identify and break down barriers to the advancement of women in science, including through the recent creation of new programs to address challenges presented during careers stages or transitions when women in biomedicine are especially vulnerable.

I can point to many recent such advances, but also recognize that there are many more places where improvement is still needed. I appreciate the commitment all NIH Institutes, Centers, and Offices have made to set this work as a priority in their areas of influence.

This year, Women’s History Month is especially exciting as the NIH will mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the NIH Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH). ORWH was created to elevate the status of women’s health research as a trans-NIH effort and to ensure that women are included in NIH clinical studies. ORWH also focuses on supporting the advancement of women in biomedical careers.

At this milestone anniversary for ORWH, we can point to some particularly notable changes that have occurred during the past 30 years. For example, with the establishment of the NIH Policy on Sex as a Biological Variable, we are continuing to move away from basic research focused only on male animal models. From the standpoint of human studies, women now represent nearly half of research participants in NIH-supported clinical trials. And we have made significant research advances for women’s health, such as the development of the HPV vaccine, which has the power to prevent cervical cancer.

As we take time to think about the contributions the women of NIH have made to society, we also reflect on the accomplishments that might have been made if all women had the supportive work environment necessary to reach their full potential. This Women’s History Month, I challenge each of us—at every level of leadership and within every organization across NIH—make a commitment to break down barriers to women’s achievement so that every woman is empowered to make the greatest possible contribution to the NIH community.

I invite you to join the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) in its observance of Women’s History Month on March 10 in Wilson Hall (Building 1) from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. The featured speaker for this event will be ORWH Director Janine A. Clayton, M.D. For more information, please contact Joy Postell Gaines in EDI’s Special Emphasis Portfolio Branch or visit the EDI website.

Sincerely yours,

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

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