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2023 HSR&D/QUERI National Conference Abstract

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1007 — Representation of Women and Racial and Ethnic Minority Individuals among Reviewers and Awardees for Intramural Research Funding in the Veterans Health

Lead/Presenter: Taylor Boyer
All Authors: Boyer TL (Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Pittsburgh), Litam TM (Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Pittsburgh); Essien UR (Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Pittsburgh & Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine); Hausmann LRM (Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Pittsburgh & Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine); Suda KJ (Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, Pittsburgh & Division of General Internal Medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine)

Objectives:
In 2021, Executive Order 14035 was signed to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) within the Federal Government workforce. In response, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Office of Research and Development (ORD) established a DEI workgroup and Health Sciences Research and Development (HSRandD) developed a comprehensive plan to foster a diverse scientific workforce. Because the diversity among VHA investigators is unknown, the objectives of this study were to: 1) describe the gender and racial/ethnic makeup of HSRandD study sections and intramural funding awardees and 2) explore the associations between gender and racial/ethnic diversity of study sections and representation of women and individuals from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds among funding awardees.

Methods:
Study section members and funding awardees were identified via publicly available data through the HSRandD website and National Institutes of Health electronic database. Univariate and multivariable logistic regression models were used to determine the likelihood of having a woman and racial/ethnic minority awardee based on the gender and racial/ethnic composition of study sections, respectively. Separate models were conducted for investigator-initiated research (IIR) proposals only. The proportion of women and racial/ethnic minority on study sections was operationalized using quartiles for gender and median split for race/ethnicity.

Results:
From review cycles winter 2018-2020, 146 proposals were awarded to 77 (52.7%) women and 25 (17.1%) racial and ethnic minority investigators. Overall, the proportion of women members per study section ranged from 16.7% to 80.0% (mean = 55.0%). In contrast, the proportion of study section members from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds ranged from 0.0% to 38.1% (mean = 10.9%) with 29 of 43 study sections having zero representation of racial and ethnic minority individuals. For all HSRandD-funded awards, the odds of having a woman awardee were five times greater for grants reviewed by study sections comprising the highest proportion of women (4th quartile; >58.3% women) than the lowest proportion of women (1st quartile; ? 50.0%) (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 5.24; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.70-16.13). Similarly, the odds of having a racial/ethnic minority awardee were three times greater for proposals reviewed by study sections in the top 50th percentile for proportion of racial/ethnic minority individuals (>7.3%) than the bottom 50th percentile (aOR = 3.08; 95%CI = 1.18-8.09). A secondary analysis limited to IIR proposals identified similar associations.

Implications:
Racial and ethnic minority individuals were unequivocally underrepresented among study sections and funded investigators. Greater proportions of women and racial/ethnic minority reviewers participating on study sections were positively associated with women and racial/ethnic minority individuals being awarded funding.

Impacts:
While important DEI initiatives are underway to diversify the HSRandD research community, increased data transparency from ORD and specific research services (i.e., HSRandD) is necessary to evaluate progress on these initiatives. Additionally, DEI efforts may not be optimally successful without diverse study sections. Thus, initiatives to similarly diversify HSRandD study sections should be implemented. Since study sections had high variability in the proportions of female and racial and ethnic minority members, efforts should also focus on similar proportions of gender and racial and ethnic minority reviewers across study sections.