August 29, 2019
Robert H. Carter, M.D.
Robert H. Carter, M.D.

Dear Colleagues,

NIH is committed to ensuring a safe and healthy work environment for everyone. This includes a workplace that is free of sexual harassment and any type of bullying, humiliation, intimidation or discrimination.

In a statement on “Changing the culture of science to end sexual harassment,” NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., emphasized that, “Sexual harassment is about power. The goal of the perpetrator, most commonly but not exclusively a man, is to objectify, exclude, demoralize, diminish, and coerce the victim, most commonly a woman, to exert power over her. It’s morally indefensible, it’s unacceptable, and it presents a major obstacle that is keeping women from achieving their rightful place in science.”

The 2018 National Academies report on Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that “federal agencies may be perpetuating the problem of sexual harassment.” It is crucial that we are not part of the problem, but instead are part of the solution. 

This past February, NIH senior leadership issued a statement on plans to increase efforts with NIH-funded institutions to stamp out sexual harassment in the biomedical research workforce. The statement acknowledges that we at the NIH must strengthen our efforts to address sexual harassment and demonstrate accountability and transparency in dealing with harassment.

The statement clarifies expectations for institutions and investigators to ensure a safe workplace. This includes the need to provide clear channels of communication to the NIH regarding sexual harassment that affects our research and to listen to individuals who have experienced sexual harassment and incorporate their perspectives into future actions to address this important issue.

Internally, on the NIH campus, we review allegations, and take informal and formal disciplinary actions as needed. We have developed programs, tools, policies and resources for action. Externally, across NIH-funded organizations, we review incidents and take actions that include replacing principal investigators, institutional disciplinary action, removing people from peer review and taking people off NIH grants. 

An Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) Working Group on Changing the Culture to End Sexual Harassment has been formed. The group has held private and public listening sessions with targets and survivors of sexual harassment. The working group recently issued an Interim Report (June 2019, PDF, 1.9 MB) and will provide a final report and recommendations to the ACD in December. 

NIH has developed resources that comprehensively outline our policies, practices and initiatives to address sexual harassment at NIH, at the institutions we support, and anywhere NIH research activities take place.  

  • Anti-Sexual Harassment Information for NIH staff and NIH awardee organizations, laws and regulations, statements and notices and frequently asked questions. 
  • Anti-Sexual Harassment: for NIH Awardee Organizations and Those Who Work There Information about NIH's commitment to supporting a safe and respectful work environment, who to contact with questions or concerns and what NIH's expectations are for institutions and the individuals supported on NIH-funded awards.
  • Web form to notify NIH about a concern that sexual harassment is affecting an NIH-funded project at a grantee institution (can be reported anonymously).
  • Confidential email address to report concerns about NIH-funded institutions.

We will not tolerate harassment of any kind at research institutions that receive NIH funding, or anywhere NIH-funded activities are conducted. We must all work together to change the culture and climate of biomedical research to create an inclusive and diverse workforce.

Robert H. Carter, M.D.
Acting Director
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
National Institutes of Health

Last Reviewed: 08/29/2019