A Path Forward

This past Sunday night, the NSGC Board of Directors met to try to put words around NSGC’s stand against racism, violence and other injustices inflicted on members of the Black community, and to participate in the national conversation surrounding the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others.  Together, we wrote this statement and shared via our social media outlets: 

The violence of the last few days and weeks is a stark example of the ongoing, deep-seated racism that Black members of the NSGC community and the people we serve face every day.  We stand in solidarity with the Black community and acknowledge the need for continuing dialogue and action.   

We encourage using our community to connect with, listen to and support each other so that we can make meaningful change.  

Over the last several days, we have worked to identify several short-term actions to confront, acknowledge and accept accountability to bring about meaningful change.  We recognize this is a process, one that begins with active steps. To this end: 

  1. We are hosting an NSGC member Zoom forum next Tuesday, June 9 at 7:00pm Central Time to follow up on recent social media discussions and provide an open space for conversations within our membership on these issues. Without character count limits and other constraints that public-facing platforms present, we hope this will be a constructive way for all of our members to communicate openly with each other.
  2. We have engaged the NSGC Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Group and NSGCares Task Force to assemble anti-racism educational and support resources for our members and the communities we serve, and to identify avenues to engage in community discourse towards positive change. 
  3. We are evaluating new online courses to teach allyship and anti-racism to add to our catalog of available resources, which includes, at present, an online course on implicit bias. This is with the acknowledgement that you cannot unteach implicit bias or change current views about systemic racism through these courses alone. 
  4. Additional strategies will be launched as we continue our conversation with you, our members, and hear how we can support you, our patients, our community and our ongoing efforts toward social and racial justice.

Our response CANNOT and WILL NOT be limited to the short-term. Diversity, equity and inclusion is a pillar of NSGC’s Strategic Plan. For the last two years, we have engaged in planning and strategy to more effectively change the demographics of our profession and of the people who have access to genetic counselors. We are turning a critical eye to the ways that our homogeneity as a profession poses major barriers at every level to recruiting talented, visionary, caring people from diverse backgrounds. These barriers prevent individuals from being recognized and embraced for the unique and valuable qualities they bring to our profession. We acknowledge that deeper expertise is needed to truly uncover and address issues of systemic racism, implicit bias and structural exclusion within our community. In response, we are hiring top-level expert consultants to work with us on these issues.  These experts will begin engaging with our membership mid- to late summer of this year and we want your voices to be included in this work. We will reach out with updates and ways you can get involved in the coming months. 

We know we need to work to understand and dismantle racist and discriminatory practices and policies within our organization that benefit the majority.  This is the best path to creating an equitable system for all genetic counselors. We need to look critically at how we currently engage with the underrepresented communities we serve. Patients who identify as Black, Indigenous or other Persons of Color (BIPOC) should benefit from our professional commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity. In addition to recruiting greater numbers of genetic counselors who identify as BIPOC, we need other genetic counselors to care just as deeply so that people from the BIPOC communities can build and renew their trust in healthcare and genetics. We also want to demonstrate real and measurable progress to the underrepresented among us who want to practice in a way that is culturally appropriate, to students from marginalized groups who face challenging standardized testing practices or entrance requirements, and to government and other policy makers with whom we engage.

Below I share our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion statement put forth last year by the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force and adopted by the Board.  We will continue to work toward this vision of our organization for a better future that challenges the status quo of institutionalized racism. Please join us, join our commitment to a more just and equitable future and to uniting around our shared humanity while also valuing the differences that make us, as a field, stronger. 

With humility and gratitude,

Gillian Hooker
NSGC President

NSGC Statement of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

A guiding principle of the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) is to integrate genetics and genomics to improve healthcare. As a society, we can only meet this goal by promoting the active participation and leadership of people with diverse identities, perspectives, and backgrounds. Starting within our organization and extending into the larger healthcare system, we seek to empower our members to advocate for themselves, each other, and the diverse people we strive to serve.

History and Responsibility

We know that a diverse and inclusive organization does not build itself, but must be created through sustained effort by leadership, staff, and each individual member. We acknowledge the history of genetic differences being used and misused to justify stark injustices and reinforce social inequalities. Within the membership and leadership of NSGC, we do not yet have adequate representation or inclusion of minority identities, a disparity that has influenced our policies and services. We are responsible for learning from the past in order to pursue equity in our profession.

Advocates for Underrepresented People

NSGC advocates for the wellbeing of all genetic counselors – present and future - and those who are served by these professionals. We recognize that individuals with underrepresented characteristics and identities face logistical, social, and historical pressures that impact their professional and personal lives. These characteristics include, but are not limited to; age, race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, country of origin, culture, language, religion, spiritual beliefs, legal status, health history, and disability. Furthermore, the various characteristics of an individual interact to inform their experiences and perspectives. We strive for a culture of equity that addresses these pressures so that diverse perspectives are respected and empowered in our organization.

Commitment to an Inclusive Future

As professionals working at the forefront of clinical genetics, we are witnessing an era of rapid advancements. We recognize the duty to use our skills and knowledge for the benefit of all people so that disparities in healthcare are not compounded by the power of genetics. The skills of genetic counselors are exactly those needed to promote a diverse and inclusive organization: empathy, tailored communication, problem-solving, advocacy, and the ability to support people of all backgrounds through important moments in their lives. We acknowledge the need to extend the same types of support we are trained to provide to patients and clients to ourselves and our colleagues.

We know that over 98% of human genetic sequence is identical and our shared humanity unites us. Each of us has the need to feel respected, supported, and that we have a place where we can participate in a meaningful way. We also know that each person’s unique perspective gives them the power to contribute to the greater good. NSGC commits to valuing those differences.

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