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NHGRI Sets Plan to Diversify Genomics Workforce

NEW YORK – The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) on Thursday released a set of goals, objectives, and implementation strategies detailing its plans to enhance the diversity of the genomics workforce by 2030.

Today's genomics workforce does not reflect the diversity of the US population, and research has shown that having an inclusive scientific workforce is necessary to increase innovation and to enhance performance in solving scientific problems, the agency noted in its document, titled Building a Diverse Genomics Workforce: An NHGRI Action Agenda.

"To reach its full potential, the field of genomics requires a workforce that better reflects the diversity of the US population," NHGRI Director Eric Green added in a statement. "Fostering an appropriately diverse genomics workforce of the future requires an immediate and substantial commitment of attention and resources. Our new action agenda aims to bring both short- and long-term changes that will make genomics a more inclusive discipline."

In an accompanying commentary published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, Green and Vence Bonham, senior advisor to the NHGRI director on genomics and health disparities, wrote that although the NHGRI has prioritized funding programs to increase the number of genomics-trained researchers from diverse groups, the genomics research workforce has seen limited growth in the number of independent researchers from underrepresented backgrounds. This problem is also connected to "many broader societal issues related to inequities, health disparities, and injustices," they added.

In order to address these issues and implementing the action agenda, the American Society of Human Genetics, the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, the National Society of Genetic Counselors, and others are launching a survey later this month to collect baseline data on the existing demographic landscape of the US human genetics and genomics workforce.

NHGRI said the action agenda is an extension of the 2020 strategic vision it published last fall, identifying priorities and opportunities for human genomics in the next decade. A key priority that the strategic vision emphasized was attracting, developing, and retaining a diverse workforce, including individuals from groups that are currently underrepresented in the genomics community.

At the time, Green told GenomeWeb that increasing diversity in the genomics workforce would also have a positive effect on the communities those individuals come from, especially if those communities are scientifically or medically underserved.

"We have to be willing to spend effort to help people understand genetics, so they don't fear it the way some people do now. This speaks to issues around genomic literacy. It also speaks to issues about our workforce. If everybody in the genomics workforce looks like me, it's going to be very difficult to recruit individuals from minority groups," Green said. "The institute is very committed. We're putting our money where our mouth is — we are investing in studies to improve diversity among our research participants and putting our efforts to improve diversity in our workforce. And we are trying to improve genomic literacy across the board, and that includes everybody, including underrepresented groups."

To help set the agenda, NHGRI established an internal Genomic Workforce Diversity Working Group last year that sought broad input from the public, research university leaders, and early career genomics professionals. The plan highlights groups that have been identified by NIH as underrepresented in biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences, including individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and disadvantaged backgrounds, persons with disabilities, and women at the senior faculty level.

It describes four major development and support goals: initiatives that provide early exposure and access to careers in genomics; training programs and networks that connect undergraduates and graduates to careers in genomics; training, career development, and research transition programs that lead to independent research and clinical careers in genomics; and the evaluation of progress towards achieving greater diversity in the genomics workforce.

"With programs in place and new ones to start, the challenging but essential work begins now. Through sustained effort, dedication, and creativity, we believe we can make the genomics workforce better reflect our diverse society," Green added in the statement.