NHGRI proposes an action agenda for building a diverse genomics workforce

January 07, 2021

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has released a new action agenda for a diverse genomics workforce. This ambitious set of goals, objectives, and implementation strategies details NHGRI's plans for enhancing the diversity of the genomics workforce by 2030.

"To reach its full potential, the field of genomics requires a workforce that better reflects the diversity of the U.S. population," NHGRI Director Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D., said. "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."

Accompanying the release of this action agenda today is a commentary authored by Dr. Green and Vence Bonham, J.D., senior advisor to the NHGRI director on genomics and health disparities, in the latest issue of ASHG's American Journal of Human Genetics, which explains the strategic imperative to make the genomics workforce more diverse.

A critical first step in implementing the action agenda is a comprehensive survey announced today by the American Society of Human Genetics, in cooperation with the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, the National Society of Genetic Counselors and others, to collect baseline data on the existing demographic landscape of the U.S. human genetics and genomics workforce. The survey will be launched in mid-to-late January.

The action agenda is a direct extension of the 2020 NHGRI Strategic Vision for the future of human genomics. The vision identifies priorities and opportunities for the next decade -- both within research and the research community-at-large -- to improve human health at The Forefront of Genomics.

A key priority that the strategic vision emphasizes is championing a diverse genomics workforce because "the promise of genomics cannot be fully achieved without attracting, developing, and retaining a diverse workforce, which includes individuals from groups that are currently underrepresented in the genomics enterprise."

To develop an overarching plan for this priority area, NHGRI established an internal Genomic Workforce Diversity Working Group last year. Chaired by Bonham, the group worked in earnest to develop the new action agenda.

"We listened to as many voices as possible as we were building the action agenda," Bonham said. "We actively sought broad input by seeking public comments and interviewed research university leaders and early career genomics professionals. This outreach has led to a plan that will propel the genomics field to make a much-needed change to our workforce."

The action agenda highlights groups that have been identified by NIH as underrepresented in biomedical, clinical, behavioral and social sciences. These groups include individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and disadvantaged backgrounds, persons with disabilities and women at the senior faculty level.

The plan describes four major goals: The new action agenda aims to build on NHGRI's history of funding diversity training programs, many of which have successfully helped to increase the number of underrepresented scientists who pursue genomics-related careers. The institute has also supported science education programs that provide genomics training to secondary school teachers, community college staff and tribal college and university faculty.

"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," Dr. Green said.

NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute

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