By Dana Crawford, PhD, Diversity & Inclusion Task Force Chair & ASHG Board Member
As we approach the end of 2020 and await the beginning of a bold new year, I applaud the commitment that the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) has made to advance diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in human genetics and genomics research, policies, programming, workforce initiatives, membership, and volunteer leadership at all levels. I have the pleasure of serving on the Society’s Board and chairing the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, which was established 18 months ago and is integral in shaping the Society’s DEI efforts.
Throughout the year, ASHG engaged in an array of activities, consistent with its mission and the goals laid out in the ASHG 2019-2023 Strategic Plan. Below, I highlight a few notable actions and programs accomplished in 2020.
- ASHG Diversity and Inclusion Policy Statement In January 2020, the ASHG Board of Directors approved and released the Society’s first ever Diversity and Inclusion Policy Statement. The statement outlines specific areas for attention in the next five years based on the Strategic Plan. These areas include: (1) celebrate genetic diversity, one of humanity’s greatest strengths, as a foundation for scientific discovery that benefits health and society; (2) work to ensure our leadership and broader membership reflects and appreciates the diverse scientific and public communities we seek to serve and promote diversity and inclusion in our scientific events and forums; (3) create a more diverse and inclusive genetics and genomics research workforce through strong collaborations across academia, industry and government; (4) advocate for greater population diversity and inclusion in research to enable scientific discoveries that benefit all communities; and (5) improve the community’s ability to engage diverse audiences more consistently and competently, increasing support for the benefit of research among diverse populations.
- Human Genetics Scholars Initiative (HGSI) The HGSI is a two-year, intensive mentoring and skill-building experience for promising U.S. trainees and early career scientists from underrepresented backgrounds. The program continues to flourish from its launch in 2019. There are currently 16 talented scholars with strong robust research interests in human genetic and genomics as well as a passion to improve health and reduce disease among diverse populations. This program is an important foundation to our scientific workforce diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
- ASHG 2020 Virtual Annual Meeting The Annual Meeting is the largest human genetics and genomics convening and exposition in the world. This year ASHG successfully hosted a virtual experience that included cutting-edge science and a forum in which diversity, equity, and inclusion was promoted in Platform Sessions, Invited Sessions, and Poster Talks. During the meeting, I was elated to partake in the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Lounge that held virtual chats; hear dynamic speakers such as Joan Y. Reede, MD, MS, MPH, MBA, Dean for Diversity and Community Partnership at Harvard Medical School, during the Diversity Luncheon; and engage in a host of career opportunities and networking events.
- A Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Dialogue Series ASHG organized four engaging listening sessions with the ASHG community to share information relevant to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Each session was facilitated by either Task Force or ASHG members. Notably, the second session of the series started with invited speaker, Hannah Valantine, MD, MCRP, former Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity at the National Institutes of Health.
- AAAS Partnership During the summer, I was honored to serve as the ASHG representative on the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) STEMM Equity Achievement (SEA) Change Departmental Awards Framework Drafting Group. This group was responsible for creating the self-assessment criteria that is common across all Departmental Awards at U.S. institutions of higher education.
- Diversity Messaging Working Group Along with members of the Public Education and Awareness Committee and its liaison to the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, a working group has been meeting with the Society’s partner, Finn Partners, to develop and maintain a key messaging framework that can be adjusted for use with all ASHG audiences, including an emphasis on populations traditionally underrepresented in research. As part of the discussions, the working group is determining how to best engage groups that have lower knowledge and awareness of genetics or a lesser support for genetics research as revealed in ASHG’s public opinion survey. The messages developed will be reflected in language describing ASHG programs and topics, including the Annual Meeting and public-facing materials.
- Perspective on Population Participation in Research One of the latest ASHG Perspectives, “Advancing diverse participation in research with special consideration for vulnerable populations” was developed in partnership with the chairs of the Government & Public Advocacy Committee, Professional Practice and Social Implications Committee and myself, the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force chair. This article, which was published in the September issue of AJHG, emphasized the concerted effort to include greater engagement with individuals and communities underrepresented in research.
- ASHG Membership and Volunteer Leadership ASHG provided reduced membership rates for individuals residing in Developing Countries to expand the international scope of the Society’s membership. In addition, the diversity of the ASHG Board of Directors and Committees continue to increase over time, due in part to the Society’s focused-driven efforts and strategic priorities.
With compelling support and guidance by the Board of Directors, ASHG enthusiastically welcomed its first senior director, diversity, equity and inclusion, Chazeman Jackson, PhD, MA who joined on October 19. According to ASHG’s CEO, Mona Miller, this leadership role will expand important organizational partnerships and help shape ASHG’s growing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in both field-facing and public programs.
After an unprecedently challenging 2020, the Task Force is planning to move forward with more formative discussions to build on the DEI successes over the past year and ensure we focus the Society’s actions to achieve the vision in which “people everywhere realize the benefits of human genetics and genomics research.” Together with leadership, volunteers, and staff, we can and will make an indelible mark. Our concerted efforts are needed now more than ever.