Genomics and Diversity in the Workplace
Enhancing the diversity of the research workforce fosters innovation and creativity.
The Big Picture
- People from diverse backgrounds, women and people with disabilities are significantly underrepresented in biomedical research and clinical science.
- Individuals from diverse backgrounds can positively influence innovation and interpretation of research and health equity.
- The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) is undertaking a leadership role to champion a more diverse genomic workforce.
How does NHGRI define diversity in the genomics workforce?
The NIH Diversity Statement highlights that "every facet of the United States scientific research enterprise — from basic laboratory research to clinical and translational research to policy formation — requires superior intellect, creativity and a wide range of skill sets and viewpoints. NIH’s ability to help ensure that the nation remains a global leader in scientific discovery and innovation depends on a pool of highly talented scientists from diverse backgrounds who will help to further NIH's mission."
For NHGRI, true diversity in the genomic workforce would showcase the contribution of people from all groups, including those underrepresented in the biomedical community.
Why is there a lack of workplace diversity in biomedical research?
In 2015, NIH published a paper recognizing that the U.S. biomedical research workforce does not currently reflect the U.S. demographic population. In fact, all bachelor's degrees across the sciences reveal a low proportion of U.S. citizens from underrepresented populations, which is even lower for advanced degrees. But this issue is not endemic to biomedical research. Social, behavioral and clinical science also lag behind.
What are the benefits of maintaining a diverse genomics workforce?
Increasing the diversity in all spheres, including genomics, has critical advantages. A diverse research workforce brings together people with different perspectives and experiences. People from diverse backgrounds tend to work in groups where each member’s thoughts and opinions can be shared and discussed amongst each other, which helps cultivate an environment that fosters innovation, creativity and productivity. A 2014 study showed that a diverse problem-solving group can outperform high-ability problem solvers.
The field of genomics requires consistent and deep mental flexibility to solve and disseminate some of biology’s most challenging questions. To this effect, the genomics workforce must reflect groups that are currently underrepresented in biomedical research. Having teams that are inclusive of all racial and ethnic groups, including, but not limited to, people with disabilities, women (particularly in leadership positions), and LGBTQ+ populations can pinpoint gaps in research questions, ask the question of who is included in the research, and bring a diversity of thought and expertise from various disciplines.
What are NHGRI’s goals to build workplace diversity?
Since 2001, NHGRI has funded programs that are intended to enhance the number of diverse genomics-trained researchers. Guided by a reemphasis and focus of its efforts, the Institute recently released its Diversity Action Agenda that outlines NHGRI's commitment to partner with the genomics and education communities to increase the diversity of the U.S. genomics workforce. These goals and objectives align with developing and supporting access to genomics careers and training programs across all career stages.
What steps is NHGRI taking to improve workforce diversity?
NHGRI is creating new programs, initiatives and funding opportunities designed to include and retain individuals from diverse backgrounds. The Institute is also partnering with numerous professional societies, academic and early education centers to build a range of diversity programs. Importantly, NHGRI leadership is creating protocols that periodically track the success or failure of such efforts to ensure that NHGRI continues to implement only the most successful programs.
Last updated: December 10, 2021