The Stanford Genetic Counseling Diversity Equity Inclusion Action and Outreach Committee (SGC DEI AOC) was created in March 2020 by a team of genetic counselors and genetic counseling students to provide a platform to execute DEI initiatives to promote systemic change. Over the past three years, we have learned a lot about the administrative and collaborative efforts that are needed to make meaningful and sustainable progress. For example, successful implementation relies on identifying a champion to advocate for the creation of a committee, capturing the needs of important stakeholders, and providing structure that accounts for a continuous fluctuation of volunteer time. In our experience, putting students in charge of the committee’s direction ensures that the mission, vision, and projects remain focused on the current and evolving issues facing our field. Here, we aim to provide a general outline of actionable steps as a reference to guide trainees, supervisors, faculty members, and program leadership in the creation of their own grassroots efforts to promote equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging in their specific program.
Creating a Committee
- Many genetic counselors and genetic counseling trainees have thought about creating a DEI-related committee at their respective institutions but may have been hesitant to initiate the process. This ambiguous cloud of what a committee could look like should first be broken down into smaller, manageable steps: assess the need and define the problem.
- This process requires at least one person who is willing to step up and voice the need for a committee to address a specific initiative they have in mind. That person(s) should then identify a champion (anyone with knowledge of the inner workings of their institution, such as program leadership, faculty, hospital/university DEI offices, etc.) to help facilitate the official creation of a committee. It is also important to bring those with lived experiences into positions of leadership and influence.
Garnering Interest from your Community
- One challenge of implementing a committee in a busy training program or workplace is the committee members’ ability to commit time to meetings, projects, and other initiatives. These committees are often volunteer-led and volunteer-run, which poses barriers to participation. Potential members will want to know how much time may be required of them, so it is helpful to define what membership looks like and emphasize that members can have varying and fluctuating levels of involvement so long as availability is clearly communicated to the other members of any specific project sub-committee they may join.
Developing Goals and Determining Evaluation Metrics
- Once you clarify who is interested in becoming involved and why it is important to them, the leadership team should identify WHAT are the needs of the specific program. A needs assessment (e.g., survey or open discussion) will help the leadership team create a charter focused on long-term goals, as well as sub-committees to work on tangible deliverables that will allow each member to work on a team with others who share their passions.
- After your goals are set, consider what metrics you will use to evaluate progress and success. Whenever possible, ask those who will be most impacted by your initiative to weigh in early on what success should look like. Also, try to ensure that the metrics are woven into the DNA of your group’s existence, through mission/vision statements, protected time, and/or line-items in a program’s budget.
- Our committee implemented multiple levels of leadership to both promote professional growth among members and allow for the sharing of roles and responsibilities. Having a leadership team to turn to helps members be reassured that their project is on the right path.
- There is inevitably turnover in master’s programs and other institutions, so creating standard operating procedures, documentation, and opportunities to elicit feedback will be integral to building infrastructure for continuity over time.
- Identify the next Committee Chair(s) with enough time for these individuals to shadow and take on their new leadership responsibilities. This period of overlap with the outgoing chair(s) allows for a smooth, gradual, and informed transition.
- Identify opportunities to collaborate with other groups or committees to leverage outside expertise, perspective wisdom, and existing resources.
Examples of Successful Initiatives
- Brave spaces: Current students meet independently of the program to process current events that may adversely affect how individuals move throughout the world (e.g., the murder of George Floyd, the various hate crimes against the AAPI community, etc.). This peer processing brings individuals together in a way that can otherwise be difficult to accomplish amidst the rigorous requirements of graduate training.
- Professional development seminar series: Members volunteer to create sessions on specific topics relevant to our field (e.g., working with Black Americans, ableism, reproductive justice) and have small group discussions to reflect and strategize about the ways we can improve our practice in light of the didactic material presented. This co-education often results in brainstorming actions to tackle issues in real time.
- DEI Rotation Supplement: Trainees and supervisors use the guide to discuss the different perspectives each individual brings to the rotation, creating open dialogue to foster feelings of safety and belonging.
Link to our website: https://sites.google.com/stanford.edu/sgc-dei-aoc/