As Maya Angelou said, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.” Remembering one’s history to chart a path forward is very applicable to NSGC’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. As we prepare to receive The Exeter Group’s DEI assessment of our organization, we want to catch you up on a recent update to the DEI Committee, now the J.E.D.I. Committee. Here’s a hint: it doesn’t have to do with the Star Wars movies.
From ad hoc to an ongoing commitment
In a little less than three years, the NSGC Board of Directors has solidified the organization’s commitment to systemic initiatives to help make DEI a reality. It began in 2018 when D&I entered NSGC’s Strategic Plan for the first time, as Strategic Area of Focus 4. Next, the D&I Task Force was born (Chairs were Aishwarya Arjunan and Julia Platt), followed by the DEI Advisory Group (Chairs were Ambreen Khan and Deepti Babu) and the DEI Committee (Chairs are Deepti Babu and Khalida Liaquat) in following years. Changes to these group names signaled a desire for permanence to underpin these efforts, as well as language that best reflected the work (more on this later).
In year one (2019), the D&I Task Force thought deeply about the state of D&I in our society and field, publishing their findings in a Journal of Genetic Counseling article. They identified a need to include “E” for equity and also crafted NSGC’s DEI statement. Their recommendations included the formation of an advisory group, development of short-term DEI initiatives and identification of specific focus areas where long-term meaningful and measurable improvements could be achieved. They also raised the need for an external DEI consultant to formally assess our organization, recognizing the importance of outside expertise to guide us in this work.
In year two (2020), the DEI Advisory Group opened a Request for Proposal in search of an expert in the DEI space to assess the society as a whole and develop NSGC’s DEI Plan. The Exeter Group was selected as our partner. In a dynamic year that further raised the urgency and profile of DEI, the Advisory Group dove into the work of helping to shape the DEI assessment alongside Exeter and the NSGC Board.
Early in year three (2021), the NSGC Board further evolved the Advisory Group to a Committee, entrusting it with charges surrounding broad communication about Exeter’s assessment report, recommendations, along with the strategic implementation of those recommendations. Quick note to members: Be on the lookout for Exeter’s full assessment report to be released for your feedback at the end of April.
More than just letters
As volunteers in the DEI space, we spend time speaking with peers, colleagues, stakeholders, and decision makers within and outside NSGC about who and what we try to represent. We often talk about our identities, how they intersect, and how our perspectives only represent our own experiences yet need to be inclusive of all. And while it can sometimes feel dizzying, we stay open to shifting language surrounding this work because it is reflective of something that’s alive and breathing. When we talk about the work of DEI, what do we really mean? Here are some definitions, created in collaboration with Exeter:
- Diversity: Differences people have with respect to race, ethnicity, religion, color, gender identity or expression, national origin, disability status, sexual orientation, age, education, geographic origin, language and skill characteristics, among others.
- Equity: The absence of avoidable and unfair differences among groups of people, in which all receive what they need. Everyone has a fair opportunity to attain their full potential, and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential. Equity is different than equality, where all groups of people receive the same number and type of resources or support, regardless of needs or circumstances.
- Inclusion: Engaging each individual and making everyone feel valued.
A few weeks ago, the Board and DEI Committee realized we couldn’t speak of progress and success in this space without speaking of justice, within and outside of NSGC. Ultimately, success is achieved when the system itself is changed, when societal infrastructure and systemic barriers no longer exist and allow true diversity, equity, and inclusion to live.
If imagery helps you, here is a 4-part series by Tony Ruth (@lunchbreath), available at https://cx.report/2020/06/02/equity/:
The J.E.D.I. Committee
Justice was added to the Committee name to fully represent the scope of the work we are striving to achieve, following meaningful and productive Committee and Board discussions weighing our mission and charges and the work to come. The next decision? Placement of the J in the name. Where would it fit best? Since justice drives all of the work, should “J” come first? While “JEDI” is easier to say, could a potential reference to Star Wars trivialize the efforts? Should we add periods between the letters to create separation from pop culture? After a cursory internet search yielded a small number of options—adding the “J” is an emerging topic—we turned to our most powerful tools: listening and conversation with others. Following a Committee discussion and vote, we settled on: J.E.D.I. Committee.
Join the momentum
Based on recommendations from stakeholders and the loud clear voices of our membership, groups throughout the NSGC have added activities and mandates to address J.E.D.I. in 2021. These activities range from Special Interest Groups (SIGs) forming subcommittees, to including and assessing questions in member surveys, to every Committee having at least one charge—all specifically focused on addressing J.E.D.I. We on the J.E.D.I. Committee are excited and grateful to see this rising momentum and hope to channel it together. This renewed enthusiasm towards J.E.D.I. within our profession is a testament to the importance of this work and we hope you will be part of this journey with us.
So, here’s how you can get involved.
- Explore your own personal growth. Need help getting started? Check out these resources curated by the J.E.D.I. Committee.
- Participate in our upcoming open comment period, opening at the end of April when the complete Exeter DEI assessment report for NSGC will be released. Watch your email, social media channels, and the new NSGC J.E.D.I. webpage for ways to share feedback and stay updated.
Our next steps will be to prioritize recommendations and build an organizational action plan, but we can’t do that without your help to inform the efforts. Be a part of the momentum. Make your voice heard. Join us in shaping our society and our profession to make it the just, equitable, diverse, and inclusive space we want it to be. Let’s catalyze this reaction for meaningful change.