As a new genetic counselor, I sit here ruminating, thinking about the social and cultural challenges I faced to get here in the first place. “You see, I am a ‘two-hit’ minority applicant”, I quipped in the countless informational interviews I had with genetic counselors prior to graduate school. I identify as a straight, South Asian male, and prior to graduate school, I struggled to tell myself that genetic counseling was for me. After all, how could I fit into a profession where hardly anyone looked like me?
One of the first articles I read when I was looking more into the gender disparities in genetic counseling was titled: Where are the Males? Gender Differences in Undergraduates’ Interest in and Perceptions of the Genetic Counseling Profession. Although reading the title by itself gave me a sense that maybe genetic counseling was a profession that was ‘only meant’ for women, I decided to read the article. To my surprise, I learned that women rated “interpersonal skills” as more integral to the field of genetic counseling than did men. I felt rather confused. My entire life I have been commended for my interpersonal skills and ability to both communicate and articulate complex concepts. So did that mean I would make a great genetic counselor?
Growing up, my parents had a more traditional line of thinking; they fostered the South Asian adage that a child grows up to be a doctor, engineer, lawyer, or (for the lack of a better term) a failure. One day, I finally mustered the courage to sit my parents down and tell them that I wanted to pursue genetic counseling. I told myself that by becoming one of the first (few) South Asian male genetic counselors, I was going to make it a goal to inspire and thereby recruit more members of underrepresented groups to join this great profession. However, this goal is a lot easier said than done. You see, we talk a lot about ‘representation’ and J.E.D.I initiatives in the profession through recruiting more minority students. But it’s not just about having more compositional diversity in the field, it’s also about creating inclusive spaces for minority, underrepresented students (and counselors). It’s about telling us how you will accommodate us and make us feel like we belong. I remember my graduate school interviews when a few interviewers asked me how I would cope with (potentially) being the only male in the class. Instead, why not tell us minority interviewees how the graduate program is going to accommodate us and not have us feel ‘left out’?
pair us with a mentor from a similar cultural background or identity group?
incorporate gender inclusive language and identity in your curriculum?
provide time off (and perhaps even partake in celebrations) for Eid, Diwali and Lunar New Year along with Easter and Halloween?
Five years ago I decided that I wanted to become a genetic counselor. I did not know what lay ahead, and whether I would even be able to do it from a socio-cultural standpoint. Yet, with a little bit of persistence and a ‘I hope to be a trailblazer’ attitude, here I am: drinking copious amounts of coffee and typing away my Perspective(s).
To the majority demographic in genetic counseling: I want to acknowledge that change is tough. We know that the professional demographic has been largely homogeneous–majority cis, white female (P.S. Based on previous literature, the assonance ‘cardi (cardigan) party’ has been used as a stereotype to describe a typical genetic counselor at our NSGC conferences. Like, seriously). But times are changing, and we as a profession are acknowledging the imperativeness of a more diverse workforce. We need you to be active allies that support us in our collective efforts on diversity and inclusion. Only then will us minority genetic counselors feel like we truly belong in this profession.