Skip to main content

Assessing barriers to the career ladder and professional development for ethnic minority genetic counselors in the United States

Written by: Aaron Baldwin, Taylor Berninger, Barbara Harrison, Erica Ramos, Molly A. McGinniss
Published on: Mar 30, 2023


Ethnic Minorities in workforce

Photo credit: Ania/Adobe Stock

Ethnic diversity is not reflected within healthcare professions, including genetic counseling, where lack of growth and membership among minority colleagues extends to upper-level and executive roles. While diversity and inclusion-based topics have been emphasized, studies on potential barriers to career advancement in the field of genetic counseling have not received the same attention. Our study examined the current state of mentorship and sponsorship programs, the presence of diversity and inclusion initiatives, and opportunities for career advancement through the lens of a minority genetic counselor. Practicing genetic counselors in the United States identifying as part of any racial group, other than non-Hispanic White alone, were recruited through the Minority Genetics Professionals Network for survey participation. A 31-item survey was fully completed by 19 practicing genetic counselors from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics and thematic analysis, allowing for individual stories and accounts to be amplified. Results showed 16 of 19 participants had never been promoted in their current employment setting. Additionally, 7 out of 19 respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that their company had a commitment to an ethnically diverse workforce within upper-level positions. Prominent themes identified from open-ended responses included lack of social connection with supervisors and the cross-race effect, a term referencing a tendency for individuals to better recognize members of their own race or ethnicity than others. Additional themes revealed feelings of isolation, need for support from White colleagues, as well as desired emphasis on sponsorship tailored toward professional growth. These findings demonstrate a need for proactive involvement in reaching ethnic and racial minority genetic counselors through companywide policy efforts, support and advocacy from White colleagues, and modification of cultural perception frameworks. Further focus and emphasis on these distinct but critical topics may be important in promoting increased diversity in upper-level positions in the field of genetic counseling.

Read the report