In March 2022, the BVA published the results of a survey on professional stereotypes among specialties and fields of work within the veterinary community (Agathou et al., 2022). It found that its members and the public identified equine GP vets more negatively and they were mainly described as “posh” and “arrogant/snobby”.
This makes for difficult reading as it is not how I identify myself at all. As a dairy farmer’s son from West Wales who was raised under the umbrella of “If you can’t eat it or milk it, then it has no place on our farm”, I was in no way destined to be a horse vet. However, the outstanding equine team at Liverpool University didn’t judge my agricultural style, rather they taught me the science and encouraged me to learn the art of equine veterinary medicine.
The equine sector in general is mainly populated by white owners and riders. The exact reasons for this cannot be quantified without further gathering of evidence, but societal factors are the likely cause
Following the survey author’s conclusions, BEVA has invested time and energy into considering the factors that could lead to such a statement. Discussions reflected that the equine sector in general is mainly populated by white owners and riders. The exact reasons for this cannot be quantified without further gathering of evidence, but societal factors are the likely cause. Further it was noted that the socio-economic profile of our equine vets was indeed reflective of the sector as a whole.
Last Monday morning, I arrived to work at Liphook and grabbed the first 10 colleagues I could find, for a group photo. I wanted to see who I’d get and consider their diversity. I was pleasantly surprised. My random group had a fair split of male and female, vets and non-vets, UK born vs internationally born and qualified, public vs private educations, even taller vs shorter!
I discussed with my fellow directors why what I was noticing was not in line with the survey author’s conclusions. Obviously, we do not have robust evidence to support our viewpoints but there must be something in our processes at Liphook that leads to diversity within our practice. Two things came to light – first, we are a team and each and every interview process feeds into this. Every candidate is made very aware that being a team player is of ultimate importance.
Coupled with our strong team focus we prioritise the skillset and the personality of each candidate without consideration of gender, physical appearance, sexual preference or country of qualification
But how is this relevant to diversity? After much consideration my thoughts are that every member knows that any damage to the team will be poorly viewed and this includes any form of discrimination. As people we are all equal, irrespective of our roles within the practice. This naturally feeds our inclusivity, leading organically to diversity. Coupled with our strong team focus we prioritise the skillset and the personality of each candidate without consideration of gender, physical appearance, sexual preference or country of qualification.
I am sure many other practices out there have a similar approach.
So, what should we be doing proactively to improve diversity within our sector? Should we approach, encourage and positively select minority groups? Should we create reach-out groups to engage with communities that currently have a low representation? While I can see a definite need to improve our visible engagement with all minority groups, I do not personally feel the need to identify, highlight and advertise the outliers. This just feeds the uncomfortable notion of an unusual fit or noticeable difference.
My personal preference would be a profession-wide inclusive mindset, where the default setting for all of us is to blind ourselves to non-professional factors
Rather, my personal preference would be a profession-wide inclusive mindset, where the default setting for all of us is to blind ourselves to non-professional factors. If we stop seeing the differences because they are irrelevant, they are no longer there. In doing so, minority groups will feel welcome and included and will gravitate towards our inclusive sector rather than shy away from it.
A few weeks ago, three other BEVA council members and I spent an evening with students from Surrey Veterinary School as part of BEVA’s Vet School Tours organised by Phil Cramp. This excellent initiative allows all students to spend an evening chatting to four very different horse vets while eating pizza “on us”. We tell them our stories and field a myriad of questions. There is no predetermined outcome; we simply engage, listen and answer questions. The laid-back, food-orientated approach results in a wide variety of students attending, some of whom have limited interest in a career in equine veterinary science. It gives them an opportunity to observe and absorb what being a horse vet in the real world is actually like, without any expectation or pressure. The evening concluded with a clear message: “We are not here to pressure you into becoming a horse vet; however, if any of you think you might be interested, we are here to let you know it is 100 percent possible irrespective of background, gender, colour, sexual preference and identity, or physical appearance. Everyone is welcome: just contact BEVA for anything you need and we will help you navigate your own professional path.”
Let us also empower our membership to stand up to discrimination. We all know it is not OK, so let us call it out when we see it and banish it to the history books where it belongs
Let us also empower our membership to stand up to discrimination. We all know it is not OK, so let us call it out when we see it and banish it to the history books where it belongs.
On a lighter note, a few months ago we had a “design or choose your own mug day” at the practice. Everyone created or chose a mug and now they all float around the practice and each day you are someone else for the day. Simple and very inclusive – this is one of my favourites.