Most veterinary practices want to cultivate a welcoming and inclusive culture, but many get stuck between wanting to build a diverse team and actually making it happen. On a personal level, inclusion and diversity have always been incredibly important to me, and I was surprised that my early Ready, Vet, Go mentorship team did not reflect our mentee cohorts’ diversity. This was a learning moment. My beliefs and motivation for change displaced my initial shock and surprise. How could I walk the walk and live out my so-called commitment to a welcoming, supportive, and diverse community if I couldn’t shape one of my own?
The answers paved the way to progress and provided a better understanding of what believing in, cultivating, and supporting an authentically diverse veterinary workplace means. Here’s what I’ve learned about building a diverse team.
More than words: Why targeted strategies don’t work
When I decided to prioritize diversity, I contacted several BIPOC and LGBTQ veterinarians to see if they’d be interested in becoming Ready, Vet, Go mentors. While I received some replies, if people weren’t directly in my network or knew me personally, they didn’t reply.
While specifically reaching out to minority veterinarians can be effective, at times doing so could send the wrong message about your intentions. No matter how thoughtfully you craft your job ad, promises of a diverse and accepting workplace culture can fall flat if they aren’t reinforced by recognizable action.
Get real: Be honest and open if you’re struggling to connect
During a serendipitous conversation with my friend Pam Hale DVM, MBA, at a veterinary conference dinner, I learned my second lesson. Being vulnerable is OK. Be open about your intentions to cultivate a diverse team, ready to have potentially uncomfortable conversations, and willing to ask for help from your network.
During dinner with Dr. Hale, I was open and shared with her the roadblocks I had encountered. We had a wonderful conversation. She shared with me that many in the BIPOC community may not initially be trustful of such an outreach. Sometimes the best way in is through a personal connection to negate concerns of nefarious, misplaced practices. In sharing her network, connections were made that may not have materialized. This allowed me to greatly expand my mentorship team. I’m thrilled to say that I was able to bring in a diverse group of mentors that represents the diversity of the Ready, Vet, Go mentees.
Ready, Vet, Go now has a team of mentors that provides a multidimensional perspective for every mentee—no matter their cultural, religious, or racial background, sexual identity, or personal beliefs. Keep in mind that not all diversity is obvious. Race or physical disabilities can often be seen, but sexual orientation, gender, religion, and chronic disease often cannot. Sharing about your less-obvious traits can help you connect with others in that community. For example, I share openly with people that I am part of the LGBTQ community, and some of our Ready, Vet, Go mentors with chronic illnesses share about their situations.
Diversity discussions can open scary territory. However, learning how to talk comfortably about these topics, including asking the difficult questions and, yes, the ones that show your lack of awareness or experience, can help you break through superficial barriers and make authentic connections.
Go offline: Make ground-level connections
Job ads can be great, but only if they actually reach your intended audience. If you’re seeking to increase diversity in your workplace, you need to do more than include an Equal Employment Opportunity statement to convey your good intentions.
Rather than relying exclusively on online job boards, start building your team’s cultural value by focusing on personal connections. This could include:
- Reaching out to campus groups — Introduce yourself and your practice or business to student ambassadors or chapter presidents for groups such as National Association of Black Veterinarians, Latinx Veterinary Medical Association, and Pride Veterinary Medical Community at your nearest veterinary school. Offer to share your expertise and insights with these groups by hosting a talk or skill lab or by participating in a panel discussion.
- Attending conferences and educational events — Local and national events provide countless networking opportunities inside and outside the lecture hall. Increase your understanding by speaking with representatives from national organizations about how to navigate diversity challenges in veterinary medicine.
As illustrated by my dinner conversation with Dr. Hale, you never know when one connection can unlock a world of opportunities. Stay open to every potential lead to increase your search results. However, remember, authenticity is key, so learn how to leave your comfort zone!
Build culture through action: Join membership organizations and participate in initiatives for change
As we’ve established, words and intentions mean little without action. Show your support for a more diverse veterinary community by building a practice culture defined by actions, not only stated core values.
This may feel daunting, but doing so is not. Every effort matters, and often small gestures lead to powerful social change. Practical and beneficial actions you can take right now include:
- Becoming a member of national organizations — Demonstrate solidarity and allyship for minority veterinary professionals.