The advantages of practicing diversity

Diversity, inclusion are not only altruistic but good for business
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AVMA Veterinary Diversity Symposium attendees

July 17 at the AVMA Annual Convention in Honolulu was "a great, great day for the diversity initiative" in the words of Dr. Evan M. Morse, a speaker and moderator for the second AVMA Veterinary Diversity Symposium. Dr. Morse, owner of a companion animal practice in Cleveland, praised the audience itself as diverse, noting that it included 21 of 28 U.S. veterinary deans as well as other educators and AVMA leaders.

Diversity is a corporate core value for Pfizer Animal Health, which sponsored the symposium.

"Some say AVMA and the veterinary profession have not been committed to diversity—until recently," said AVMA President Henry E. Childers. "I think that's true." He said veterinarians are a loving, caring profession, but other concerns have dominated.

Dr. Morse said, "The past is the past ... and I feel there's a total commitment (by AVMA now) to address the woeful inadequacies of diversity that exist in this profession."

Dr. Childers recapped the Executive Board's November 2004 adoption of a diversity policy and appointment of a Task Force on Diversity, which has met twice and will hold a final meeting before making recommendations to the board. In addition, the AVMA has begun collecting relevant data by way of a member information update form.

AVMA President-Elect Roger K. Mahr was in attendance, as was Dr. Larry M. Kornegay, board member and chair of the AVMA Task Force on Diversity, who later gave an update from the task force. Dr. Mahr told attendees that increasing diversity in the veterinary applicant pool will help fill diverse shortage areas in the profession, such as public health, rural practice, government, academia, and biomedical research.

Drawing on her background as the child of a Cherokee father and Greek-immigrant mother, Dr. Petrina York of Oklahoma State University shared insights about communicating effectively with a diverse clientele.

"You must recognize diversity in yourself first, including your ethnic background and the culture of your home, such as your religion and country of origin," she said. She explained that minority clients often base their initial opinion of a practice on how well the team "disregards" their ethnic and cultural background. Does the practice staff talk louder to people with accents, or talk with other staff in front of such clients as though they were not present? Staff should be gently retrained about these things, she said.

Dr. Morse focused his own presentation on how increasing the racial diversity of one's practice will increase the bottom line. Among the benefits are a wider talent pool from which to recruit, firsthand knowledge of emerging markets and the ability to target them, enhancement of community relationships, and revenue.

Among the "concrete business reasons" cited by Dr. Morse for cultivating a diverse client base and workforce were projections that between 1990 and 2009, blacks and Asian-Americans would double their buying power, Latinos will more than triple theirs, and Native Americans will increase theirs by 53 percent. In addition, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender individuals are a relatively untapped and loyal market, the disabled have great discretionary buying power, seniors constitute 12 percent of the population, and women make 83 percent of all consumer purchases.

"To identify and capitalize on emerging and untapped markets, practices need employees who understand them," Dr. Morse said. "The introduction of different voices will help practices identify opportunities and succeed in these emerging markets."

Dr. Morse encouraged the cultivation of relationships with employees, clients, suppliers, and community leaders. Start with a mission statement that articulates the practice's commitment to diversity and then communicate this image by advertising, direct marketing, telling the practice's story to the media, and creating a Web site that details the practice's commitment to diversity, among other things.

To quantify the economic return on the practice's investment in diversity initiatives, Dr. Morse suggested using the Hubbard Diversity Return on Investment Analysis Model, available online at

Keynote speaker Robert DiMarzo, MBA, talked about leveraging diversity and inclusion for a competitive advantage in the global marketplace. President of U.S. operations for Pfizer Animal Health, DiMarzo learned from his cultural experiences working in the Central African Republic, Brazil, and Italy. His take-home message was that diversity and inclusion are not only the right thing to do but are also good for business, and one must be proactive with these initiatives.

Dr. Evan M. Morse and Robert DiMarzo (left), and Dr. Debbye Turner (right)

"Altruism implies doing the right thing for the right reasons," DiMarzo said. "The altruistic nature of what you do as a veterinarian will go away (without diversity)." As the U.S. population becomes more diverse and multicultural, pet ownership follows suit, he said. "We provide safe and wholesome food. How are we going to provide that if we don't understand their cultures? This goes way beyond companion animals."

Turning to the economics, he presented a basic business case, saying diversity results in a broader spectrum of experience, ideas, opinions, and perspectives, ultimately leading to more risk taking, a synergistic culture, and a broader competitive base.

DiMarzo said that companies in the Standard & Poor's top 100 that rated diversity as a priority saw an average return on investment of 18.3 percent, compared with those in the bottom 100, which had average returns of only 7.9 percent.

Leading off the afternoon sessions, Dr. Phillip Nelson, executive associate dean of preclinical programs at the Western University College of Veterinary Medicine, spoke about proactive mentorship and actively seeking diversity in the profession.

The featured speaker was Dr. Debbye Turner, contributor to the CBS Early Show. Dr. Turner said that perception, perspective, and vision are critical elements in building an exciting and fulfilling future in veterinary medicine. According to the former Miss America, the forum best suited to address these elements is the media. Her interactive session provided tips on getting on the news, giving a good interview, and dealing with negative press.

Plans are already under way for the 2007 AVMA Veterinary Diversity Symposium on Monday, July 16, during the AVMA Annual Convention in Washington, D.C.