Symposium focuses on inclusivity within the profession

Diversity goes beyond race, gender, speakers say
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For the veterinary profession to thrive, a culture of inclusivity must be cultivated, according to speakers at the fifth annual Diversity Symposium, July 13, sponsored by Fort Dodge and Subaru at the AVMA Annual Convention. By doing so, they said, veterinarians will harness greater creative potential and understanding.

Steve L. Robbins, PhD
Steve L. Robbins, PhD, keynote speaker for the Diversity Symposium, explains that considering others' points of view doesn't necessarily require agreeing with them.
Dr. Evan M. Morse
Dr. Evan M. Morse speaks to symposium audience members about changes that must occur in the future for the profession to become more diverse.


Dr. Evan M. Morse, a speaker and moderator for the daylong event, opened the symposium with a talk on how the profession should proceed toward achieving diversity. The Cleveland-based small animal practitioner compared the shift toward inclusion that he recommends for the AVMA to the complexity of redirecting a large supertanker.

"It cannot simply change course abruptly, just as an association as large as the AVMA cannot change its course abruptly," Dr. Morse said. "To effectuate its goals, methodical planning and careful implementation must be carried out by the entire profession. We must move beyond simple diversity awareness and go into competency-based understanding."

Dr. Morse said doing this will bring the profession into harmony with the larger world around it, all the while as the profession becomes inclusive, high-performing, and sustainable. He noted this won't be achieved overnight or easily. It requires open-mindedness by leadership, and diversity becoming a shared goal by the profession—in effect, a transformation.

"This change in culture necessitates understanding differences that exist in the profession and harnessing the creative potential of them," Dr. Morse said.

Taking action

Dr. Larry M. Kornegay, AVMA president-elect and past chairman of the AVMA Task Force on Diversity, talked about how inclusivity should be incorporated more into discussions in the profession. Specifically, he said that inclusion should not focus on a single area of diversity, because being diverse isn't about looking like a perfectly balanced population. Instead, it's about having a wide range of perspectives that help people reach their goals.

Dr. Kornegay also touched on recent efforts by the AVMA to push forward diversity. He mentioned that five future leaders from backgrounds underrepresented in veterinary medicine will attend the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, the funding for which was approved by the Executive Board. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation announced recently that it would match funding to sponsor an additional five future leaders. He said the AVMA will consult with states and allied groups in selecting who should be sent to the meeting.

Another AVMA diversity initiative involved several staff members who went to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry this past May as part of the Science Works! program to reach out to inner-city youth. Staff members from the AVMA and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges plan to attend the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans National Conference in October as well.

Finally, AVMA CEO W. Ron DeHaven recently appointed an AVMA staff working group composed of headquarters and Governmental Relations Division staff, as well as Lisa Greenhill, AAVMC associate executive director for diversity, to review the Task Force on Diversity's final report to incorporate information from it into the AVMA strategic goals.

Part of everyday life

Greenhill also gave a talk at the symposium, titled "Are we discussing that again?"

At meetings, she has sensed people growing tired of talking about the same topic over and over again. Greenhill counters that diversity is not something that can be escaped—it's pervasive in everyday life.

"In veterinary medicine and the work we do in our day-to-day lives as well as in organized veterinary medicine, we are constantly dealing with a number of diversity issues," Greenhill said. "We're constantly processing all that information we're taking in. The brain has a lot to sort."

Oftentimes, diversity issues are tightly identified with race and gender, because their advocates have been the most visible and vocal. They are also the models when it comes to their pursuit of equity and fairness, but Greenhill notes countless other groups are out there.

"Small groups are frustrated that change is not happening or happening fast enough, and large groups are happy with the status quo," Greenhill said, adding that the solution is to challenge comfort levels.

Greenhill exhorted the audience to learn the art of inclusion, which requires intentional behaviors that must be practiced constantly. Failure and disagreement will occur, she said, but these should not be barriers to the pursuit of inclusion.

Making it easier

New and diverse opinions may be difficult to accept, but they enhance understanding and creativity for those who are open-minded.

That was the message delivered by Steve L. Robbins, PhD, the keynote speaker of the symposium.

"Diversity is something you have to live out to be better at it. Every day, you're extending beyond your comfort zone, but our brain doesn't want us to go outside our comfort zone," Dr. Robbins said. "Continually trying to learn about yourself and your world every day will help you with diversity."

Dr. Robbins explained that one's reality is constructed through experience, which then influences that person's perspective of the world. Though everyone has personal beliefs, he said, it's important to note that sometimes even if people find they're wrong, or they're faced with contradictory information, they may still be inclined to believe they're right. This is called belief perseverance and is one reason people are against change or a difference of opinion.

People who become comfortable with their reality won't notice things that may make others uncomfortable. Dr. Robbins gave the example of right-handed people not realizing right-handed scissors or desks can make left-handed people uncomfortable.

Another reason for denying new ideas and thoughts comes from the fact that the brain operates on an efficiency principle. This helps conserve energy, because the brain consumes 20 percent to 25 percent of the body's energy. The efficiency principle results in a predilection for people to behave in a certain way so they can stay in their comfort zones.

"When you do something new, lots of neurons go online and the brain lights up to process it, but after doing it a while, there are fewer neurons required and less brain activity," Dr. Robbins said.

When people do encounter ideas or people inconsistent with their beliefs and attitudes, they experience cognitive dissonance, which they try to avoid. To resolve the dissonance, people can be open or closed to the new idea.

They usually opt to deny, Dr. Robbins said, "because we think if we walk into the realm of new ideas that we have to accept them, so that prevents people from engaging others who are different."

This is unfortunate for those who choose to deny diverse opinions, because listening to others encourages understanding, creativity, and better problem-solving, he said.

"Our perspectives allow us to see certain problems, but those same perspectives blind us from seeing other problems. We would have a better understanding for other people's perspectives if we're exposed to them, and those new perspectives would also allow us to see certain solutions we might not have otherwise," Dr. Robbins said.