Inclusion is catalyst for diversity

Symposium focuses on fully engaging a diverse staff
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Dialogue at the 7th Annual Veterinary Diversity Symposium moved beyond diversity itself to an equally important part of the equation: inclusion.

Diversity consultant Kay Iwata was the keynote speaker at the July 18 event, sponsored by Pfizer Animal Health and held during the AVMA Annual Convention in St. Louis. She described diversity as an array of characteristics that define how people personally identify themselves and the life experiences that shape their world view.

Iwata began the interactive program with a "diversity scavenger hunt" aimed at deepening participants' awareness of diversity dynamics, such as gender, ethnicity, race, generational group, sexual orientation, and disabilities, and the bearing they have on the way people process information and relate to each other.

Diversity doesn't mean you must be of a certain culture but that you must be sensitive to other cultures and dimensions of diversity, Iwata said. Some of the conditions for success are authentic listening to understand, extreme intellectual and emotional curiosity, and respect for "multiple truths."

Diversity symposium scavenger hunt participants
Drs. Walter Colon-Lilley, Kenneth Gorczyca, and Ana Ortiz take part in a diversity scavenger hunt during the interactive 7th Annual Veterinary Diversity Symposium. (Photos by Justin D. DeAre)

A related exercise was designed to show how one simple cultural behavior can affect human interaction. Iwata asked participants to pair off and instructed one member of each pair to tell a one-minute story to capture the partner's attention. Unknown to the storytellers, she had told the listening partners to avoid eye contact with the storyteller partners. After the exercise, the storytellers reported feeling ignored and disbelieved, all attributable to the cultural bias toward eye contact.

AVMA Executive Board member and now chair, Dr. Ted Cohn, said diversity and inclusion are near and dear to his heart, ever since growing up in semirural Arkansas and attending Tuskegee University. But given the feedback from his constituents, he thinks there is much misunderstanding. "When you say diversity, people still think quota systems and affirmative action," he said.

Iwata suggested that people take Harvard University's Implicit Association Test, which gauges prejudicial attitudes or beliefs about certain groups of people, at She also recommended reading "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell, a book about rapid cognition and the few seconds it takes one's mind to draw a series of conclusions when first meeting someone.

The theme of this year's symposium was diversity and inclusion as valuable business assets in veterinary practice. Dr. Larry M. Kornegay, 2010-2011 AVMA president, told those gathered, "There are so many unrealized economic opportunities for our profession."

Iwata said that even if a practice reflects diversity, if the diversity is unmanaged, it won't offer advantages. Her ABCs of diversity and inclusion leadership are awareness, bias management, and development of cultural competence.

"You can have diversity and not have inclusion, and you won't have the benefits," Iwata said. "Inclusion is a work environment that fully engages and motivates a diverse workforce and meets the needs of a diverse marketplace."

Iwata shared some inclusion "best practices." Be intentional and proactive. Have a simple but clear statement of practices and policies that is communicated to all employees. Build a network of support and sharing. Set a tone of openness, respect, inclusion, and demonstration of multicultural competencies.

Asked for practical examples of how to integrate inclusion and diversity into practice, she suggested doing team-building activities, having potluck lunches to become more comfortable with each other, and working on strong conflict-resolution skills.

For the short term, until a practice can truly embrace diversity and inclusion, an attendee suggested beginning by incorporating relevant qualities as they engage veterinary technicians and other members of the practice team.

Diversity symposium participants
Speaker Kay Iwata (right-center) with some diversity symposium participants: Drs. Earl Rippie, Audrey Stewart, Walter Colon-Lilley, Evan M. Morse, John Wright, Lisa Greenhill, and Ana Ortiz.

Another symposium exercise, tied to practice economics, involved the participants matching population growth rates and purchasing power with their corresponding cultural groups. Participants learned that in its 2010 edition of "The Multicultural Economy," the Selig Center for Economic Growth reported that from 2000-2010, the two greatest increases in purchasing power were among Latinos/Hispanics at 108 percent and Asian-Americans at 98 percent. In addition, according to Witeck-Combs Communications, members of the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community had a purchasing power of $743 billion in 2010.

In the final hour of the symposium, a panel of four talked about how they leveraged diversity and inclusion in their practices and overcame barriers. Panel members were Drs. Earl Rippie, Pensauken, N.J.; Ana Ortiz, Orlando, Fla., David A. Rickards, Cleveland; and Evan M. Morse, Cleveland.

Returning to the business case for diversity and inclusion, and how to turn the tide, Dr. Ortiz said veterinarians are scientists, and as a veterinarian, she views this issue from the perspective of diagnosis and treatment. To broaden the scope of veterinarians committed to diversity and inclusion, she is compiling statistics from her practice that show how economically beneficial this commitment has been for her.

Dr. Malcolm Kram, Bear, Del., said the same people come to the diversity symposium year after year, and he expressed concern over how much progress is being made.

In response, Dr. Morse, moderator and recipient of an AVMA President's Award this year for his diversity work in the profession, said, "I see it a little differently. Diversity work is difficult. We've been working on this for seven years now, and I can feel the momentum has developed, and we will all develop the cultural competencies we need to address the changing demographics."

Lisa Greenhill of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges offered encouragement, saying, "You're starting to see courageous leaders permeate the AVMA, and they're vocal about (diversity and inclusion)."

And change, though sometimes slow, does come.

Dr. Rickards said, "I can remember years ago when a woman in the veterinary profession was a real rarity—a lady in the veterinary profession, imagine that! Now they outnumber us."

Iwata said, "Each one of you can spin a web of influence with dialogue, whether it is to invite a young person to think about being a veterinarian or whether it's about trying to get your colleagues to become more engaged around diversity and inclusion work for the Association.

"You only need 15 percent of the people in an organization wanting to go in any direction together to make change happen."