Women leaders continue to build their ranks

Men still hold a majority in organized veterinary medicine leadership
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Back in 2013, a group of folks, including Drs. Karen Bradley and Stacy Pritt, met at the AVMA Annual Convention to discuss something that had been bothering them.

“The biggest thing we all had in common was we had been in our careers 15-20 years, and we had put ourselves in leadership positions and realized there weren’t enough women following or joining our ranks,” Dr. Bradley said. “So we thought, ‘What can we do to get more women?’”

The women, along with the late Dr. Donald F. Smith and Julie Kumble, decided to start a Facebook group to make fellow veterinarians aware of available leadership positions. And thus was born the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, now a national nonprofit dedicated to advancing women in the profession.

Dr. Lori Teller, one of the founding WVLDI members, said, “When it was started, we were not a membership organization, we were an initiative, but we had so many who wanted to join and contribute, so we created a professional partnership network.”

Dr. Lori Teller (center) is one of the founding members of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative. She and Drs. Karen Bradley and Stacy Pritt, also founding members, now serve on the AVMA Board of Directors. (Photos by R. Scott Nolen)

WVLDI not only is active on social media, including LinkedIn and Facebook, but also hosts networking events at major veterinary conferences and webinars. Among the topics that the organization tackles are practice ownership, career transitions and opportunities, and parenting and work-life balance.

Dr. Pritt, a past president of WVLDI and another founding member, said one of the best things WVLDI has done is start the conversation about gender in the veterinary profession, especially considering the dramatic gender shift that has happened, how quickly it has occurred, and what it means for the profession as it moves forward.

Data from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges show that from 1970-2017, the rate of enrollment for female students at U.S. veterinary colleges increased from 11 to 80.5 percent. Further, the 2013 U.S. Veterinary Workforce Study found that women represented 50 percent of the workforce, with a projected increase to 71 percent by 2030.

WVLDI members’ presentations at major conferences have helped veterinarians better understand issues such as the gender pay gap and lack of representation among leadership, Dr. Teller added. “Our workshops have given participants the tools to apply to create solutions. On campuses, we’ve helped students develop their skills and to appreciate the importance of leadership in their careers,” she said.

Leadership is always part of the discussion, particularly within the context of organized veterinary medicine. And WVLDI’s leaders have walked the walk when it comes to that topic. Three of them serve on the AVMA Board of Directors. Dr. Pritt was elected vice president this past January by the AVMA House of Delegates, and Drs. Teller and Bradley were elected as district representatives and began their terms in July 2015 and August 2016, respectively.

Dr. Pritt pointed out that she succeeded Dr. Rebecca Stinson as AVMA vice president, the first time two women have consecutively held the same AVMA Board position. “We want more of that,” she said.

Infographic: Female representation within AVMA volunteer leadership
Source: 1997, 2007, and 2017 AVMA leadership rosters

Progress is evident when looking at the ranks of the AVMA. About 42 percent (281 of 677) of volunteer leadership positions within entities such as the House of Delegates, Board of Directors, councils, and committees were filled by women for the 2016-2017 Association year compared with 14.5 percent (64 of 441) in 1997 and 25.6 percent (157 of 613) in 2007. And now, about one-third of House and Board members are women. Twenty years ago, about 10 percent of House members were women, and only one woman was on the 18-member Board—Dr. Mary Beth Leininger as president, the first woman in the position. The Association may even see a fourth woman as president soon, with WVLDI advocate Dr. Angela Demaree declaring her candidacy for president-elect for 2018-2019.

“Whenever you have members of a board from diverse background, decision-making improves,” Dr. Teller said.

Academia, too, has made strides with female leadership. In 2017, women accounted for 36.4 percent of tenure-track faculty at U.S. veterinary colleges, up from 32.6 percent in 2012. The number of female administrators at these institutions has jumped from 28 to 42 percent in just five years.

Dr. Cezar
Dr. Rachel Cezar, WVLDI president, spoke at the 2017 AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference. She and other WVLDI members will give presentations at the 2017 AVMA Convention, too.

Dr. Bradley, who was the founding president of WVLDI, said she’s proud of the work of WVLDI and knows it will be in good hands. She and Drs. Pritt and Teller resigned from the organization’s board, effective Dec. 31, 2016.

“To tell you we wouldn’t have WVLDI without these three women would be an understatement. These leaders have not only created WVLDI, but they continue to inspire many veterinary colleagues and students to continue pursuing opportunities to lead the veterinary profession,” wrote Dr. Rachel Cezar, current WVLDI president, in a March 22 blog post on the organization’s website.

The three plan to continue attending events and moderating presentations. Dr. Teller said she would like to see WVLDI expand and grow “like a spider web” to branch out and reach more people exponentially.

“I hope it continues to inspire early-career veterinarians to look at how serving as a leader in organized veterinary medicine can help their career, serves the profession, and gives personal fulfillment,” Dr. Pritt said.

Related JAVMA content:

AVMA continues collaborating with women’s leadership initiative (Feb. 15, 2015)

Women’s leadership group goes to school (July 1, 2014)

AVMA collaborating with women’s initiative (Jan. 15, 2014)

Conquering barriers (Oct. 1, 2013)