How practice managers can recruit, retain diverse staff members

The key is fostering an inclusive environment throughout the hiring process

A 2017 systematic review of veterinary care for underserved communities identified cost, accessibility, veterinarian-client communication, cultural and language barriers, and lack of client education as major obstacles. Incorporating culturally competent approaches to care and increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of veterinary teams can address many of these challenges, the review determined.

On July 18, Melody Martinez, presented the session, “The Practice Manager’s Guide to Hiring for Equity and Inclusion” at AVMA Convention 2023, held July 14-18 in Denver.

Martinez is president of the Multicultural VMA (MCVMA). She also founded Acorde Consulting, a racial equity and organizational change management consulting firm.

She discussed methods for recruiting and retaining racially diverse staff, including strategies for improving job listings; creating an equitable application review process; conducting honest and open interviews; and building a safer work culture for prospective employees of color.

Martinez explained that there’s no foolproof playbook for building diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace.

“It’s going to take a lot of practice, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of patience, but most importantly, it’s going to take the will to make the necessary changes,” Martinez said.

Diverse perspectives and experiences can lead to more innovative solutions and better decision-making.
Diverse perspectives and experiences can lead to more innovative solutions and better decision-making. There are countless ways a practice manager can take steps to improve the culture of their organization.

Recruiting diverse talent

Some clinics are facing challenges in attracting and retaining veterinary professionals. While a welcoming and inclusive workplace culture is vital, addressing these issues requires a multifaceted approach. By offering competitive compensation and benefits, creating opportunities for professional growth, actively promoting DEI, and fostering a positive employer brand, clinics can be better positioned to attract and retain diverse staff members.

Practice managers can begin by determining how they currently support staff members with marginalized identities and how they attract them.

“Perfection is not the goal. Continued awareness, action, and accountability are,” Martinez said. “What’s required is deliberate action to ensure intentions translate to desired outcomes.”
A job listing is the first thing a candidate sees, so what you share or don’t share leaves an impression. Martinez gave the following recommendations:

  • Use explicit language to encourage people from diverse communities to apply.
  • Research how you might reach communities in your city and region who are underrepresented on your staff. This could mean nontraditional outlets or through networks outside your city.
  • Be prepared to translate job listings for people in the community.
  • Describe your hiring process and remove unnecessary qualifications.
  • Be explicit about training and mentorship opportunities.

“When something is created with you in mind, you are more likely to feel belonging, more likely to feel loyal to the company, and more likely to stay,” Martinez said.
Managers can help create an inclusive benefits package that targets people with marginalized identities. This includes benefits such as:

  • Flexible schedules that appeal to parents and those who act as caregivers
  • Health insurance providers that support gender-affirming health care
  • Educational loan payment assistance and veterinary technician school support
  • Pay differential for employees who speak languages relevant to your clientele or those who have demonstrated experience and interest in supporting your clinic’s diversity

“In order to ensure that people of color, gender-diverse candidates, or people with disabilities are given a fair shot at getting hired, the veterinary industry needs to completely reimagine the interview process,” Martinez said.

She suggested that all interviews should be conducted by a panel to prevent the bias of one or two people from dictating hiring decisions. With a panel, the group can discuss the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses collectively. When interviewers identify weaknesses or areas for improvement during the evaluation process, the panel format allows for collaborative discussions to determine if these perceived weaknesses are significant enough to say the is candidate unqualified or if they represent coachable skills that could be developed through training and support.

To enhance the likelihood of hiring diverse candidates, the interview panel itself should embody the diversity your clinic aims to implement. If your current workforce doesn’t reflect this, then consider collaborating with community partners or other clinics to bring on additional support for the interview process.

Retaining diverse employees

“Most people decide in their first days or the first weeks on the job if they’re likely to stay for a long period of time, so it’s absolutely critical to ensure that employees feel welcome,” Martinez said.
The sense of inclusion and belonging significantly influences an employee’s level of influence at work. It is important that employees generally feel their ideas and suggestions are not only heard but also seriously considered and acted on.

Those with pride in their workplace tend to recruit friends or colleagues, which can be powerful, particularly for people with marginalized identities, who often report feeling powerless in the workplace.

Always continue to evaluate progress and the setbacks just like any scientific process. Know that the process isn’t going to be perfect, but learning from mistakes will lead to greater success, Martinez explained.

Assess the hiring and onboarding process if the practice is not reaching the desired outcomes. This can look like regular staff surveys or 360-degree evaluations to help gain a better understanding of how employees experience the workplace.

Other strategies to retain diverse employees include:

  • Using mentorship or sponsorship programs
  • Creating and supporting employee resource groups, which are voluntary, employee-led groups whose aim is to foster a diverse workplace environment. These typically work best for larger organizations.
  • Cultivating a workplace culture that acknowledges and celebrates differences
  • Adapting work areas to suit the physical needs of employees
  • Promoting leadership development programs that prioritize diversity and inclusion

“If we all do this work together, collectively we’ll soon start to see an industry that provides safe and fulfilling jobs to a wider workforce,” Martinez said. “And if we’re successful we’ll all benefit from the improvements.”

A version of this story appears in the October 2023 print issue of JAVMA

Learn more about Journey for Teams, a voluntary program that allows veterinary professionals to deepen knowledge of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and advance it in their workplaces. Developed by the AVMA in partnership with the Veterinary Medical Association Executives, Journey for Teams releases a new 15-minute educational module each month.