Tips for making diversity, equity, inclusion a reality in your practice

Making adjustments to hiring process and website a good start, speaker says

First impressions are everything when trying to attract diverse clients and job applicants, according to Dr. Laura Pletz, president of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative.

What does a Black veterinarian considering an open associate position at your clinic think when she sees an all-white staff featured on the practice website? How might a lesbian couple with a new puppy feel about a practice whose Facebook page includes a statement celebrating diversity and inclusion?

“Optics matter, and it’s really important to think about your online presence,” Dr. Pletz said. She was speaking July 28 during her virtual presentation for AVMA Convention 2022, which focused on strategies for incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

Diverse veterinary team with two dogs

Dr. Pletz, a scientific services manager for Royal Canin, defined diversity as differences in areas such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, and socioeconomic class. Equity is ensuring that processes and programs are impartial and fair and provide equal potential outcomes for each person. Inclusion is providing people with a sense of belonging. In the workplace, inclusion manifests as all employees feeling comfortable and supported by the organization when it comes to being their authentic selves.

“Inclusion is the absolute key to all of this,” Dr. Pletz explained. “You can have a diverse team, but if you’re not including everybody and giving them a sense of belonging, it’s kind of meaningless.”

Dollars and sense

Creating more opportunities for diverse individuals in veterinary medicine is “absolutely the right thing to do,” Dr. Pletz said, but doing so also just makes sense for businesses. Study after study, she said, shows that the more diverse the staff, the greater the diversity of thought and perspective, resulting in better decision making, more innovation, and higher engagement. Incorporating DEI also can improve your reputation in the community.

Noting the higher turnover rate for veterinarians and veterinary technicians compared with doctors and nurses in human medicine—and the difficulties veterinary practices have encountered in hiring—one solution, Dr. Pletz said, is expanding veterinary medicine’s recruiting base. “If you’re only bringing in one particular group of individuals, you’re really limiting your opportunities to expand,” she said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, highlighting the need to diversify the profession. A report from the Brookings Institution states that, from 2010-20, all of the population increases in the U.S. came from groups other than white Americans who do not identify as another race or ethnicity. The biggest growth came from Latino or Hispanic Americans, with an increase of 11.6 million—representing roughly half of the nation’s total decade gain of 22.7 million. Asian Americans and people identifying as two or more races were also substantial contributors to the population growth.

“We need to understand that presenting a population that doesn’t mirror society could potentially cause issues for us,” Dr. Pletz said. “It’s not the best way to encourage people to come into your business and feel comfortable and welcome there.”

What to do

Practices have several ways to expand DEI. One of the first and most important steps is showing a commitment to DEI on the practice website and through the practice’s social media feeds.

Dr. Pletz recommends reviewing these online outlets through a lens of being welcoming to all. Present your team honestly, but leverage stock images that align with your goals for a diverse workplace. Avoid unrealistic glamour shots, and instead use images that show people in realistic and professionally relevant settings.

“While these seem like small things, these images impact how people see and feel about your business,” Dr. Pletz said. “It’s absolutely paramount that you think about this if you’re aiming to increase the diversity of your teams.”

Make sure your practice has a clear statement on DEI that is visible to clients and job candidates. Positive words and short sentences are key, Dr. Pletz added. For instance: “Inclusion is how we unleash the power of diversity. We strive to foster belonging and empowerment at work. We provide quality veterinary care for our diverse customers. We listen and engage with our diverse communities.”

Scrutinize how you word job descriptions because your wording can attract or repel people representing particular groups, Dr. Pletz said. Search for biased terms, and avoid those pertaining to gender, race, age, or physical abilities. Also, don’t include qualifications or training that aren’t required for the job, Dr. Pletz said, explaining that studies show women who can’t check every box are less likely to apply than men who don’t meet every requirement.

Job postings should be broadly disseminated and include your DEI statement, Dr. Pletz said. “Let people know this is important to you. That in and of itself is tremendously welcoming,” she said.

Internships and preceptorships targeted to underrepresented groups are another way of promoting diversity, according to Dr. Pletz. She encouraged spreading the word about these opportunities by working with historically Black colleges and universities such as Tuskegee University as well as affinity groups with a focus on DEI, including the WVLDI, Multicultural VMA, and Pride Veterinary Medical Community.

When it comes to hiring, Dr. Pletz said blinded resume and application reviews can play an important role. Form an interview team whose members ensure fairness and inclusivity in the review process. “If you’re interviewing members of the same population for every job, then you’re never going to get anywhere with diversity,” she said.

The recently launched Journey for Teams is a multiyear educational initiative to help veterinary workplaces become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

The program is under development by the AVMA and the Veterinary Medical Association Executives. It will deliver ongoing releases of practical, actionable, and impactful resources and educational modules–all designed with busy veterinary workplaces in mind.

A version of this article appears in the October 2022 print issue of JAVMA.