What is your personal narrative?
Knowing a little about each other promotes a better understanding of the world we live in and the people who inhabit it.
Diversity is often seen as a buzzword in business discussions, and these discussions do not always elicit positive reactions. Lack of clarity around definitions, diversity-enhancement goals and diversity’s relationship to veterinary practice is often at the heart of these misunderstandings.
In this new column, I hope to provide concise diversity and inclusion content that drills into what you need to know, why you need to know it and what it can do for your practice setting. My hope is that the content I provide will be added to your practice toolbox as you think about the future needs of your employees and your increasingly diverse community and client pool.
As I considered how to launch this column, I pondered numerous ideas about how to introduce the complexity of diversity issues. Each of us is a multidimensional individual with numerous characteristics that make us who we are. Some people would argue that the recognition of individual dimensions in an individual triggers potential bias, thus making the argument for things like “a colorblind society.”
The truth is that we do not have that luxury. Each of us has multiple lenses that we look through that shape our life experience. Take, for example, how I describe myself.
Some Facts About Me
I am a middle-aged, African-American, straight, cisgendered woman. I identify as Christian but more aptly align with Universal Unitarianism. I am a single adoptive mother to a teenage daughter. I have never married. We have a 10-pound terrier mix that we bought through a posting on Craigslist after my dog of nearly 15 years succumbed to old age.
I have lived in Virginia my whole life. I identify as Southern broadly and from a historical African-American Southern legacy more specifically. My family descends from both enslaved and free peoples — black, white and indigenous — and I can trace portions of my lineage to the 18th century, which is a rarity for most African-Americans. We take some pride in that, much like those who can show demonstrable proof of lineage to immigrants from the Mayflower.
I am not the first in my family to dedicate my life to social justice issues. I am the daughter of an African-American woman who was one of four students to racially integrate her county’s high school in the 1960s, well after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ending public school segregation. I am a first-generation college attendee, and the first to attain a doctorate in my family.
I consider myself an “insider-outsider” in the veterinary medical profession. My background is in health professions education policy and research as well as in the role of diversity in health professions education and care delivery. I have worked in health professions education for over 20 years, and I have specifically worked in veterinary medicine for more than 15 of those years.
I love veterinary medicine; this profession has been good to me. I am proud of the work I do within the profession. I am not a veterinarian, though countless people have assumed that I was during my career. The truth is that I never dreamed of being a veterinarian as a child. Though I had numerous pets, I did not have much engagement with the profession other than the rare office visit, which was clearly not sufficient as to whet my aspirational appetite. It remains a mystery how I wound up working in the profession.
I have invisible learning disabilities that were not diagnosed until I was in college. I work out regularly, but like many people, I could shed a few pounds. These efforts are hindered by my love of red wine and frosted cake.
I have elementary language skills in several languages. I like ’90s hip-hop music as much as I love electronica, rhythm and blues, and classical music. I am a proud band mom, which means that on most Friday nights you can find me sitting on disrespectful bleachers as my daughter plays the same musical set on the field that she played the previous week. I love her and her bass drum.
In my spare time, I am a blogger and a podcaster whose content focuses on adoptive parenting and advocacy.
Why Tell Me This?
Great question. Many readers may think this initial article is an extraordinary exercise in oversharing, but I share this information to remind each of you that we have our own personal narrative. Everyone we engage has theirs as well. These bits help us better understand ourselves and each other. They help you see how others see the world and how they engage in it.
Leveraged, these bits of information can become powerful tools in thinking about how to square your business practices to meet your clients’ needs. Each person who comes through your office door is bringing all this with them as they seek out your services.
Looking forward, I hope to make this space your go-to-column for relevant and digestible content on diversity and inclusion as it relates to veterinary business. I also hope to gain your trust enough that you will share what you learn here with colleagues, friends and family members who may be curious about this type of content.
As I come to a close, I want to share a resource created by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. The “Diversity and Inclusion on Air” podcast is a show devoted to advancing these conversations within the veterinary profession. The video version may be viewed online through the AAVMC YouTube page, while the audio version can be found on iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcast application.
Diversity Toolbox columnist Dr. Lisa M. Greenhill is senior director for institutional research and diversity at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.