Kellie G. Olah
SPHR, CVPM, SHRM-SCP
HR Huddle columnist Kellie Olah is the practice management and human resources consultant at Veterinary Business Advisors. The company provides legal, human resources and practice management services to veterinarians nationwide. Olah is a certified veterinary practice manager, a certified veterinary business leader and a nationally certified senior professional in human resources.Read Articles Written by Kellie G. Olah
Veterinary practices reap numerous benefits when employing a workforce diverse in age, gender, and racial or ethnic background. These team members, naturally enough, tend to brainstorm a greater range of solutions to problems and demonstrate deeper creativity and innovation in managing and growing the practice. A McKinsey study — visit mck.co/35JFSKP — determined that businesses with the most diverse “top teams” performed at the peak of financial success.
Job seekers notice, too. The more diverse a practice is, the more likely top candidates will see how they would fit in. In other words, they’ll see people with whom they identify, whether generationally or because of gender, racial or ethnic connections. Furthermore, clients might identify with members of the veterinary team, a factor the pet owner might value when selecting a hospital.
According to an American Veterinary Medical Association blog article found at bit.ly/3vN2h4E, millennials are the veterinary industry’s most-represented generation. They make up 35.1% of practicing veterinarians, squeaking past Gen Zers (34.6%). The rest consists of baby boomers (29.9%) and the silent generation (0.4%).
A practice’s culture shifts with the workforce because each generation has its strengths, challenges, traits, behaviors and attitudes. The benefits of employing more millennials include an increased focus on and commitment to a work-life balance. Although previous generations might have listed work-life balance as a value, consultants have noted that millennials seem more willing to openly discuss the need for it and seek ways to achieve it. Because many clients are millennials, veterinarians from that generation often have a keener insight into what those pet owners value and will tailor services accordingly.
Millennials were born with technology practically at their bedsides. Their knowledge of and comfort with its capabilities can transform a practice in terms of efficiency, effective record keeping and data security.
In multigenerational practices, team members can use cross-generational mentoring to their advantage. Perhaps, for example, a millennial fills in gaps of understanding about today’s technologies while a baby boomer shares work experiences and timeless wisdom. When relationships are nurtured through mutual reciprocity and respect, the rewards can be significant.
The AMVA also reported on the industry’s gender demographics, noting how, in 2019, 63% of the active U.S. veterinary workforce was female, a jump from 51% a decade earlier (bit.ly/3zRJmZK). Predictions are that the field will maintain a female majority over the upcoming decades and that female practice owners will outnumber their male counterparts within 10 years.
While increased opportunities for women within the veterinary industry are encouraging, a 2019 British study (bit.ly/3zRK8pC) discovered several areas of concern, including how a woman’s position in a practice is more likely to be as an assistant rather than a director or partner. The interview-based study pointed out how managers might not yet recognize or fully understand gender-based issues in a practice and that clients might exhibit sexist behaviors, believing that female veterinarians don’t have the same intellectual capacity. Also, some clients still insist upon a male veterinarian, according to the study.
Here’s another still-prevalent myth: Women won’t seek promotion because they prefer to work part time given their potential motherhood. Female veterinarians who have children or go part time are often perceived as not being committed to the practice.
Just as with generational diversity, veterinary practices can benefit from gender-diverse teams. Perhaps most apparent is that if hiring, retention and employee promotions skew to one gender, a large percentage of the talent pool is effectively eliminated from consideration. Having both genders involved in decision making can enhance the process, with studies showing differing degrees of positive personality traits by gender. For example, women are often better at understanding nonverbal cues, an important capability when dealing with clients.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2019 (bit.ly/3zKHwcS) shows that an overwhelming percentage of veterinarians — 91.9% — are white. The government rounds down to 0.0% the share of Black veterinarians because so few are in the workforce
Much work needs to be done to increase opportunities for minorities interested in a veterinary career. Practices can support a more diverse workforce by examining their hiring practices, starting with how job candidates are recruited and screened and how the thought processes might be unconsciously biased.
Practice leaders can determine whether their diversity mission deviates from reality. If the responsibility proves too challenging, a consultant can be hired to refine a diversity plan, or a recruiter can be engaged to recommend a diverse set of candidates.
Practices must go beyond finding ways to become more diverse. They need to be inclusive, too. The notion of a diverse workforce means team members possess a wide variety of characteristics. Inclusivity — where everyone factors equally into the group — is even more significant.
The commitment to be diverse and inclusive must come from the top and be a part of each aspect of human resources and the processes.