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Hidden talent

With minimal effort, you can act affirmatively to increase diversity in your applicant pool.

Hidden talent
Your goal in your hiring process should be to have your choice of exceedingly competent individuals who also have various traits and attributes that your business can leverage to be more successful.

I attend many meetings on diversity throughout the year. Most often, the meetings focus on sociological concepts, critical race theory and cultural trends. This information is critical to understanding larger diversity issues, but sometimes it misses the mark in terms of what people really need to know on the ground about how to “do” diversity.

What do I mean by “do” diversity? I mean recruiting a diverse pool of candidates for open positions, understanding clientele demographics such as cultural, linguistic and possibly required disability accommodations, or managing that rare but real client who may announce, “My cat doesn’t like black people.” Don’t chuckle — it happens!

Doing diversity requires conscientious efforts to build your business with an eye to meeting human and animal needs in the experiences that you create for them. Those experiences begin the moment your clients cross your threshold. For example, the new client enters the clinic, looks around, is greeted by front desk staff, and looks at the pictures on the walls and the brochures in the waiting area. Ask yourself:

  • Are the images inclusive of diversity in terms of people and animals?
  • Are any materials available in languages other than English?
  • Is the intake form gender non-specific?
  • Is the space accommodating to individuals with physical disabilities?

These, along with concern for their animals, may be thoughts that pass through the consciousness and shape the experience while waiting for the appointment to commence.

Act Affirmatively

Numerous opportunities exist to demonstrate diversity and inclusion in your business in the first few moments of a client visit. For now, let’s focus on staffing.

The Atlantic published a 2013 article about diversity and the American workforce. The author decried the veterinary profession as the whitest profession in the country. That claim may be debatable; however, U.S. Census Bureau data reveals that the veterinary profession is 91.2 percent white and the paraprofessional staff 82.0 percent white.

Such statistics suggest that cultivating more diversity in your staffing searches will be challenging, and it may be truer in some locales, just based on migration trends for various racial and ethnic groups. That said, with minimal effort, you can act affirmatively to increase diversity in your pool of applicants.

Yes, I invoked the term “affirmative action.” To act affirmatively in building your applicant pool is not a bad thing; in fact, it should be what we all do when we are looking for new talent.

This discussion is not about hiring, and this isn’t about quotas. That was never the intended goal of affirmative action. Some of the uglier, mandated aspects of affirmative action evolved as a result of the persistent failure to recruit broadly and fairly evaluate all qualified candidates.

Instead, here I am describing the need to simply be deliberate about sourcing your applicant pool with the broadest amount of talent available, which should include as much diversity as possible. Your goal in your hiring process should be to have your choice of exceedingly competent individuals who also have various traits and attributes that your business can leverage to be more successful.

There are numerous ways to create a diverse pool of talent.

1. Grow Your Own

Young students are always looking for opportunities to work and shadow successful veterinarians and business owners. Data from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges show that applicants who are from minority, low-income, first-generation or LGBT backgrounds have a more difficult time than their counterparts in acquiring valuable veterinary experience in preparation to apply to veterinary school. The issue isn’t willingness or competence. It’s opportunity.

As you consider long-term growth and needs for your business, the investment in developing young, diverse talented people who will likely be incredibly loyal and learn valuable insights into the way your practice runs can pay dividends later as you begin candidate searches for new positions. Certainly, this is a strategy that emphasizes the long game but one that creates a deeper pool of talent that benefits you and the larger profession.

2. Recruit Diverse Candidates

When you are hiring, you may call your alma mater or local college of veterinary medicine to report you are looking for a new graduate. In the request you also can let the associate deans and career counselors know that you are open to and looking for diversity in your applicant pool. This does not preclude anyone from applying. It simply signals that you are open to and encouraging a potentially broader population of graduating students to apply for work in your business.

I recently attended a diversity workshop during which this recommendation was made. A practice manager was shocked that someone could deliberately reach out to applicant pool sources and request that diverse candidates be encouraged to apply. Again, this is about broadening your pool of talent, not the actual hiring process. Ask for the types of candidates you want to see in your pool.

Additionally, there are emerging opportunities online to recruit a more diverse candidate pool. Several communities exist on social media devoted to diversity in veterinary medicine. Student diversity organizations such as Veterinarians as One for an Inclusive Community for Empowerment (VOICE) and the Broad Spectrum Student Veterinary Association maintain a presence on Facebook. Online groups also exist for the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association and the Native American Veterinary Association. Each group will certainly welcome opportunities to network and promote more diversity in applicant pools. A simple request to post your position is all it takes.

3. Use Word of Mouth

Ask your circle of friends and colleagues if they are aware of potential candidates who have the skills and attributes that you want and need. For example:

  • “Hey, do you know of any veterinarians or staff members who are multilingual and looking for a position?”
  • “Do you know any veterinary folks who also know American Sign Language?”

In the same way that new clients find your business by asking people in their community, let it be known that you are looking for qualified applicants with additional attributes that will help your business.

It Can Be Done

Having a diverse staff can give you a competitive edge, so you want to do what you can to increase the pool of potential candidates when you are hiring. Think about your current and future business needs and how you can use staff to maximize the ability to meet client needs. You may find that you could benefit from a staff member who shares the culture and language of the people in your community or who is connected to a less visible community.

With a little effort you can expand your potential hiring choices. You can invest in and grow a pool of loyal future employees. You can specifically seek out more diverse candidates, and finally you let your colleagues know that you want to create the deepest pool of talent possible.

These are the keys to the diverse talent pool that your business wants and deserves.

Diversity Toolbox columnist Dr. Lisa M. Greenhill is senior director for institutional research and diversity at the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.