Dr. Mia Cary (she, her, hers) specializes in leadership, teamwork and inclusivity with the purpose of activating others to thrive. Her professional experience includes leadership and education roles at the American Veterinary Medical Association, the North American Veterinary Community, Boehringer Ingelheim and Novartis Animal Health. She serves as CEO and change agent for Cary Consulting and as CEO for the Pride Veterinary Medical Community.Read Articles Written by Mia Cary
Most definitions of allyship align with the core principle of leveraging privilege or advantage to advocate for a marginalized group or individual. Another critical aspect of allyship is that it cannot be self-anointed. We only serve as an ally if the individual or group we are attempting to advocate for says we are. Occasionally, it’s OK to ask those we try to ally with whether we’re meeting the mark. Feedback is good, and gaining perspectives other than our own is always wise. An even better and more sustainable way to ensure that our allyship is on point is to remain focused on its four elements:
- Self-education. Always start with your education, and realize it is a lifelong process.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Show up, stand up and speak up to leverage the power that comes with privilege. It’s not always easy, but do it anyway.
- Center allyship on the underrepresented, the marginalized and the historically excluded (not on yourself).
- Be all in, even if it’s scary and you don’t have all the answers. Be brave, be courageous.
Building on the theme of gaining perspectives, read on for thoughts about allyship from other people and why it’s vital to our profession.
Dr. Genine Ervin-Smith
The mom, community activist and chief operating officer at BlendVet shared this story:
“Since allyship is defined as utilizing one’s privilege to advocate for another who is marginalized or underprivileged, I would say that my first recollection of allyship was when I was entering junior high school. Born and raised in south-central Los Angeles, I recall my mother explaining to my sister and me that she needed to use the home address of her friend, who lived in Hancock Park near Beverly Hills, in order for us to have access to a school that could provide opportunities for us to excel in the areas of medicine and technology.
“As a result, I’ve been privileged to experience and continually excel in areas that not all of my BIPOC counterparts were offered. Because of this, I’ve always sought out every opportunity to exhibit allyship to those underrepresented or marginalized and to all individuals simply seeking supportive encouragement for their talents and dreams. Because I understand and empathize with this struggle, I ensure that no one ever feels as if they are overlooked or not included while in my presence; it is just something I will not allow.
“Being able to put yourself in the shoes of someone else is empathy, and it is woven into every part of allyship. Empathy is how we should lead in any profession, and as advocates for animals, it is most certainly how we should serve as leaders in veterinary medicine.”
“No group can advance without the support of the group in power,” said the University of California, Davis, veterinary student. “Allyship is essential for permanent change.”
Dr. Cherice Roth
The mom, author and chief veterinary officer at Fuzzy Pet Health had this to say:
“Allyship in veterinary medicine is what we do. We advocate for animals that do not have their own voice, but we often forget to extend that voice to professionals in the field.
Allyship starts with representation; it is celebrating those that support this field as their true selves. Providing a safe place for those in the field to be who they are should be our No. 1 goal.
“We will thrive in vet med when those in vet med can thrive. From telemedicine as access to animal health care to including differences in gender, ability and ethnicity in my children’s books, allyship is something I work to champion on a daily basis with my words and actions.
“This is such an exciting time to be in veterinary medicine because we are at an important inflection point where we have the opportunity to pivot this industry into something inclusive, equitable, diverse and as sustainable as our eternal love for critters we serve. Allyship is how we get there.
“Allyship to me is compassion. Compassion is love in action. Actions are how we put meaning and change behind the words we speak.”
Dr. Rhesa Houston
A professional consulting veterinarian for Hill’s Pet Nutrition in Phoenix, she responded:
“As a woman and person of color in vet med, I can certainly share numerous examples when allyship supported me in my time of need. However, I can also express how allyship failed to support me in my time of need and the deep psychological pain I experienced. Those negative experiences at times led me to have serious mental health challenges and caused me to become a disengaged leader and associate and have significant distrust in my veterinary peers.
“Ultimately, all those things impacted how I showed up to work to support my team, clients and patients. Those experiences taught me the importance of showing up in this space as my authentic self. Those experiences also taught me the importance of continuing to seek and develop allies and walk in the role of an ally as well. As I walk hand in hand as an ally with my allies, it is with the goal to make all of us better together.”
Dr. Kemba L. Marshall
Dr. Marshall is an executive consultant to the Diversify Veterinary Medicine Coalition, the founder of Marshall Recruiting Consortium and the director of veterinary services at the Land O’ Lakes Purina Animal Nutrition Center. Her approach to allyship is this:
“I think of allyship as people coming together to recognize an issue or discrepancy and then working together to address the issue. Veterinary medicine is facing challenges with recruiting and retaining individuals to join our profession. This is tied to issues like belonging and acceptance, and it shows up most severely with our colleagues taking their own lives. We can all take action to address this issue. Our very existence as a profession depends on our ability to do so.”
Dr. Miguel Ortiz
The veterinarian, innovator and equity advocate pointed out: “Every one of us needs support. We must humbly provide it when we can and graciously receive it when we are the one in need.”
I cannot think of a better way to close this article than by sharing the perspective of Dr. Coretta Cosby Patterson, the group medical director at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital. She said allyship in veterinary medicine is essential because “Being on the outside is lonely as hell, and we miss opportunities to be better if we don’t invite folks in!”
As always, what’s next is up to you. Perhaps you will continue to focus on the first element of allyship, self-education, by taking advantage of one of the seven resources listed above. Whatever you decide, my hope for you is that one step leads to another and another as you continue on your lifelong journey of being an active ally. I am in!
- BlendVet: www.blend.vet
- Chapter VIII: Veterinary Inclusion and Intersectionality Initiative: chapterviii.org
- Diversify Veterinary Medicine Coalition: diversifyvetmed.org
- “Diversity & Inclusion on Air”: bit.ly/3YULScS
- Journey for Teams: journeyforteams.org
- Pawsibilities: pawsibilitiesvetmed.com
- Vet Med Interconnected organizations: bit.ly/3lz8T7j