Female veterinary associates, take the lead!
Editor's note: Drs. Karen Bradley and Sarah Wooten presented the following insights as a part of the Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) programming in CVC San Diego last year. Inspired? Hear directly from the Dynamic Duo at the CVC in Kansas City. Learn more at http://www.thecvc.com/wvldi.
First off, the 1,000-lb elephant in the room is that success and likeability are positively associated for men and negatively associated for women. And, unfortunately, this holds true when polling both genders. Some days this bias is hidden in the shadows, and some days it's as clear as the nose on your face.
A quick self-test
Think about it and be honest with yourself: When you see a man out at the grocery store with three unruly kids, you think, "Wow, what a great dad, taking his kids with him!" When you see a woman with the same three unruly kids, you think, "Why can't she control them? What a bad/undisciplined mother." Right?
So do you think you have gender bias? Hint: You may not even know you do. It may be hard-wired into your brain to save your brain from what it perceives as complicating factors. This is called cognitive bias—an error in decision-making stemming from an attempt to simplify information reaching the brain. Too much information makes the brain search for shortcuts to speed up the decision-making process. It's not a conscious decision.
When women express typically male traits, cognitive bias kicks in and they're viewed negatively. The terms "ambitious," "driven," "smart," "authoritative" and "outspoken" can get a negative reaction when women display them. In one study, "abrasive" was a term used for women (and not men) in performance reviews. Have you ever heard a man called abrasive? Still today, people expect and accept authoritative leadership from men and not from women. Some women might even change their professional goals in response to this feedback.
6 ways to promote equality
It seems that women have to walk a constant tightrope between two extremes: appearing confident enough to succeed and feminine enough to be liked. Here are six real-life solutions to establish a safety net.
1. Educate yourself and your team. No one wants to admit that they're gender-biased, especially not women. Making men and women aware that it exists and is very likely not a conscious choice is important. When people are educated about subconscious gender bias, they tend to scrutinize their decisions more closely.
2. Ensure clear hiring criteria. When your practice is hiring or promoting, help establish clear gender-neutral criteria before any of the candidates are evaluated. This applies to both raises and salary offered when hiring.
3. Ask for back-up. Hold decision-makers accountable for their decisions. If you routinely examine decisions and ask why they were made, people tend to be more deliberate when making them.
4. Require transparency about pay. When it comes to every aspect of the business, your books should be open. Talk to your practice manager about providing information about anyone's salary or hourly pay on request and not restricting employees from talking about pay. Equal work for equal pay makes inequality go away.
5. Foster the environment. Advocate for gender diversity in the workplace. Pay attention to the minority gender if your clinic is heavily staffed with one gender.
6. Champion successful chums. Vouch for the competence of women in veterinary medicine. Sing your colleagues' praises. Talk them up. We're medical professionals. We are awesome.
We leave you with a question: If you were not afraid of being called a bitch, what leadership roles and responsibilities would you take on? How would you speak up in your place of employment? How bright would you shine?
Recognizing our Dynamic Duo
Dr. Karen Bradley is co-owner of Onion River Animal Hospital in Middlesex, Vermont. She was one of the founding members of WVLDI, serving as its president from 2013 to 2015. Dr. Bradley lives in Montpellier, Vermont, with her husband, daughters and pets.
A certified veterinary journalist, Dr. Sarah Wooten divides her professional time between private practice at Sheep Draw Veterinary Hospital in Greeley, Colorado, and writing articles and filming video content for various media outlets. She lives in Greeley with her husband, children and assorted four-footed folk.