Implement these changes to benefit all
Supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and nurturing DEI principles benefits everyone. For veterinary practices, the potential benefits include stronger staff recruitment, engagement, and retention; client satisfaction, loyalty, and access to care; patient care and outcomes; and business reputation.
Latonia Craig, EdD, the chief DEI officer for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), explains DEI this way: “Diversity asks the question, ‘Who is in the room?’ Equity responds with, ‘Who is trying to get in the room and can’t?’ Inclusion asks, ‘Is this environment safe for everyone who wants to be in the room to feel like they belong?’”
Diversity encompasses all of the qualities that make us unique, including but not limited to demographic characteristics, life experiences, abilities, beliefs, values, and perspectives. Having diverse representation within your practice or organization is just the start. Supporting DEI means fostering a welcoming workplace, where all staff and clients find belonging and appreciation. Getting there requires a process of learning, discovery, and growth that comes from truly hearing and valuing our diverse colleagues.
Ideally, the veterinary profession should strive to embrace the rich diversity present in our communities. Although we have made progress in certain areas, there is still room for improvement. As the US population becomes more diverse, it is essential for the veterinary profession to reflect this diversity as well.
The profession has prioritized several long-term strategies to improve representation of underrepresented groups within our workforce. A prime example is the requirement of the AVMA Council on Education that all accredited veterinary colleges create “an academic environment that does not discriminate and seeks to enhance diversity, consistent with applicable law.”
Although it may take some time to move the needle on demographics, there are many things we can do today to harness diversity and grow the equity, inclusion, and sense of belonging crucial to achieving sustained, meaningful, positive change. Here are a few:
1. Cultivate a leadership commitment to DEI.
For DEI initiatives to take root, it is critical that managers and other leaders appreciate the importance of DEI to their business, staff, and clientele. By fully committing to seeing initiatives through and modeling conducive behavior for staff, leaders set the example for an environment that builds trust and enhances team loyalty. The principles of DEI should be woven into the onboarding process for new employees and should resonate throughout the entire organization.
2. Give your workplace a DEI checkup.
Engage with your team members/colleagues and clients to assess your workplace’s performance in terms of DEI. Seek feedback on whether everyone feels welcomed, heard, and supported, and whether there are opportunities for improvement. An effective way to encourage and collect candid feedback is through an anonymous survey. Analyze the survey results to identify specific areas for growth and improvement. Based on the feedback, set SMART goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound. Depending on the feedback, a SMART goal for team members might be to have everyone undergo voluntary DEI training within the next 3 months. Or, to address client concerns, a SMART goal might involve providing Spanish-language client education materials on common pet health topics—such as those available from the AVMA (avma. org/SpanishResources)—by a certain date. Then, after you’ve met your goals, remember to measure and celebrate your team’s progress, and set new targets for continued improvement.
3. Empower yourself and your team with DEI education.
Everyone can benefit from expanding their knowledge on DEI. Fostering a welcoming and inclusive workplace requires knowledge of and self-reflection on issues such as bias (conscious and unconscious) and microaggressions. Additionally, creating a psychologically safe space allows everyone to express themselves; learn from mistakes; engage in constructive discussions; and share ideas, questions, or concerns. Making progress on these fronts can improve team well-being and performance as well as patient outcomes.
An effective and engaging way to learn about DEI is Journey for Teams (JourneyForTeams.org), a free educational program from the AVMA and Veterinary Medical Association Executives. The program uses interactive, thought-provoking learning modules on various DEI topics, each of which can be completed by a team in just a 15-minute meeting. To prepare for each meeting, a DEI champion—could this be you?—serves as navigator, downloading the content, organizing the meeting, and facilitating the conversation with a discussion guide provided with this topic.
4. Review your recruitment process.
Workplaces that prioritize DEI outshine the competition when it comes to attracting and retaining staff. Communicate this commitment by reviewing your job descriptions to ensure they appeal to a broad range of candidates and by researching new places to post job openings where a diverse audience is more likely to find your opportunity. To widen the candidate pool, consider hiring a professional recruiting agency that specializes in identifying diverse candidates.
5. Showcase your business’s commitment to DEI.
A webpage featuring your business’s position and efforts to support DEI is a great way to communicate your commitment and can make your business stand out from competitors—for job candidates, current team members, and existing and potential clients.
A compelling DEI-focused webpage is one that centers on your business’s core values and mission in terms of DEI and includes real stories and experiences of team members across all backgrounds. It could also include testimonials from a diverse lineup of clients (with their permission) who have had positive interactions with your business. By incorporating storytelling through narrative and images, you can widen the appeal and impact of your DEI efforts.