Leadership and the veterinary industry: Where are the women?

dvm360dvm360 October 2020
Volume 51
Issue 10

Despite current demographics, men dominate in veterinary practice ownership and industry leadership. Here are some possible reasons why—and what women need to do to correct it.

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A story aired recently on NPR about Erika James, PhD, the first female person of color to become the dean of an Ivy League business school (the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School). One of her comments during the interview struck a chord with me. “Women are more reluctant to take on new roles unless all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed,” she said.1 The interviewer and James went on to discuss other topics, but they made the point: Professional men are more likely to apply for the jobs they want, while professional women are more likely to apply for jobs for which they are overqualified.2

Leading sources such as Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and Stanford University have long noted this concerning trend. The veterinary industry is not immune. In my role as chief medical officer for Family Vet Group, I have interacted with countless practice owners and industry partners, and have seen a concerning trend toward similar demographics across the field.

A startling revelation

Earlier this year at the Western Veterinary Conference, my group's president and I met with a wide range of industry executives, from distributors to pharmaceutical companies to vendors with new technology platforms. From dawn to dusk over several days, we attended back-to- back meetings. Yet somehow, even at 30 weeks pregnant, I was the only woman in any of the meetings.

I left the conference thinking, where are the women? Where is our representation at the executive level across our industry? Can we blame generational differences for the number of men in these executive roles?

We know that veterinary schools graduated a higher percentage of male veterinarians 30 years ago, and those in the baby boomer generation are more likely to be practice owners than younger veterinarians.But let’s evaluate leadership roles in the field outside of practice ownership. Corporations have been springing up across the industry for the past few decades, with the number of new groups accelerating in the past 10 years. If younger companies follow the demographic trends within the veterinary industry as a whole, we should see increasing numbers of people identifying as women and increasing diversity throughout these organizations.

Yet as of September 2020, based on I data acquired from company websites, leadership positions across 10 top veterinary corporations (3 distributors, 4 pharmaceutical companies, and 3 young tech companies) were dominated by older White men. Overall, 36% of leadership teams were women, with only 16% of senior corporate executives being women. Lower level corporate executives (below the C suite) were more likely to be women, at 49%.

According to the most recent American Veterinary Medical Association census data, almost 62% of veterinarians identify as female,4 yet there is a clear lack of equal representation in leadership positions across the veterinary industry. Notably, at Zoetis 75% of top level executives (outside of board members) are women.

Time to break the rules

There are a few key takeaways from these data. Women are vastly underrepresented in leadership across the veterinary field, both in practice ownership and in executive level positions within the industry. One possible hypothesis for this discrepancy is that women are less likely to apply for executive-level positions. It has been proven that women feel the need to be exceedingly qualified for a position before applying, whereas men are more likely to apply for an opening they want even if they fall far short of the necessary qualifications.2

To begin increasing female representation in the upper echelons of the industry, women must approach the hiring process for these positions differently than we have in the past. We have to see the process as an opportunity to frame our own expertise in such a way as to add value to the specific skills and experiences required in the job description. We also have to be willing to be vulnerable—we must be willing to fail. Likewise, we must not be afraid of our own success. Research shows that women are much less likely to apply for top positions due to fear of failure than men.5

Men dominate in veterinary industry leadership positions:

Veterinary sector
Male executive
Male C-Suites executives
Overall male leadership
Corporations (n= 160)
Distributors (n= 43)
Pharmaceutical companies ( n=57)
Tech companies (n=14)
Average (n=274)

Finally, the same reports also showed that women often don’t apply for top tier positions because they are following guidelines about who should apply. We will succeed only when we approach these positions as our own best advocates, and treat the hiring process as less of a meritocracy and more of an opportunity to showcase our personal strengths. We’ve got to break the rules, ladies.

Kathryn Kraft, DVM, is a veterinary industry leader committed to improving the field and working conditions for all veterinarians, especially women and mothers. She currently serves as chief medical officer for Family Vet Group. She and her husband reside in Fort Worth, Texas, with their 2 small children.


  1. Shapiro A. New Wharton business dean says lack of diversity stems from lack a of prioritizing. NPR. July 23, 2020. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.npr.org/ sections/live-updates-protests-for- racial-justice/2020/07/23/894655206/ new-wharton-business-dean-says-lack-of- diversity-stems-from-a-lack-of-prioritizi
  2. Mohr TS. Why women don’t apply for jobs unless they're 100% qualified. Harvard Business Review. August 25, 2014. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://hbr.org/2014/08/ why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless- theyre-100-qualified
  3. Taber J. Trends in veterinary practice ownership. DVM Insider. June 10,
    2019. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.dvminsider.com/ veterinary-practice-ownership-trends/
  4. Burns K. Census of veterinarians finds trends with shortages, practice ownership. American Veterinary Medical Association. June 26, 2019. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www.avma.org/javma- news/2019-07-15/census-veterinarians- finds-trends-shortages-practice-owner ship?fbclid=IwAR10Gj54btu7CEMOgdO caMY_n6sRQmQt0Cb6mMxnYksYPAhuME 9NUmOGV_E
  5. Study suggest that women have a greater fear of success than men. Bent Business Marketing and Advertising. Accessed October 9, 2020. https://www. bentbusinessmarketing.com/study- suggests-that-women-have-a-greater- fear-of-success-than-men/
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