Sponsored by Hill's Pet Nutrition
I was a lot like any other operations manager in a veterinary clinic—I loved my meaningful work, did the best I could to balance the high emotional demands of caring for clients’ 4-legged family members, and ended each day tired but proud of the work we did as a team to support our clients and patients. However, I also had the persistent angst of feeling like I wasn’t whole, because no one I worked with knew I was a gay woman.
When I finally came out to the owner of the practice, I was at a bit of a breaking point. I was dating a woman and felt like I couldn’t share anything about my personal life with the individuals I worked with each day in such an intimate way. I felt like my being queer was offensive, but my coming out solidified an important lesson: When individuals dance around who they are, they are not able to give their best self to those around them. When someone is their full, authentic self and feels comfortable in their skin, they are capable of so much more as a human and being in support of their colleagues, clients, patients, and the business. Everyone benefits when a person can be completely comfortable and confident in who they really are.
My coming out was a mixed experience. Finally having the courage to sit in my truth wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and in many ways, it was liberating. I felt like I was being truly seen for the first time. It still seemed like something was missing at the clinic, because I couldn’t identify with anything or anyone in my surroundings, and I felt like I was on the outside looking in. Veterinary hospitals do not always realize they are not creating a safe space or celebrating differences.
There wasn’t anything visual to show support of me as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, no action to demonstrate that all walks of life were welcome, and no one went out of their way to show that it was an inclusive place. Ultimately, I did not feel like I could be fully authentic with that approach. When I was hiding my full self, it was easier to feel like I belonged, but I knew I was not whole. When I was open about my identity, I finally felt whole, but it was more of a struggle to feel like I belonged.
Here are 5 ways we can all create a safer, more inclusive environment in veterinary medicine, where everyone feels like they belong and are valued:
1. Show up with a kind heart. Assume everyone is doing the best they can and act from a place of kindness and love.
2. Be genuinely curious about everyone around you. Ask open-ended questions and validate the experiences of others.
3. Educate others and seek out others’ perspectives. We all have something to give, and we all have more to learn.
4. Be fully, authentically you. Everyone is drawn to authenticity and may feel empowered to be true to themselves when they see it modeled.
5. Display outward signs of Pride. This makes a huge difference for those in the LGBTQ+ community. A Pride flag in the window or participation in a Pride event can have an incredible impact.
I felt a shift of rapid growth happening in me and a longing to be whole, experience a true sense of belonging, and expand my career. This unshakable desire for more led me to accept a new role at a global leader in the animal health space. I had been in veterinary medicine for more than 20 years, and this new experience in an inclusive corporate organization changed my life. For the first time, I was in a work setting where I could bring my full, authentic self to everything I did—it was not only welcomed but celebrated. In this new environment, I was exposed to colleague resource groups (CRGs). These groups brought together colleagues with similar backgrounds and experiences with those who wanted to learn more and become allies.
I will never forget the first time I heard the CEO speak on a call for the LGBTQ+ CRG. I was experiencing some challenges around a Pride event in my smaller, conservative community in Texas. The CEO encouraged me to embrace who I was and lean in fully to my desire to create more inclusivity and highlight the value of differences. I had never felt empowered in this way, and it gave me the courage to take the next step to have my voice heard in my community for the first time as a queer woman.
The ability to be completely me continued to open so many possibilities. I was finally acting on the outside how I felt on the inside. I was whole, and I belonged. This resulted in self-love, readiness for a healthy relationship, and a deep desire to take on more responsibility to create safe spaces at work so everyone around me could feel empowered to be their unique, true, and authentic self. I took on a leadership role within the LGBTQ+ CRG and fell in love with the woman I know I will spend the rest of my life with. My partner and I will both turn 40 years old in the next year, and in many ways, I feel like we are just getting started. The truth is that wholeness and self-love are necessary to create space for other individuals to love you too. The opportunity in this inclusive, global, corporate environment made me feel like my voice and experiences were desired. Because I was invited to the party, I felt like I could show up queer, whole, and free, knowing I belonged and no longer had to pretend or make myself small to fit in someone else’s box.
We all need to do our part to create environments where every single person can show up as they truly are and be accepted and included. We will always get the best out of our peers when they feel seen and supported to be themselves.
With so many challenges in veterinary medicine, creating safe spaces makes for a stronger team to embrace difficult days. Each individual being whole makes a difference, and when we all come together, we can change the landscape in a positive way. This supports those currently in veterinary medicine and paves the way for even greater growth and acceptance for future generations.
Jennifer Evans has been in veterinary medicine for 23 years. She has worked in all areas of veterinary practice, from kennel to reception to technician, finally ending up in hospital operational management. She served as president and chief operating officer for 6 years at the nonprofit rescue One Love Pet Orphanage in Boerne, Texas. For the past 2½ years, she has been a diagnostic technical specialist and was recently named the colead for the colleague resource group Proud and Welcome. Additionally, she illustrates her dedication to veterinary medicine by serving on local boards and volunteering at local hospitals, as well as veterinary-based giveback events.