I treat rabbits—I don't treat dust bunnies: 4 takeaways on female veterinary leadership
The challenges facing female veterinarians were explored during a session put on by the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) and dvm360 during CVC Kansas City in August. The forum was an exchange of ideas, personal experiences and research. Below are four highlights from the session:
1. Generational differences cause conflicts for women and men alike. Doug Aspros, DVM, a member of WVLDI’s board of directors, told attendees that many baby boomers are puzzled by younger associates who want more work-life balance—which usually means fewer hours. “How does that work? Like, ‘I’ve got a lot of debt; I’ve got to pay it off—and I want to work less,’” Aspros told the room full of practice owners, associates and team members. “Owners are really flummoxed about that.”
One attendee countered that it’s easy to perpetuate a culture of overwork. “It’s almost a rite of passage to work 60 hours a week and to never break down, and we pride ourselves on that,” she said. “We think, ‘Our younger people need to do it too, and they need to tough it out and why are we giving them a break?’ But we also need to realize that it’s a different world and maybe those rites of passage aren’t so necessary.”
2. Fear of risk holds back many women. Fear of risk can hinder women, said Sarah Wooten, DVM, an associate veterinarian in Greeley, Colorado, who also presented during the session.
Wooten told attendees that being risk-adverse can inhibit personal progress. “In my personal life, I don’t like uncertainty, but in my professional life I’ve learned to embrace it because risk taking is required for higher opportunities and growth,” she said.
Wooten cited an internal report by Hewlett Packard that found women would apply for a position only if they met 100 percent of the position’s criteria. However, men would pursue it if they were 60 percent qualified.
One attendee suggested that men can compartmentalize risk’s consequences while women anticipate possible problems and mentally exaggerate the far-reaching effects.
3. Negative labels discourage women. Being described as “bossy,” “bitchy,” “witchy” or “begging for attention” is a common issue for women in power, according to many of the session’s participants.
“It’s a hard lesson to learn when you first come out because you think it’s personal,” said one attendee. “And then you start to realize that if you have to be that person at that clinic and you happen to be the hardest worker and happen to be female, then that’s the label you get.”
Wooten discussed a study by Harvard University that took a female entrepreneur’s life story and presented it to two groups: once under Heidi’s own name and once labeled with the name Howard—otherwise both reports were identical. While those who read the report had equal respect for the entrepreneur’s accomplishments, the overwhelming majority said they would rather work with “Howard” because Heidi didn’t seem friendly.
4. Women should take time for themselves. Karen Bradley, DVM, WVLDI president, said another study found that women consider doing household duties as part of their personal time, but men don’t.
“We need to stop. We need to delegate,” Bradley said. “Say, ‘You know what, I’m not going to sweep the dust bunnies. I treat rabbits—I don’t treat dust bunnies.’ Go to bed with the dishes dirty so you can read your kid a book or watch what you want to watch on TV or take your dog on a walk so we can take care of ourselves.”