The workforce crisis part 3 - Are you Mark or Elizabeth? In 2018, it really shouldn’t matter

Posted on November 13, 2018 by Gudrun Ravetz

Having been heavily involved in the collaborative research project between the University of Exeter and the British Veterinary Association that was borne out of the Vet Futures project it is fascinating to see the end results. And what results they are: yet one of the things that I was most surprised about when reading the report was that I wasn’t surprised by the findings.

The study showed how two experimentally identical vets were treated differently by their employer in terms of how they were perceived, treated and paid. And the only difference between the vets was that one was called Mark and the other Elizabeth. One finding was that employers that believed that women no longer face discrimination in the profession awarded Mark between £1,100 and £3,300 more in salary and believed that “Mark” was more competent than “Elizabeth”. So on the basis of gender one vet gets a higher salary and is deemed to be more competent.

In 2015 I authored an article looking at the gendered nature of the profession in which I wrote:

This is not a debate that should alienate either sex… We need to get to a point of equal opportunities… we know that there is a gender pay gap to the detriment of women and that there are fewer women in leadership roles. Anecdotally we know that women are becoming disillusioned with their career pathway… Does it matter? A happy workforce is more likely to produce better results and be more loyal to their employer. Surely it makes good business sense to acknowledge this issue and work to resolve it.

And again in another article I wrote:

There is a problem in some areas and we can as a profession do more to bring about equality. But equality will only happen with input and change… in a nutshell we certainly could and should be doing better.

I am not repeating my words as a lazy way of writing this blog post, but more to show that what was written then is true today, but now we have even more evidence. So surely we need to act.

Workforce challenges are a priority

Workforce challenges have been a priority for the profession for a long time. We have had plenty of anecdotes about the causes and what the solutions should be but very little researched evidence. Now we have the evidence and this report highlights a fundamental challenge, but are we brave enough to accept it and to do something about it?

My challenge to the profession is to show true equality. A vet is not a female vet or a male vet, they are a vet, and should be given the same opportunities no matter what their gender. Let’s aim for equal opportunities and then outcomes can be up to the individual. Surely as a profession we must reach the point where we are not thinking: “Am I Mark or Elizabeth?”. We need to confront any unconscious bias and install open and transparent approaches to employment, pay and progression.

Whenever I have questioned employers about whether there could be a gender difference in their organisation everyone has always said “absolutely not”, but nobody has every been able to objectively prove it. This is usually, they say, because pay is decided on merit yet there is always an assurance that gender plays no part. Well this report may suggest otherwise.

As an evidence-based profession that rightly looks to the evidence to guide decisions why do we not show the same evidence-based transparent approach to how we value our employees. So, are you sure you are an equal and transparent employer? Really? Prove it!

Gudrun Ravetz

Written by Gudrun Ravetz

BVA past President

Gudrun currently works as a Veterinary Consultant for Denplan and is an interviewer for prospective students at University of Liverpool. Gudrun was previously President of the Society for Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS). Follow @RavetzGudrun on Twitter.