Women in veterinary science

Enabling women in veterinary science

80% of veterinary students are female with 60% of females going on to become registered vets. But with this ratio in favour of women to men, why are so many women not progressing into leadership roles? We have taken a look into the barriers to female leadership within the veterinary science industry but importantly, shown the opportunities and support available by speaking with two strong female leaders within veterinary science.

They are Kimberly Ann Therrien, BCM & Resiliency Capabilities Senior Director – Mars Petcare Global and Laura Pletz Regional Vice President of Medicine- Blue Pearl Specialty + Emergency Pet Hospital. Both Qualified Doctors of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) they have made their way to the top , both serving in leadership roles within Mars Veterinary Health whilst also serving terms as past President of the Board of Directors for the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI).

Understanding the challenges

Speaking with Kimberly it was clear why we see a lack of female leadership. Women’s “absence has been multi-factorial, often attributed to personal choices – like their desire to have children or the guilt associated to missing out on important events during their children’s younger years. More often than not, prioritizing family life over their own career goals and aspirations.”

But whilst this is true of any industry, what support is available for women specifically within veterinary science? With the industry projected to see 10,000 jobs go unfilled by 2030, what support is needed to ensure that with the vast number of females entering the profession, they are filling these positions and importantly, remaining in the industry?

A Supportive network

One such support network is the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) which exists to inspire and empower veterinary leaders to harness diversity and equity by creating an inclusive professional community. Their mission is to be a strong and impactful voice to achieve WVLDI’s vision by supporting women and allies seeking leadership positions, providing professional development and educational content, developing student leaders, and engaging in social media discussion.

Kimberly advocates the support it has provided, “I am extremely passionate about supporting, advocating and sponsoring women in veterinary medicine and wanted to pay it forward for those that were looking for leadership development, mentorship and sponsorship which is why I joined WVLDI. I have had many mentors and sponsors throughout my career, along with male allies, and was attracted to the mission, vision and purpose of WVLDI – feeling like I could contribute and help continue to bridge the gap in the veterinary profession as it relates to women in leadership roles.”

Laura agrees with the support the WVLDI provides, “During my time at Royal Canin, I was spending a significant amount of time visiting veterinary hospitals across the country and saw that women were looking for additional support and resources on many issues impacting their career, including how to approach family leave benefits, pay equity, and barriers to career growth. This led me to seek out opportunities to provide support and my search led me to WVLDI.” 

Empowerment in practice

Utilising the support available in the workplace is what really counts. Laura explained,  “During my time at Royal Canin and BluePearl, I have had the chance to be part of internal diversity resource groups, such as Women of Mars and Warriors Introducing Motivation, Maximizing Inclusion & Networking (WIMMIN). I was also able to share Family Leave and Pay Equity toolkits created by WVLDI during a session that was part of Mars’ activity around Women’s History Month in 2023.”

Kimberly concurs,” I’ve had so many women reach out to me after some of our leadership development continuing education webinars, talks and share stories of how they took those learnings and were able to apply them and the increased confidence and feeling of empowerment that it created for them.

“The organization has also been able to create toolkits that help provide tools and resources to women and organizations, once more supporting women and helping make an impact on things like wage gaps. Personally, it also gave me access to an even greater networking of veterinary professionals, inspirational women leaders, male allies, and mentors.”

The impact of such initiatives extends far beyond individual success stories. By creating spaces for women to connect, learn, and grow, organizations like WVLDI are catalyzing a cultural shift within the veterinary industry. Education and networking opportunities empower women to overcome obstacles, build meaningful relationships, and envision a future where female leadership is the norm rather than the exception.

Looking Ahead: Prioritizing Inclusion

While progress has been made, there is still more to do. “Organizations have a responsibility to prioritize ensuring their leadership team is balanced and reflective of the associates they are leading,” Laura reminds us. “We all have an opportunity to better recognize our biases and prevent them from impacting our leadership choices. That’s why at Mars, we have clear, ambitious targets related to gender-balanced leadership, workforce representation and inclusion – and hold ourselves accountable to them.

“BluePearl President, Nick Nelson, DVM, has always been a wonderful advocate for me and many other women in our field. He advocated for allyship and the importance of women leaders in veterinary medicine as a panelist at that first Royal Canin event and continues to support and mentor me since joining BluePearl. This is the type of consistent commitment to developing female leaders I always look for.”

Support systems like WVLDI network continues to grows providing many avenues for women to learn more about the unique challenges they face in veterinary medicine. Education is always powerful, building a community that creates space where we can get together share stories, help each other grow. Let’s continue to create a magical environment allowing us to reach our goals.

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