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Posted: 2019-09-11

Female vets facing ‘outright discrimination’ - study
The researchers did not set out to study gender, but as the study progressed it became an use “of such importance that it could not be ignored”.
Researchers call for gender awareness training 

Female vets are routinely facing ‘outright discrimination’ and sexism from clients and colleagues, according to a small qualitative and observational study.

Researchers drew on semi-structured interviews with 75 vets (39 men and 36 women), combined with observations during consultations and surgery, as well as exchanges in staff kitchens and corridors.

The analysis, published online by Vet Record, revealed ‘highly significant’ client sexism, with clients often seen demanding a male vet or insisting on a second opinion from ‘one of the boys’. Such attitudes were rarely challenged by senior male vets, according to researchers, ‘partly because of their being oblivious to the problems, but also, presumably, for fear of upsetting the client’.

While the researchers did not set out to study gender, as the study progressed it became an use “of such importance that it could not be ignored”.

‘Physical weakness’
Issues of physical weakness were frequently raised by both sexes, particularly regarding large animal work - despite the fact that it was often a question of technique rather than strength. Again, the view was rarely challenged.

Career versus family
Both sexes often subscribed to the narrative of a forced choice between career or family. However, this was entirely absent from male accounts, as were issues of future fatherhood.

‘These assumed responsibilities then become conflated (unproblematically) with either the sheer impossibility, or lack of desire, for women to seek senior positions in their practices,’ the authors wrote.

With just one notable exception, they found that once female vets had children, they were no longer given complex cases or considered for promotion. Researchers pointed out that few women work in large animal practices, hospitals or academic research, but ‘vets do not readily recognise these issues and some even refuse to acknowledge their existence’.

Legal implications
The findings are important, according to the authors, partly because of the potential legal and ethical implications for practices who may be in conflict with equal opportunity policies and values. In addition, sex discrimination could lead to an increased risk of burnout, which is estimated to affect a fifth of female vets within five years of graduation.

Gender awareness training in management and the veterinary college curriculum is needed, the authors added.

Commenting on the findings, BVA vice-president Daniella Dos Santos said: “This study provides further evidence that sex discrimination is an ongoing issue for veterinary professionals… 

“It is completely unacceptable that so many women in the veterinary team continue to experience discrimination not just from clients but from members of our own profession. The veterinary team must become a safe and supportive environment for everyone.”

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