November 10th, 2023
Navigating Gender Dynamics: The Realities and Hopes for Women in Veterinary Medicine
By Fiorella Castro
In the ever-evolving landscape of veterinary medicine, the rise of women in the profession is a noteworthy shift. Today, women outnumber men in the field globally, comprising 60% of registered vets and making up a staggering 80% of veterinary students according to RCVS. However, despite these numbers, the journey for women in veterinary medicine is not without its challenges.
Five years ago, armed with a degree and a passion for equine care, I stepped into the veterinary world. It quickly became apparent that stereotypes and gender biases persisted, with clients often questioning my capability as a small, young woman. This sparked a relentless determination to prove myself in a male-dominated space, echoing the experiences of many of my female colleagues.
The roots of gender biases in veterinary medicine trace back to the early 20th century when Dr Aleen Cust shattered the glass ceiling by becoming Britain's first female veterinarian. Her achievement, marked by a diploma in 1922, paved the way for the influx of women into the profession. However, the journey to equality was far from over.
While the majority of veterinary professionals are now women, equality remains elusive. Studies reveal that men are more likely to secure owner/partner positions in clinics or hospitals. Even among women aspiring to be practice owners, this desire often diminishes over time, a trend linked to societal expectations regarding motherhood.
The choice of target species further illustrates gender imbalances. The preference for working with companion animals is more common among female veterinarians, while the farm animal sector remains predominantly male-dominated. Is this an outcome of client expectations or a consequence of inflexible work schedules for women seeking to balance work and family life?
Income disparities also persist, with a 16.5% gender pay gap in the United States. Men often gravitate towards business roles with more leadership positions, contributing to the skewed earnings. The feminization of the profession raises concerns about declining salaries and a potential decrease in male interest, exacerbating the wage gap.
However, it's not all doom and gloom. Recent graduates in the UK show almost zero pay gap, attributed to the transparency of corporate salary structures. This suggests that industry-wide efforts towards equitable pay can yield positive results.
In conclusion, my personal journey may have deviated from my initial equine focus, but the passion for addressing gender disparities in veterinary medicine remains. Women in the field deserve more than just numerical representation; they need a shift in workplace dynamics, increased flexibility, and fair compensation.
The veterinary profession should be a realm where gender differences are not divisive but a catalyst for collective improvement. Women, from leadership roles to farm animal care, should be empowered to pursue their ambitions. The call for change is not just for women; it's a collective effort for a more inclusive and progressive veterinary community.
So, what's it like to be a woman in veterinary medicine, and what changes do you think are crucial for the profession's improvement? Let's open the dialogue for a brighter, more equitable future in veterinary medicine.