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‘Shocking’ levels of discrimination found

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By Georgina Mills

Twenty-four per cent of vet professionals have experienced or witnessed some sort of discrimination in the workplace or in a learning environment.

Findings from BVA’s spring Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey – which included questions on discrimination for the first time and received 1551 responses – found that of the incidents that have taken place, some 44 per cent have been related to sex discrimination, 27 per cent to race and 14 per cent to pregnancy/parental leave.

Other specific examples of discrimination include that of age, disability, sexual orientation and religion.

The Voice survey found that victims of discrimination were more likely to be female, under 35 and from a minority ethnic background. Incidences of discrimination were also just as likely to happen in a large practice as in a small one.

In addition, it found more than one in four vets who described themselves as bisexual, gay or lesbian had personally experienced discrimination in the past year.

Alongside the Voice survey, the association also released figures from its discrimination survey. The survey, which aimed to capture the first-hand experiences of discrimination of vets, vet nurses, students and other veterinary team members, received an unprecedented 2445 responses.

The discrimination survey helped to delve deeper into people’s personal experiences.

BVA’s Key findings on discrimination*

  • Around 1/4 of vet professionals have experienced or witnessed discrimination

  • Sex discrimination is the most common, but reports of discrimination against race, pregnancy/parental leave, sexual orientation and disability also featured

  • Offensive language is the most common form of discrimination

  • Young, female vets are the most likely victims

  • Perpetrators of discrimination are most likely to be senior colleagues or clients

  • Most incidents are not reported. If they are reported, most are not dealt with correctly

  • Over half the profession is concerned about discrimination

  • Employees and locums are more concerned about discrimination than partners and practice owners

*Taken from its discrimination survey and the spring 2019 Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey

Use of offensive language was found to be the most common form of discrimination, with cases of physical harassment being much less likely.

Less than optimal workplace conditions were also found to be common, for example being pressurised to take on extra work, being allocated less desirable tasks and encountering a lack of tolerance for sickness and time off.

The Voice survey found that the perpetrator of discrimination was most likely to be a senior colleague; however, discrimination from clients was also common. Incidents involving clients refusing to accept service from vets of a particular protected characteristic were also frequently described; clients were found to be the perpetrators of most cases of racial discrimination.

BVA junior vice president Daniella Dos Santos

BVA junior vice president Daniella Dos Santos described the levels of discrimination as ‘shocking’.

The veterinary team must become a safe and supportive environment for everyone. We cannot accept anything less for ourselves

She said: ‘It is completely unacceptable that so many members of the veterinary team are subject to discrimination not just from clients but from members of our own profession. The veterinary team must become a safe and supportive environment for everyone. We cannot accept anything less for ourselves, for our colleagues and for our profession.’

When looking at how cases of discrimination were dealt with, the discrimination survey found around two-thirds of cases were not reported. This figure was even greater when the victim was a vet student (81 per cent).

Reasons for not reporting an act of discrimination included not knowing how to complain, not having the confidence to complain, not believing that reporting it would lead to action, or fear of reprisal.

Worryingly, of those who had reported an incident, just 16 per cent of respondents to the discrimination survey were satisfied with how the incident had been dealt with. Respondents said their complaints had been dismissed, had no action taken and that the discrimination had continued.

Overall, the Voice survey found that just over half of the profession was concerned about discrimination in the workplace. When looking at particular roles, 93 per cent of employees and 96 per cent of locums were concerned about the levels of discrimination in the profession to some degree. For self-employed, partners or practice owners, 84 per cent felt the same.

Dos Santos continued: ‘Many of the experiences documented in our report are distressing and this distress is often compounded by what comes next. It was very saddening to hear that so many people have felt unable to report their experiences or that their reports were handled badly by those who received them.

‘Experiencing discrimination can be very traumatic, without the “double-whammy” of having your complaint dismissed or mishandled by managers or senior staff. We need to make sure everyone who experiences discrimination is able to get the outcome they deserve.’

Navaratnam Partheeban, a livestock vet who co-founded the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society, said: ‘A wealth of psychological research shows that discrimination can exacerbate stress. Moreover, discrimination-related stress is linked to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression.

‘As the survey highlights, discrimination and bias are major points of concern, so all members have to take responsibility. Being silent about these issues does not help improve the situation. These findings make it clear that the profession has significant work to do regarding equality and inclusion and this survey will hopefully be a driver for change.’

Dan Makin, president of the British Veterinary (BV) LGBT+ group, said: ‘This is a ground-breaking piece of factual evidence confirming that there has never been a greater time to address the significant issue of equality and diversity within our profession.

‘We all have a responsibility to change the world we live in. I truly hope that the results of this survey will send a wave of shock throughout the profession. It is a hard-hitting wake-up call that has been needed for a long time.’

The discrimination survey also gave respondents a chance to highlight areas of good practice and to suggest ways for improvement.

Six themes came out of the responses:

  • Support groups and networks, such as the BVLGBT+ group,

  • Visibility and role models – which promote diversity and make people feel less alone,

  • Workplace culture and actions – having systems in place to tackle discrimination and a positive culture set by leaders,

  • Training and resources, such as unconscious bias training,

  • Services such as the BVA’s legal helpline.

The BVA is now launching a ‘Big Conversation on equality and inclusion in the veterinary professions’. It is asking members of veterinary teams across the UK to join online engagement sessions through social media and is inviting BVA members to feed in views via their regional representatives ahead of its next council on 24 July.

The BVA’s full report on discrimination can be found at •

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