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#Timeforchange: BVA launches "Big Conversation" as report shows a quarter of vets have experienced or witnessed discrimination this year

11 July 2019, at 12:00pm

Ground-breaking data gathered by the BVA have revealed that 24 percent of working vets and vet students have experienced or witnessed discrimination in the past year. Yet responses to the same survey showed that only 56 percent of the profession feel concerned about discrimination.

To raise awareness of the scale of the issue BVA is inviting all members of the veterinary team to join a “Big Conversation on equality and inclusion in the veterinary professions”, starting with the release of a landmark report on the current situation on discrimination. The BVA report on discrimination in the veterinary profession details the results of two research projects carried out by BVA this year: the first large scale questionnaire capturing the experiences of those who have either faced or witnessed discrimination and a Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey measuring the scale of the issue.

The report reveals that 16 percent of vets and vet students have personally experienced discrimination within a veterinary workplace or learning environment in the past twelve months, while one in five have been witness to such discrimination. Senior colleagues were most commonly responsible for the discrimination (47 percent of incidents) with discrimination from clients accounting for 35 percent of incidents.

BVA Junior Vice President Daniella Dos Santos said:

“This is the first time anyone has collected such a significant body of evidence on this issue and the results are truly shocking. 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.

“Worryingly, it seems that the scale of the issue will come as a surprise to many members of our profession and so it is vital that we all join the conversation and reflect on what role we can play to improve equality and inclusion. 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.”

Sex discrimination was the most common type reported (44 percent of incidents) and is particularly prevalent in academic settings and in production animal, equine, and mixed practices. Race discrimination was the next most commonly reported (27 percent of incidents). Respondents also gave details of discrimination in relation to other protected characteristics, including age, sexuality, disability and gender reassignment.

Younger vets are significantly more likely than older vets to have personally experienced discrimination in the past year (27 percent of those under 35 had experienced discrimination). Female vets are more than twice as likely to have experienced discrimination than their male colleagues (19 percent and 8 percent respectively). The incidence of discrimination is higher amongst vets from a range of minority ethnic backgrounds, and those who described their sexual orientation as bi, gay or lesbian were twice as likely to have personally experienced discrimination in the past year.

Responding to the report, Christine Midlemiss, UK Chief Veterinary Officer said: “I welcome this report and thank BVA for raising these important issues through their survey, which will pave the way for a more equal profession. Discrimination in the workplace is completely unacceptable. I encourage all veterinary professionals to contribute to the conversation and to speak up about discrimination, and I urge everyone, especially employers, to take action to tackle this kind of behaviour in the workplace.

“Our vets play a critical role in controlling disease outbreaks, safeguarding animal health and welfare, supporting trade and tackling global One Health challenges such as antimicrobial resistance. I will be joining the profession-wide discussion about the findings of the report to ensure that, as colleagues and as employers, we all support our veterinary surgeons.”

Just 12 percent of respondents were satisfied with how their incident had been dealt, rising to 23 percent among those who felt able to report. Ms Dos Santos added: “Many of the experiences documented in our report are shocking and 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.

“Through the discrimination questionnaire we heard many distressing stories from vets, students, vet nurses and other colleagues. We are incredibly grateful to them for sharing these with us so that we can raise awareness of what’s happening in our veterinary workplaces.”

BVA is launching a “Big Conversation on equality and inclusion in the veterinary professions” this week. They are asking members of veterinary teams across the UK to join online engagement sessions through social media and inviting BVA members to feed in views via their regional representatives ahead of Council on 24 July.