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Creating an equitable workplace improves your business

Veterinary medicine in Washington – and across the country – is an industry that relies heavily on relationships. Strong workplaces build trust with clients and across teams to encourage a culture where all employees feel valued, respected and as though their voice matters.

Practices that prioritize a culture that values employees have lower turnover and longer employee retention. In a tight job market, these factors can be crucial to a thriving business. Many studies have shown that incorporating diversity and equity practices improve employee engagement and job satisfaction.

Diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, justice. These are all words that are used when talking about DEI. Many people talk about diversity but fail to understand what it means and how all the above terms relate. Beyond recognizing the definitions, folks fail to understand how creating an equitable work environment has a positive impact on a business’s bottom line.

Here are some basic definitions:

  • Diversity = representation. Consider the mix of people at your practice. Are there individuals who identify with different nationalities, races, ethnicities, gender/gender identity and sexual orientation? Having a mix of people from different backgrounds allows for various perspectives and new ideas. The client base in Washington and the U.S. is becoming more diverse so having a variety of people with whom clients can relate strengthens a business.
  • Inclusion = behaviors. Does everyone on your staff feel as though they are part of the team? Are all people’s voices heard in meetings? Are women always asked to take notes or grab coffee? Are people allowed to take time off to celebrate their religious holidays – especially folks who do not follow the primary religion in your area?
  • Belonging = feeling. Great workplaces include employees that feel as though they fit in and are important to the team. If you have a colleague with a disclosed disability, are they consistently having to ask for accommodation or do colleagues work together to adjust the workplace (physical space/policies/etc.) to fit their needs? Similarly, are people’s gender identity respected? Clients come from all walks of life and will choose a business that respects employees as the business will respect them too. 
  • Equality = systems. When you think about your workplace, does everyone have equal access to opportunities/training/promotion? Are all people’s background and life experience taken into consideration when looking at policies and practices? This doesn’t mean that everyone gets the same. Instead, think about what each person needs to grow in their role.
  • Justice = results. This is the result of the work done above. Strong workplaces intentionally changed policies and practices to dismantle barriers and create opportunities so all their employees can thrive.

Over the course of this year, the WSVMA DEI Committee will be sharing ideas of ways you can incorporate diversity, inclusion, equity, belonging and justice into your practice. We challenge clinics and hospitals to take one action each month to create a workplace that is more supportive of employees. This month, set up a way for employees to share ideas and feedback – either with their name or anonymously. Not all ideas may be things that you can incorporate immediately but reporting out at staff meetings of what was shared and what can be started and challenges for other suggestions will start increasing transparency and building trust with staff.

By Christie Cotterill, member of the WSVMA DEI Committee. Christie is the Director of Development and Alumni Relations at WSU College of Veterinary Medicine.