The September 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review had several articles regarding the current state of women in business. For those readers that are thinking, "but I am a veterinarian, not a business woman (and I know you are out there)," I would beg you to keep reading. This type of thinking is just not the case, and is part of the problem. Multiple employment statistics for the veterinary profession have shown that male veterinarians earn more than their female counterparts. Some of this discrepancy has been attributed to practice ownership; more men than women own their own practice. However, this fact does not explain the entire discrepancy.
In addition, market research on clients has shown that many clients will spend more if recommendations are made from a male veterinarian. The question we need to ask ourselves in this female dominated field is why? There should not be a glass ceiling in a primarily female profession.
There is a newer concept entitled, second-generation gender bias, that helps explain why the glass ceiling may be limiting our profession. Some key points of this concept are:
- Women are not being deliberately excluded, but do have consistent under-representation in leadership roles.
- Women tend to form (or not form at all) weaker informal networks, and therefore are less likely to have a mentor than men. Men tend to see other men as more likely to succeed than other women and will deliberately seek those men out to form a mentorship-like relationship.
- In our culture, masculinity and leadership are linked and traits include decisiveness, assertiveness, and independence. Women are expected to be nice and caring. Numerous studies show that women leaders are competent, but less likable than their male counterparts. The same behaviors that we expect from male leaders, can be construed as arrogant or abrasive in women. If women leaders attempt a feminine style of leadership, they tend to lose respect; a catch-22.
Results of this gender bias on practice ownership:
- We had previously believed that women wanted to have a family and this is why they were not practice owners, but this may not be the only reason.
- Ownership opportunities are being offered to men over women due to their ability form networked relationships. As a result, women are not asserting themselves or showing their practice owner they are interested.
- Women also feel that they are not business-savy or are not competent to own a practice. Studies have shown that men will apply for jobs, which they are not qualified for. Women, on the other hand, will not apply unless they know they qualify completely. As a result, men may be buying into practices earlier and more often in their careers than women.
- When women veterinarians present a treatment plan/estimate to the client, they risk being too assertive and "out for money." On the contrary, they may also come across as not assertive enough and give away services for free. In addition, they may not be insisting on what is best for the pet and empathizing too much with the owner's desires versus what may be medically necessary.