A staggering 82% of female veterinarians say they’ve experienced sexual harassment or discrimination, while 78% of veterinarians say they’ve witnessed a female veterinarian experiencing harassment or discrimination, according to a 2019 bovinevetonline.com poll. Here’s a look at the numbers:
Readers also shared personal experiences. Here are a few.
What I’ve always found peculiar is that I’ve had very few farmers who have questioned my abilities or skill set as a food animal practitioner. In fact, I’ve found most of them to be very supportive. Yet the majority of male food animal practitioners I’ve met display a clear bias. Many have moved beyond it, if only by necessity—that is, they need to hire somebody.
It was common for some practices to have a clear position that “they would not hire a woman.” I was even told by one student about a male practitioner who told her candidly that “a uterus was a liability.” That was back in the early 2000s, and these clear discriminatory perspectives may not be as pervasive today. But what remains is a culture within the bovine profession where many male practitioners speak and treat their female colleagues in a very condescending manner. This behavior seems to be easily written off in a “boys will be boys” kind of justification, and I think that many don’t even recognize it. This lack of awareness is reflected at a very basic level. I believe—I may be incorrect—there remains a significant pay gap between women and men in food animal practice.
To be fair, I also have to admit there is a tendency for some, me included, to chalk this up to “an old white man” problem, but that is an equally discriminatory attitude. We (including me) should be fair and recognize the many male veterinarians who have served as amazing mentors and role models to female veterinarians. I have been mentored by some of the best, and most were male … and now old … and, yes, white.
I also don’t want to make it sound that this is an issue specific food animal veterinary practice. Women in every walk of life continue to have to manage and navigate sexual harassment or discrimination in the workplace. It is a global issue, not just our profession. That being said, we can start within our community to create change. I also think this conversation needs to be elevated beyond male and female.
I have always been struck by the lack of representation in the food animal profession by the LGBT community. I am aware of more than one veterinarian whose interest in food animal medicine was squelched because they did not feel they would be able to find a home in food animal practice without hiding their sexuality. These are amazing practitioners who chose another path because they had a clear appreciation for the lack of tolerance within the food animal practitioner circle and agriculture community. There are others who have stuck to the path but opt to keep their private lives very private. It is unfortunate that we have a professional or agricultural community that does not make all feel welcome.
Editor’s note: Find support and education for LGBT agriculturalists at cultivatingchangefoundation.org.
“Do you think women belong doing this kind of work? I don't. I wouldn't have one on the place.” Read another female veterinarian’s experience on page 2.