Women face discrimination and occupy fewer places in the higher reaches of the veterinary profession, even as they begin to outnumber men in the field, according to research conducted by Lancaster University Management School and the Open University Business School.
The study found that sexism continues to be a big issue with clients, while managers “fail to recognise or understand” gender issues.
Research found that women are increasingly dominating the profession, with 76% of vet school graduates female, but few reach the higher levels of practice, with their employment much more likely to be as an assistant than as a director or partner.
The researchers carried out 75 interviews with both male and female vets from across the UK, speaking to practitioners in junior and senior roles, aged between 25 and 63.
While the questions did not focus on gender-related issues, interviewees frequently raised the subject both directly and indirectly, with the prevailing perception of female vets synonymous with limited intellectual and physical strength and seen as subordinate to males in the profession. Clients are “often explicitly sexist”, insisting male vets treat their animals.
The study also found a widely held belief that women would not seek promotions as they only wanted to work part-time, a statement repeated both by those in power and also the victims of such a perception.
David Knights, the Department of Organisation, Work and Technology at Lancaster University, and co-author, said: “On the surface, it could appear that the trend for fewer women climbing the hierarchy is because they sacrifice career for family. But it is much more complicated than this stereotypical view implies.
“Many of the women we spoke to, especially those in their early career, reported experiences of clients – or even their own practices – treating them as having limited competence and credibility, thus threatening their professional identities.”
He added: “They were also automatically presumed to be potential mothers, and this was treated as problematic for long-term careers.”
The study found women who have children and/or go part-time are seen to have chosen family over careers and are often not taken seriously at the practice any more, and no longer being considered for promotions.
The research also found women are not challenging or disrupting the limitations in place or the masculine culture “entrenched” in veterinary practice. Instead, they tend to leave the profession or go part-time.
The study added: “Issues highlighted by the research are likely to come back to haunt senior vets and corporate managers since recruitment and retention is increasingly a serious problem that is exacerbated by the failure of the profession to see these gender issues as in need of attention.”