A Guide for Advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine

Stage 4 – Taking Action

Video Introductions

Journey Overview

Introduction to Stage 4

4.1: Assessment

An early step on any journey of growth is self-assessment and establishment of a baseline. After the current landscape is understood, then desired outcomes can be created with an accompanying plan and budget. Due to member demand and expectations, many associations fall into the trap of starting their DEI journey by providing DEI-related content in a variety of forms including webinars and podcasts. Everyone is encouraged to create the space and time to pause from those efforts and commit to doing the important, hard, foundational work of understanding the association’s current DEI-related realities so that future decisions can be strategic and informed.

4.2: Association DEI Self-assessment Process

Step 1 Utilize the results from the member survey described in section 3.6 to inform the creation of a strategic-minded and diverse DEI committee (DEIC), task force, or working group that includes at least one member of the association Board of Directors (BOD).

Step 2 The DEICs initial activity is to agree to a process for completing an internal DEI self-assessment utilizing the provided veterinary medical association DEI self-assessment tool. This tool was created and customized for veterinary associations by referencing a variety of input resources including the AAVMC association self-assessment tool that can be found in the references section. Notice that the first tab is referenced as a ‘short form’ and the second is the ‘expanded form.’ Smaller associations and those with minimal or no paid staff support will want to focus on the items in the short form. The VMA DEI-self-assessment spreadsheet may be downloaded or copied to the respective VMA’s shared drive to customize as the association wishes. One approach utilized by the Pride Veterinary Medical Community DEI working group was to add columns to the assessment for each DEI working group member to document their notes as they worked through the assessment. After ample time was given for individual analysis, the working group met to discuss their findings and incorporate their recommendations into one set of ratings.

“Using a self-assessment tool is
really key for us at PrideVMC to
make sure our priorities align
with our actions on antiracism
and working towards a diverse,
equitable and inclusive
veterinary profession.”

Dr. Dane Whitaker, President,

Step 2.5 Within the same spreadsheet that contains the DEI self-assessment tool, there is a third tab with an event assessment tool. This tool should be utilized during the early stages of planning for conferences, symposia, large meetings, and any other association event.

Step 3 The DEIC presents their DEI self-assessment ratings to the Board of Directors (BOD).

Step 4 The BOD and DEIC iterate on the ratings until the BOD is satisfied that the ratings are a fair and true representation of the association.

Step 5 The DEIC member make-up is reconfigured as the committee moves from a strategic to a more tactical mindset. For example, the committee may be more staff-focused versus volunteer-leader focused based on the association structure.

Step 6 The newly restructured DEIC utilizes the self-assessment ratings to create a recommended action plan with accompanying success metrics and budget, which is presented to the Board of Directors.  See section 4.7: Opportunities for Action – A Menu of Operational Plan Goals and Tactics for ideas.

Step 7 The DEIC and BOD iterate on the plan, success metrics, and budget until a board-approved plan with accompanying budget is finalized.

Step 8 The DEIC continues to meet regularly to oversee the implementation of the DEI plan. Regular progress updates are shared with the BOD and membership.

Step 9  In concert with the association planning and budget cycle, the DEIC conducts a full review and audit of the DEI plan annually to inform the following year action plan and budget.

4.3: We Need More Help!

For executives that have read this far and are thinking “All of this sounds great, but we need more help and guidance to launch our DEI efforts” – never fear! Bringing in expert consultants to support the internal staff and volunteer leaders in the association self-assessment will ensure long-term success; they can help your organization in ways including these:

  • Facilitate discussion of difficult topics
  • Avoid mis-steps and common mistakes
  • Personalize programming for your organization
  • Provide expertise in areas missing in your organization
  • Independent evaluation for assessment

There are many highly talented and qualified DEI subject matter experts who can be engaged as consultants to support an association’s efforts.  It’s important to understand that some consultants may be generalists and others may have expertise in specific areas (e.g. intersectionality) or with specific groups (e.g. BIPOC or LGBTQ+).  Consider having prospective consultants share their strengths with you so your organization can determine how to best address specific or comprehensive needs.

4.4: Assessment Resources
4.5: Valuing Demographic Data

Collecting and using demographic data responds to the fundamental need to understand the demographics of an association – and provides an essential tool for understanding the impact of its work to advance diversity, equity and inclusion. In general, the more an association knows about its members the better it can serve them.

As a result of an association creating an authorizing environment (see section 3.4) for engaging in DEI work, and knowing that data bring value to the organization, it’s time to put commitment into practice. Here are tips and action steps to get started with collecting and utilizing demographic data:

  • Take the time to develop the message about why demographic data matters to the association, then use that message in both internal and external communications. Asking for personal information naturally raises questions about why an organization is seeking the data and how it will be used. Be sure to answer the question, “Why do you want to know this about me?” Here’s an example of messaging for this purpose:

We are committed to diversity, equity and inclusion and we view data as an essential tool to practice this commitment. The data collected will help us to understand how we reflect the society we serve, equip our staff with critical data to better serve the needs of our members, and track our progress as an organization and as a profession.

  • Update association management software to include demographic data fields. See the suggested nomenclature below for comprehensive and sensitive descriptors to use when referencing gender identity, sexual orientation, race, and ethnicity.
  • Decide how to put data collection into practice. Will there be an online survey, an emailed questionnaire, or distributed paper copies? The system the association uses may change over time as it’s learned which approach generates the highest response from the members and which system is most efficient and sustainable. Collecting demographic data is not a one-time undertaking; persistence is crucial.
  • Build a process that extracts insights from the data and applies those insights to the association’s efforts. The process should include communicating the impact of the data collection (e.g. what was developed as a result) back to members and, if appropriate, to collaborators across the profession. This process won’t happen overnight because it requires planning, patience, and a willingness to be agile and learn from testing. Start, refine, repeat!
4.6: Utilizing Universal Demographic Nomenclature

Most VMAs have been slow to collect demographic data for a variety of reasons. Associations have appeared reluctant to address the complexity and sensitivities that surround demographic data – and thus have been disinclined to develop appropriate terminology and make corresponding database and process changes, to articulate policy about demographic data privacy, and to develop organizational messaging around the need for and use of demographic data.

Additionally, institutional research in the veterinary sector often bridges to the demographic descriptors defined and used by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, and those descriptors have been slow to change. As Jorge Gonzalez and Robert Santos comment in an article on race and ethnicity in surveys published by the Urban Institute, “Racial and ethnic categories are social constructs, defined and designed by those who have historically held positions of influence.”  They note that data collection around race and ethnic constructs is lagging as society evolves with new labels and categories that better reflect people’s views and lived experiences.

Recognizing society’s evolving views, and appreciating the value that the use of consistent nomenclature can bring to creating a more informed and granular picture of demographic diversity in the veterinary profession, new nomenclature has emerged. VMAE wishes to recognize the important work done by Lisa Greenhill, EdD (Senior Director for Institutional Research and Diversity at the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges) and Christina Tran, DVM (Associate Professor at the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine and Immediate Past President of the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association) in advancing the development of contemporary nomenclature. VMAE recognizes that widespread use of universal nomenclature and subsequent data collection will benefit both the individual association and the collective profession.

VMAE encourages veterinary medical associations to adopt the universal demographic nomenclature presented here, adjust database structures accordingly, and routinely collect, analyze, and report the aggregate data.

When collecting demographic data, recommended practices include giving the participant an “I prefer not to answer” option and not forcing a response on any demographic question. When preparing communications, a valuable resource on bias-free language is the APA Style Guide, which notes:

“The American Psychological Association emphasizes the need to talk about all people with inclusivity and respect. Writers using APA Style must strive to use language that is free of bias and avoid perpetuating prejudicial beliefs or demeaning attitudes in their writing. Just as you have learned to check what you write for spelling, grammar, and wordiness, practice reading your work for bias. The guidelines for bias-free language contain both general guidelines for writing about people without bias across a range of topics and specific guidelines that address the individual characteristics of age, disability, gender, participation in research, racial and ethnic identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and intersectionality. These guidelines and recommendations were crafted by panels of experts on APA’s bias-free language committees.”

Model language for universal demographic nomenclature is available in this document for utilization by veterinary medical associations.

4.7: Opportunities for Action - A Menu of Operational Plan Goals and Tactics

Preceding sections of this Journey guide were designed to help association leaders build context around DEI and its benefits, undertake foundational work such as conducting an organizational DEI assessment and empaneling a DEI committee, and then commit the association to advancing DEI. That commitment requires that every knowledge domain and operational facet of the organization be examined through the DEI lens. It also requires that ideas for advancing DEI be organized into the organization’s strategic framework and operational plan to provide clarity of direction, effective communication, alignment of resources, and accountability.

For common understanding, the terminology being used in this section is defined as follows:

  • Goals are descriptive statements of the high-level outcome(s) one wishes to create
  • Strategy is the approach taken to achieve a goal
  • Objectives are the concrete, specific deliverables that make the goal come to life
  • Tactics are specific actions that will be taken to achieve an objective

The operational plans presented below are organized by relevant domains of association management:

In each domain a sample goal statement is provided and accompanied by an objective(s) and tactics. The menu of ideas provided for consideration is extensive, so it’s important to:

  • Recognize that no organization can tackle every tactical element simultaneously – digest the apple one bite at a time.
  • Identify those ideas that can best help to build out how it’s been chosen to reflect DEI in the association’s strategy.
  • Remember that the important thing is to get started! And then to celebrate successes.  Then undertake additional action plan elements to broaden effort and impact over time.