Quarter of UK vets have experienced or witnessed discrimination this year

Ground-breaking data gathered by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has revealed that 24% of working UK vets and veterinary students have experienced or witnessed discrimination in the past year.

Yet responses to the same survey showed that only 56% of the profession feel concerned about the issue of discrimination.

To raise awareness of the scale of the problem, the BVA is inviting all members of the sector to join a “Big Conversation” on equality and inclusion in the veterinary professions, starting with the release of a landmark report on the current situation on discrimination.

The BVA report on discrimination in the veterinary profession details the results of two research projects carried out by BVA this year:

  • The first large scale questionnaire capturing the experiences of those who have either faced or witnessed discrimination; and
  • The ‘Voice of the Veterinary Profession’ survey measuring the scale of the issue.
The report reveals that 16% of vets and veterinary students have personally experienced discrimination within their workplace or learning environment in the past 12 months, while one in five say they have personally witnessed such discrimination.

Senior colleagues were most commonly responsible for the discrimination (47% of incidents) with discrimination from clients accounting for 35% of incidents.

British Veterinary Association junior vice president Daniella Dos Santos said: “This is the first time anyone has collected such a significant body of evidence on this issue and the results are truly shocking.

“It is completely unacceptable that so many members of the veterinary team are subject to discrimination – not just from clients but from members of our own profession.

Worryingly, it seems that the scale of the issue will come as a surprise to many members of our profession and so it is vital that we all join the conversation and reflect on what role we can play to improve equality and inclusion.

“The veterinary team must become a safe and supportive environment for everyone. We cannot accept anything less for ourselves, for our colleagues and for our profession.

“Experiencing discrimination can be very traumatic, without the ‘double-whammy’ of having your complaint dismissed or mishandled by managers or senior staff. We need to make sure everyone who experiences discrimination is able to get the outcome they deserve.

“Through the discrimination questionnaire, we heard many distressing stories from vets, students, vet nurses and other colleagues. We are incredibly grateful to them for sharing these with us so that we can raise awareness of what’s happening in our veterinary workplaces.”

Types of discrimination

Sex discrimination was the most common type reported (44% of incidents) and is particularly prevalent in academic settings and in production animal, equine, and mixed practices.

Race discrimination was the next most commonly reported (27% of incidents). Respondents also gave details of discrimination in relation to other protected characteristics, including age, sexuality, disability and gender reassignment.

Younger vets are also significantly more likely than older vets to have personally experienced discrimination in the past year (27% of those under 35 had experienced discrimination).

Female vets are more than twice as likely to have experienced discrimination than their male colleagues (19% and 8% respectively). The incidence of discrimination is higher amongst vets from a range of minority ethnic backgrounds, and those who described their sexual orientation as bisexual, gay or lesbian were twice as likely to have personally experienced discrimination in the past year.

Responding to the report, UK chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: “Discrimination in the workplace is completely unacceptable.

I encourage all veterinary professionals to contribute to the conversation and to speak up about discrimination, and I urge everyone, especially employers, to take action to tackle this kind of behaviour in the workplace.

“Our vets play a critical role in controlling disease outbreaks, safeguarding animal health and welfare, supporting trade and tackling global One Health challenges such as antimicrobial resistance.

“I will be joining the profession-wide discussion about the findings of the report to ensure that, as colleagues and as employers, we all support our veterinary surgeons.”