One of the unique aspects of the AVMA GRD externship and its Washington DC location is the exposure gained to all policy and political issues- not just those directly affecting the veterinary profession. Aside form the hearings and mark-ups on the Hill, there are free panels and discussions occurring everyday in the city on issues from voter registration modernization to private sector investments in Afghanistan. This externship encourages students to explore these opportunities of interest and get a well-rounded DC experience.

These panels always teach me new insights on current political and policy issues and it’s always interesting to see the passions and pieces of legislation that are the focus of other DC organizations. And sometimes these events, especially those focusing on broader issues, are more applicable to our profession that I previously realized.

Because of my interests in policy, I was intrigued by a panel discussion held this week by the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP). This organization was launched in 2011 by Hillary Clinton, with a partnership among the US Department of State and five US Women’s colleges, and now includes partnerships across the globe with different agencies, universities, NGO’s, the government and the private sector. They are working toward a goal of “50X50” which aims to achieve 50% representation of women in holding policy and political leadership positions around the globe by 2050.

The panel began with a short video created by Tiffany Shlain on why we should pledge 50/50 describing the importance of this movement.

This video highlights that Congress is 81% men and 81% white, while our population is 50% female. While in the majority of other countries, women are even less represented.

The discussion first highlighted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s push for gender parity on his cabinet- half of which are female. The WPSP hopes to create this type of gender sensitive and balanced leadership across the government in United States. They hope to achieve this by collecting data using the Leadership Index which they define as “measuring progress toward gender parity and tracking the pathways for women to pursue leadership, the positions they currently hold, and the power they are able to exercise within those positions.”

The panel agreed that women need to play an active role in pointing out when women are underrepresented in leadership positions. This is not only important in the government, but all workplaces. Even though women make up half the population, they are largely underrepresented in leadership positions in business. A 2017 study by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & CO, found that nearly 50% of men and 33% of women think that having 1 woman and 9 men per 10 senior positions is adequate. Again, this demonstrates the existence and acceptance of underrepresentation in leadership.

The panel continued to encourage women not only to speak up on gender imbalanced leadership, but also to realize their value and not be afraid to seek out leadership positions for which they are well-qualified. It was discussed that women tend to be more timid then men to accept nominations for office and need to realize their potential and also offer mentorship and encouragement to other young women to become leaders.

While listening to this discussion, I drew some comparisons with what I had heard from colleagues in the veterinary profession. Although veterinary medicine has shifted from a male to female dominated profession, women in veterinary leadership roles are also underrepresented. During my first years of veterinary school, I didn’t realize this problem existed as the leadership at Oregon State is pretty well balanced gender-wise. However, it appeared to me that this was not the case at other veterinary colleges. At one of the VBMA conferences, a student from a different school talked about starting a club chapter at her school focusing on women’s leadership positions in the veterinary field. I asked if that type of club was needed when veterinary school is characteristically predominately women, but she described it as a serious issue at her college and across the veterinary field. When I was participating in the Legislative Fly-In in 2016, I remember other female veterinary students frustrated that their leadership roles among their student governing positions were predominately male even though female were the majority of students.

This talk encouraged my to look up resources for women in veterinary leadership and see the different leadership positions women veterinarians hold throughout the diverse fields in business, government and industry (like many of the women we have met over the last 4 weeks). On the forefront of this issue for advocating and creating change is the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative. This organization helps develop women leaders in all areas of veterinary medicine and helps create solutions to this issue. There are also club chapters at 8 of the 30 US veterinary schools so more chapters need to be started so incoming veterinarians are aware of opportunities and resources available. More information can be found here and is a good starting point for education on this topic.