Interview

Karen Johnston VMD, MRCVS, PhD, MBA – thoughts from a veterinary business woman who is enjoying her career

Having held a variety of roles in veterinary industry during a diverse career spanning almost three decades, Karen Johnston has become one of the top female business leaders in the veterinary industry. Karen is currently the Business Development Director for specialist veterinary MRI Company, Hallmarq Veterinary Imaging, where she is steering the launch of the PetVet MRI across Europe.

Karen’s background includes positions in research, development and management for some of the largest pet food companies in the world, having worked in many different countries including South Africa, the USA and Australia. This wealth of experience in many crevices of the veterinary industry gives her a unique insight into the challenges and attitudes to business women in the profession.

Is the veterinary industry as widely feminised in the different countries where you’ve worked?

I’d have to look at exact stats for each country but in general yes, my impression is that it was becoming more female dominant in the places I’ve worked.

Do you think there is any leftover sexism from yesteryear in the profession? 

Not from where I stand in corporate life.  In my experience the best businesses understand that diversity – gender included – makes a more productive company.  HR departments are focused on ensuring women in the office, and all people who come to work, have a pleasant environment so they can be as productive as possible. In the countries that I have worked in, I haven’t come across any significant differences in the attitudes to men and women in the veterinary profession.

There is of course a difference in the number of women in leadership positions in many corporations around the world.  The topic of the glass ceiling is another discussion!

What do you think are the key differences between how men and women approach their work?

There are studies which show that men seem to push harder when negotiating for salary and will more likely accept or reject a role based on the salary. Whereas women are generally more organised and therefore women sales reps are generally great at customer follow up and being on time for sales calls etc.  However, I’m not sure if there’s any research that demonstrates the respective outcomes of the differing attributes of men and women in a particular role – in general, we’re both good at different things.  Working together to build on our strengths is key!

What do you think are the main challenges women face when trying to further their career in the veterinary industry?

Family duties still tend to affect women more than men – a fact which is cliqued but true. Working mothers are usually really stretched for time.  No one has enough time for all there is to do and women do still seem to take over the brunt of child rearing and household duties.

What’s been the biggest challenge to you in your career so far?

Balancing my career with my husband’s as he is also a vet and we both love our jobs.  Luckily for me, Hallmarq Veterinary Imaging is an innovative global company and the CEO and the board understand the need for work-life balance. They are forward thinking with MRI machines as well as with people management so I’m very fortunate.

What do you think is the key to achieving that all-important work-life balance?

I think work-life balance is an issue for all countries, all companies and all people.  In order for any of us to do a great job at work we need down time.  We need time to recharge and we especially need time to think and come up with new ideas.  For introverts this may mean time alone with a cup of tea, a book and a chair at home. For extraverts, this may mean time at a networking event talking to other people.  But, we need to do this away from the workplace and we all need time for that.

For women in particular I think the best thing they can do is take care of the work division at home.  Marrying the right partner goes a long way!  I love the word ‘partner’ which I started to use after living in Australia for 10 years – because that’s the way it should be.

Do you think that to be successful, you have to make big sacrifices of your personal life?

I guess the first thing is to define success which is personal for each of us. But, in general, if you want to be happy with your life and good at something, you need to invest the time and you need to work hard at whatever it is you want to accomplish.  However, if you are calling this effort a ‘sacrifice’ then maybe you’re not doing the right thing.

For me, my vet degree, my PhD, my MBA and my career were are  all a lot of work but I feel privileged to have had the chance to do all that I’ve done.  I have been to vet schools in India and met vets working in Ethiopia.  Those experiences have left me feeling very grateful for all my opportunities.

To find out more about Hallmarq Veterinary Imaging, visit www.hallmarq.net