Cat Henstridge BVSc MRCVS
SPVS published their annual salary survey last week and there appears to be a large gender pay gap. Particularly in those vets more than ten years qualified.
In large part it would appear that this is mainly down to the fact that female vets are more likely to work reduced hours and have career breaks. More analysis is required to see if, when this is taken out of the equation, the discrepancy still exists. I hope it doesn’t but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.
We should also be celebrating the fact that for the first ten years of our careers, there is no significant difference between the sexes.
However, what we should not be celebrating is the opinion from SPVS themselves that much of the difference can be explained by the fact that women veterinarians ‘lack ambition’. To even suggest this is laughable and indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of how we view and manage our careers and lives.
Do not mistake the sacrifices women make in their careers for the sake of their families as evidence they no longer care about their jobs. Do not assume that we females are probably more likely to be happy pootling along, never asking for too much, simply happy with our (not a) lot. The very fact that so many women return to such a challenging career, even in part-time roles should be a clear indication of the depth of the drive and, dare I say, ambition they possess.
If this lazy statement is correct then clearly our profession is doomed. With the huge skew towards the feminine in the younger ranks, when these laid back females come to a time in their careers when they could potentially be leading our profession, we are probably more likely find them in the coffee shop rather than in the conference room. Without thrusting masculinity at the helm, how are we to take our place at the table of professions?!
The drop off in wage difference, according to this survey, happens at around 10 years qualified. With the majority of veterinary students graduate at 23, this is bang slap when we can expect female vets to start reproducing. Which, for most, means a maternity leave, a return to work on fewer hours and a great deal of extra responsibility outside of the practice.
It does not mean a personality transplant or the removal of their ability to be a great veterinary surgeon.
The early years of child rearing are challenging, tiring and all-consuming. It makes sense for a veterinary mother to consider allowing her career to coast for a while. After all, with a decade or so in practice under her belt, she probably has a reasonable idea of what she is doing, so could be forgiven for simply relying for a while on the incredible range of skills and knowledge she already has. What can’t be forgiven, is paying her less.
I also accept that women are, possibly, less demanding of their employers than men and probably undervalue their skills. I know I certainly do, but this doesn’t mean the gender pay gap is our fault. This is victim blaming.
Most veterinary jobs are paid on a basis of experience and skills. However, our profession is not a linear learning process, is a 15 year qualified veterinarian really worth less than a 16 year qualified one? By that stage in a career, does 12 months really make a difference?
Notwithstanding the fact a career break can often a rekindle enthusiasm and passion for ones job and a part-timer, especially in this line of work, has to be efficient and dedicated to be successful.
So maybe employers are using maternity leaves and reduced hours as an excuse to get away with lower wages. Maybe we should be pointing this out to them. Maybe, it actually has nothing to do with the employee at all!
Becoming a parent (and being a woman) didn’t stifle my ambition, it ignited it. I am ambitious for motherhood, my children AND my career and I’m not the only one. Everywhere you look in this profession, you will see remarkable women displaying incredible levels of ingenuity and zeal to further their careers and balance that with family life.
We should be celebrating this phenomenal workforce and remunerating them accordingly. We should be appalled by any genuine gender pay gap and we should be working hard to close it.
We absolutely should not be sitting back, shrugging our shoulders and patting these helpless ingenue on their regularly coiffed heads. You might lose a finger.
SPVS President Peter Brown has since responded to the points made in this article as follows:
It certainly wasn’t our intention to imply that women are inherently less ambitious than men so I apologise that the original press release was poorly worded. We had meant to refer the work down by Michelle Ryan (see for example https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/nov/19/women-start-out-as-ambitious-as-men-but-it-erodes-over-time-says-researcher) which suggested that women’s ambition could become eroded over time, and it would have been better to use that word in our comment. We wanted to question whether this was also true of the veterinary profession and if so what were the factors that could cause it. The research suggests that these factors can often be quite subtle and i think it is important that we work together as a profession to identify them and do what we can to eliminate them.