Champions for Change

Our series on “Champions for Change” features people of any gender in any role who are making a difference and creating positive change for women in the veterinary sector – enabling aspirations, inspiring and supporting others to grow and follow their passions, and empowering our community.

Alina Zheleznyakova is Head of Marketing and Communications at NationWide Laboratories. Her passion is to turn marketing into a tool to help the veterinary professions move forward by bringing confidence to the women in her team, motivating them to achieve their dreams, and inspiring women in the wider veterinary professions. We were eager to discover more about how Alina is championing change.

Please provide a brief bio/summary of your career story:

I have a university degree with honours in linguistics and international communications and nearly two decades of experience in business-to-business marketing. After graduating, I worked in education teaching English as a Foreign Language, which I loved. However, I was keen on broadening my horizons, so I took a position as an interpreter/translator, which evolved into a role of a marketing manager in the international printing sector.

This was a great learning curve for me. I realised that marketing is what I want to do because it is mostly about storytelling, which to me as a self-confessed book worm, was a clincher. I fine-tuned my communication and marketing skills and had a chance to travel the world and work with people from different countries and cultures until I got settled in the UK. I then worked in an advertising agency focused on luxury brands, but I really missed the scientific/engineering environment, so I was fortunate when an opportunity came up at NationWide Laboratories and progressed in my role to Head of Marketing and Communications. I love my job because I work with an amazing team and promote the great work the company does for animal welfare and one health.

Please summarise how you are working towards change in the veterinary professions and why do you feel this is important?

The veterinary industry is dynamic and full of talented professionals, who do their very best every single day simply because they care – but it can feel too much at times. Words of kindness and encouragement as well as looking at positive role models can support mental health and help to create a collaborative culture that fosters productivity and personal growth.

As the Head of Marketing and Communications I generate opportunities for my team members to tell their stories and raise awareness of the impact laboratory scientists, pathologists, technicians, customer service managers and other support roles have on the veterinary industry. It is important not only to provide appropriate representation for all the jobs that make up veterinary landscape, but also to promote diversity and educate young people interested in the veterinary career path about different opportunities within the profession and the importance of believing in themselves and following their dreams.

“Taking people on a shared journey is a more sustainable way to change things that need changing.”

One of the projects I have commissioned with the help of the Veterinary Woman, is a series of interviews with NationWide Laboratories female team members talking about their work, their views and their interests. It was not easy to persuade them to take part, because most of my team are incredibly humble. They just go about their day helping vets to achieve the correct diagnosis quickly and then get back to their families and passions like charity work, education or sustainability initiatives. They have never thought that they are worth writing about.

Giving them a platform to talk about themselves and helping them realise that their stories inspire other women not only boosted their confidence and motivation, but also opened up other avenues where they could unleash their potential. For example, we now have regular sustainability action groups where team members can do a beach clean or litter picking which makes them feel good.  Our team includes experts with worldwide reputations, so I make sure that they can share their knowledge with the veterinary community through articles, CPD webinars, podcasts, and face to face learning sessions.

I am also able to give opportunities to younger team members to take part in company communications and write scientific pieces for our LinkedIn newsletter, which helps them take their first steps in writing and gives them recognition as brand ambassadors.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I started a weekly internal newsletter which is still ongoing and is the place for shout-outs and kind messages. I think that working towards building a feeling of belonging to the same team for vets, nurses, laboratory scientists and pathologists  is an important step towards a more integrated veterinary community and also towards reducing discrimination and inequality in the profession.

How do you feel this is making a difference?

Being a marketing specialist, I feel like a huge part of my job is listening. Effectively listening to our customers and team members helps cultivate relationships, build rapport, increase loyalty, and progress towards making our business stronger and more sustainable – as well as helping the profession move forward together as one team. Active listening helps to ask the right questions and get the answers the veterinary community needs – and acting upon these certainly helps to make a difference.

I am responsible for the Customer Voice feedback programme which gives us an opportunity to listen to what our clients say and act upon their feedback. The vets are extremely busy, so effective, efficient and relevant communications demonstrate that their time is valued and their concerns are addressed.  This programme also gives our clients a chance to say thank you to our team for a job well done, which certainly motivates us to go even further than just above and beyond.

What motivated you to want to change things?

People settled in their ways generally don’t like change because it brings an element of the unknown into the mix and challenges the status quo. But to me the phrase “we have always done it that way” is a good reason to ask “why?” and “does it still work?” The veterinary professions evolve and advance quite rapidly, so my motivation is in trying to be current and to bring topics and experiences to people’s attention that would help them think differently and be even better at the things they are good at.

This approach is evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, but I think that taking people on a shared journey is a more sustainable way to change things that need changing.

How have you encouraged other people to get on board with your ideas?

I am a people person. I believe in people around me and do my best to demonstrate to them that I genuinely do. I have a passion for the veterinary profession and for the part that NationWide Laboratories plays in looking after animal welfare and positively contributing to One Health. And I think it shows, because eventually people get on board.

I firmly believe that every job in the veterinary professions matters, and every person can make a difference given a chance. I am proud of my team and the work they do, and I have the right skills and tools to give them an opportunity to be seen and heard, and to inspire others.

What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in this journey and how have you overcome them?

My biggest challenge is to win the respect of veterinary professionals and prove to them that I am a valuable contributor in my role and that together we can achieve more. Winning respect is a continuous, never-ending process, so I am trying to prove myself every day in many different ways. I use my marketing skills and experience, stay creative, always try to help, to be approachable and to set an example.

What has most helped and motivated you along the way?

I am motivated by kindness and appreciation. The words “well done” and “thank you for your help, we couldn’t have done it without you” always encourage me to go the extra mile.

What is the best advice you’ve been given, or that you would give to someone else, about driving positive change?

I got the best advice from my dad, who has always told me that only those who do nothing make no mistakes and only fools don’t learn from their mistakes. His advice was: “Keep going, be smart and never stop learning! To do so, make sure that you are surrounded by people who are in certain ways better and cleverer than you, then you will always have someone to look up to.” And so I do…

What are your next steps to continue creating change for the better?

I am an ordinary, everyday person, by which I mean that I wasn’t born with a calling to save the world. I am good at what I do and I pledge to focus on using my experience and skills to champion improvements and boost people’s confidence. I truly believe that small changes can make a big impact.

The best way to demonstrate that this concept can be successful is the quote from Dave Brailsford (Performance Director of British Cycling at the time) when he was talking about what makes Team Sky a winner: “If you break down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together. They’re tiny things, but if you clump them together it can be the difference between winning and losing.”

Imagine if every single veterinary professional adds 1% to what they already do? It will be a massive positive change. And my intention is to work on my part with 100% determination and effort and encourage stakeholders and peers to give their 1% extra to the team effort of making the veterinary profession even better.

“A photo that makes me smile was taken two years ago in the Highlands of Scotland. We went for a woodland walk and I saw a fallen tree  which reminded me of a Dirty Dancing film, so I decided to recreate the vibe. I couldn’t remember the pose, but I think I’ve done OK, considering that it was quite slippery and higher from the ground than it looks. When I look at this photo I can’t help thinking: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” and it makes me giggle.”

Our thanks to Alina for sharing her inspiring story of how she is championing change. If you would like to nominate a Champion for Change or share your story, please let us know

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