For today’s practice manager, D&I, EDI, DEI and EED&I are acronyms commonly seen in many leadership and management discussions. Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Equality are integral parts of how we make the practice a better place for the team. These programs have significant implications for managing a veterinary team—especially in today’s hypercompetitive market. Successfully implementing any of these initiatives requires understanding each and where they affect the business and individual team members.
Diversity acknowledges race, sex, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, religious beliefs, political affiliation, education and more. Inclusion is the act of welcoming, supporting, respecting and valuing all the diverse individuals and groups on your team. Equity focuses on individual needs and requirements, and provides fair access and opportunities. Finally, equality is treating everyone equally regardless of individuals’ or groups of people’s needs. While it may seem easy enough to understand these definitions, applying them in the workplace gets more complicated.
What complicates matters is something managers can’t control…what a person thinks. A person may think they are experiencing unfair treatment, but this “unfairness” may be real or perceived. Here is where it gets complicated: A person’s perception becomes their reality. And, when a person believes there is inequality in the workplace, it shapes their behavior. This is known as the Equity Theory of Motivation.
The Equity Theory of Motivation states that a person’s perception of fair or unfair treatment, as compared to other people, affects their motivation, attitudes and behaviors, and a person will change their behavior to compensate for the inequity. Behavior changes may present as doing only what is minimally required, becoming overly competitive, pushing for more pay or authority, becoming resistant or acting out in disruptive ways, or even quitting.
Take, for example, the person who thinks there is pay inequality…
They may make outright statements like, “I don’t get paid enough to do this,” or “Why should I drop everything to help them? Let the surgery techs handle it. It’s their responsibility. I’m just a lowly room tech.” Or maybe there is passive-aggressive behavior such as always pointing out how inefficient the surgery techs are and how it throws the exam room techs off schedule (i.e., it’s not my fault, it’s their fault). Whether verbally said aloud or displayed in their behavior, this person views the situation as inequitable and it affects patient care, client service and team performance.
This example is just one of many situations whereby a person judges if they receive the same rewards as others. Other areas may include continuing education allowances, paid leave and paid holidays, compensation and benefits, recognition and rewards, work schedules, etc.…just about anything can be perceived as unfair, leading to claims of inequality or inequity.
While management can’t control someone’s perception, it can take steps to create a workplace environment that is transparent, respectful and tolerant of other people’s views. And it starts at the top, which includes the practice manager and lead positions (such as the lead tech or receptionist manager). This is the group tasked with setting targets, establishing policies, monitoring the results and communicating with the team. After all, without good information and communication with leadership, the team will make up what they believe to be true (perception is reality).
Those on the leadership team must be responsive to concerns, consistent and fair, and transparent and open about what can and can’t be changed—and keep their finger on the pulse of the business to monitor and push for change when needed.1
Provide leadership teams with appropriate training.
Often, team members are promoted to leadership positions without receiving formal training on how to ensure equality in the workplace. How can a manager be expected to identify unconscious bias, inequality or discrimination situations without adequate training on the topic? The best defense against claims of inequality is a good offense—be strategic and put your leadership team through the appropriate training so they are equipped to monitor, mitigate and respond to situations.
Establish policies and practices that strive to achieve equality in the workplace.
In addition to following all the laws regarding employment equality, ask team members for input on improving the workplace. For example, consider how to enhance the benefits plan. The manager begins to build a benefits plan based on the established budget. Does the manager do it alone? No. The next step is to survey the team to see what benefits are important to them and prioritize the benefits (e.g., healthcare, mental health support, flexible work policies, paid time off, leave, education, child/elder care, etc.).
Keep in mind that diverse benefits play a role in team member recruitment and retention, and non-traditional benefits are becoming more common in today’s post-pandemic workplace. Pay particular attention to communications, starting with the rollout and continuing with onboarding and ongoing needs of individuals.
Create an empowering work environment where team members are trusted and respected as individuals.
One way to achieve this is to conduct real-time reviews with constructive feedback instead of waiting for the annual performance review. What is important to understand is that real-time feedback is fluid, much like what is going on in the industry. Changes in the economy and medical developments can occur quickly. You need to be able to respond to these changes, and you will be able to shift team member goals throughout the year as needed.
Waiting until the annual evaluation does not allow you to do this and instead puts the business at risk of delivering poor service, in addition to conducting irrelevant performance discussions based on goals set almost a year ago. The real-time feedback process enables more frequent conversations with each team member, recognizing their achievements, addressing any concerns and removing roadblocks they are experiencing.
Take the time for more frequent conversations which also allows for expanding upon other empowerment actions.
For example, talk to team members about their access to learning and development opportunities and available stretch assignments for taking charge of projects or tasks. Involve them in the decision-making process for the areas they control and encourage problem-solving. Reiterate the open-door policy and provide updates on business needs and strategic plans to keep everyone on the same page. These will promote a culture of inclusion and provide many opportunities to discuss equality or equity concerns.
Equality is a huge driver of employee satisfaction, productivity and growth. When team members perceive inequality, there needs to be an avenue to discuss and resolve the issue. However, the better strategic plan is to evaluate policies and procedures for any weakness, bias or potential for causing problems with EED&I. Equity is a responsibility of leadership resulting in a culture of inclusion and tolerance. +
1. How to Respond to Employee Claims of Inequity. (2020, Oct, 8). HigherEdJobs. https://www.higheredjobs.com/Articles/articleDisplay.cfm?ID=2456