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Can lady vets hack it?

Tuesday 13th December 2016

Massey University's chancellor says woman vet graduates are two-fifths of a full-time equivalent vet. But he didn't mean to cause offence.

Photo: Flickr

Massey University’s chancellor has apologised for causing offence after saying women vet graduates are worth “two-fifths of a full-time equivalent vet,” because they leave work to get married and have babies.

In an interview with Rural News, Chris Kelly spoke of an imbalance of male and female vet students at the university, and an overhaul of the course reducing the emphasis on academic learning in the first year.

Kelly told the website that between the first and second phases of the programme, more women succeeded because the work was mainly academic. 

“Women mature earlier than men, work hard and pass. Whereas men find out about booze and all sorts of crazy things during their first year,” he said.

“When I went through vet school, many years ago, it was dominated by men. Today it’s dominated by women. 

“That’s fine, but the problem is one woman graduate is equivalent to two-fifths of a full-time equivalent vet throughout her life because she gets married and has a family, which is normal. So, though we’re graduating a lot of vets, we’re getting a high fallout rate later on.”

Kelly went on to say that some vets struggled with hard, physical tasks, and dealing with large animals on farms. 

He suggested this led to a shortage of rural vets, and graduates preferred to stay in the city. 

Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue said she was disappointed by Kelly's comments. 

"Rather than calling female vets a lesser version of a male vet, I would suggest that the veterinary industry and Massey University looks at how they are supporting and attracting successful graduates to return to the workforce following parental leave. There are many examples of good practice in the private sector in this area, which are proof that this is achievable with the right attitude," she said.

A spokesman for Massey University said Kelly “apologised for causing offence and conceded the information he gave in the article was incorrect.”

"I sincerely apologise for the remarks reported in a recent Rural News article," a statement on a since-deleted Facebook post read. 

"It does not reflect my personal view of Massey or its courses. It was certainly not my intention to offend anyone but I concede I have done so.

"I was trying to explain changes Massey University has made over a number of years in the veterinary science programme in response to industry needs, and also concede that the information was not factual."

Auckland vet Erin Dowler said Kelly’s apology didn’t recognise or acknowledge what people were upset by, and he should have made a retraction.

“He said the remarks didn’t reflect his personal view, or Massey’s - but if they weren't his, then whose were they?”

Dowler said the former vet’s comments were ultimately an attack on his own profession. “I’m not sure who was meant to benefit from it - it’s a bad look for the university, the profession and the students.”

But there was a silver lining.

“He’s not the first person to say these things. He’s just the first to say them in a public forum.”

When Dowler, who heads a group for woman vets - decided to study veterinary science, she said she was told by an older male vet that he didn’t understand why she would study for five years, and start a career, only to give it up to start a family soon after.

“It can be an old boys club. Some women suspect they’ve missed out on promotions for similar reasons. The chancellor is just bringing home those messages.

“We’ve been talking about these issues behind closed doors, and now this is an opportunity to speak out,” she said.

 

Erin Dowler (pictured with her dog Dante) is 100% vet, despite being a woman.

Photo: Supplied

New Zealand Veterinary Association chief executive Julie Hood said there was no indication that women found working with large animals more difficult. She said the higher number of women training as vets was a worldwide trend. 

According to the university, more women apply for New Zealand’s only veterinary degree than men. Of the approximately 340 applicants each year, the ratio is about 75-25 female to male. 

That ratio remains the same at intake, which this year was 122 students. At the end of the five year degree, between 75 and 80 per cent of graduates are women. 

A workforce survey of New Zealand vets found the hours of work reported by women and men in the industry is the same up until age 30. 

Over all ages women working as vets report working an average of 37 hours a week and men report working an average of 45 hours a week.

The changes to the to the programme from 2017 will mean selection into the ‘professional phase’ will no longer be almost entirely on academic performance, but an even balance of academic and non-academic criteria. 

Veterinary School associate dean Eloise Jillings said the changes aimed to increase the number of graduates with important attributes like communication and problem-solving skills. 

There was no mention of a desire to increase the number of male graduates. 



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Susan Strongman is an Auckland-based journalist at The Wireless. She is interested in social issues, human rights and people, but likes to spend her spare time with her cats.
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