A Shared Journey – WILMAH’s 2020 Efforts


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Mentorship will be a key component of WILMAH’s 2020 efforts.

With a commitment to mentorship, community, personal development and advocacy, the Women in Leadership and Management in Animal Health (WILMAH) kicked off 2020 with a packed-house event at VMX, and ambitious plans for content, education, and mentorship throughout the year. (Editor’s note: NAVC, which publishes Veterinary Advantage, is a sponsor of WILMAH.)

Addressing diversity

WILMAH hosted Dr. Jessica Petty, as well as an industry panel, at VMX. More than 180 were in attendance. Petty has more than two decades of experience contributing to the growth of people and businesses. Through her academic research, she has been able to gather in-depth observations about the experiences of others and bring new insights to an ever-changing marketplace. Petty is the founder of Just Pursuits, an inclusion collective focused on research and candid conversations that address today’s diversity issues, and is the CEO/president of Retrieving Independence, a nonprofit leading the way in inmate rehabilitation in the Nashville area through the unconditional love and service of a highly-trained dog.

Petty shared insights gathered from interviews with women in the industry who have more than 292 years of combined experience, both in manufacturing and distribution. Among her findings was a desire for cross-gender mentorship. While women love to be mentored by other women, they also enjoy “MENtorship”, as in being mentored by men. Interestingly, women mentors tend to coach their mentees in their current role while male mentors tend to coach their mentees “up” toward that next role. That’s just one example of the benefit of having mentors of both genders.

Elaborating on this finding, Petty also shared an additional reason cited by the study participants: the commitment cross-gender mentorship demonstrated to supporting gender diversity. The women stated they don’t want to fight alone; they want the male leaders to stand up for equity and equality in the workplace by supporting female talent at all levels within the organization. They want the male leaders to be able to talk about their skills, and not their gender when engaging in diversity conversations.

More resources across the industry are needed, Petty said, sharing that very few of the companies by which her interview participants were employed had sufficient resources or training to help their associates successfully mentor others. Nearly 80% of companies are making up their own programs, and while not all mentorship programs have to be a formalized process, they do need some guidelines to be successful and a formal program is worth considering. Indeed, women are 50% more likely to be promoted as a result of a formal mentorship program.

Photo of Industry Panel at WILMAH event at VMX 2020


Industry panel

The panel of industry experts was moderated by Margie Craft, Elanco. The panelists were:  Aaron Schacht, Elanco; Tara Bidgood, Zoetis; Nikkia Starks Jones, BIAH; George Henriques, Patterson; and Sara Barstow, Vetsource. Some of the highlights of the panel included:

Mentors should not assume it’s a problem-solving session. “Rather, they should listen and help their mentee close the loop on what they’ve learned,” said Schacht. It’s not the mentor’s job to be the fireman but rather Smokey the Bear. We need to change the mindset of leadership and stop looking for “someone like me” as a successor. We should be looking for something or someone different than we currently have in order to achieve something better than we have.

Be open, be vulnerable and ask for feedback. “You get out of a mentoring relationship what you put into it,” said Bidgood. A mentor can really help someone navigate when they reach a pivot point in their life/career. Learning and understanding the career journey of senior leaders, and that their challenges are the same as everyone else, can help an up-and-coming leader not feel alone in their struggles.

It’s important for men to be mentors, especially because women haven’t always been “in the room” so men may be the only ones who have the information and experience to share, said Jones. “What would you say if your daughter was on the other side of the table? Be your authentic self, don’t try to fit in a box or act like your male counterparts. Be proud of what makes you unique and valuable.”

Henriques encouraged attendees to have a mentor outside of their area of expertise. “It’s important to get to a place of trust and safety in the relationship to have transparent conversations,” he said. Then you need to put into action what you’ve learned. Companies should share best practices among their mentees and mentors in order to promote learning and create stronger mentors and a stronger mentorship program. It’s also important to be conscious of those around you and practice informal coaching when the opportunity presents itself.

In a mentoring relationship, it’s important for both parties to be willing to engage, be raw and be honest, said Barstow. Each should think about and challenge feedback from the other in order to learn from it and grow. Neither side should be shy or in denial about what they hear. As a mentee, how you show up matters, and it’s important to provide feedback to your mentor as leaders often struggle to get candid feedback. Ultimately, as leaders, we want to be seen for our skills and our contributions, not our gender. We want to be valued for who we are.

Photo of participants in WILMAH mentorship program

Mentorship program

WILMAH also announced the launch of its mentorship platform for all members in 2020. To date, WILMAH has 140 active users either in a mentor, mentee, or dual role. The platform is managed by Chronus, the leader in mentoring software with strategic mentoring resources that allow our members to have productive learning experiences in a highly efficient manner. WILMAH’s agreement with Chronus offers members the ability to learn and grow from each other, resulting in powerful development and learning opportunities. This investment is aligned with WILMAH’s mentorship pillar, which continues to build its Animal Health community for mentors and mentees.

Together, WILMAH members aim to:

  • Establish paths to help, encourage and inspire
    each other in our current, developing and evolving
    roles (community)
  • Identify and overcome common challenges and barriers to success (personal development)
  • Provide resources, events and mentorship opportunities for women to enhance and improve our career possibilities (mentorship)
  • Provide advocacy, action, and enrichment for women in animal health (advocacy)

Women’s Leadership Summit

Mark your calendars. WILMAH will be hosting our first Women’s Leadership Summit on October 13-14, 2020, at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort in Florida. This will be an amazing opportunity to learn from top-notch speakers, get inspired and network with other WILMAH members. For more information, visit wilmah.org.