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How WILMAH adjusted to 2020’s changing work – and cultural – dynamics.

Women in Leadership and Management in Animal Health (WILMAH) had a well-thought-out plan for 2020. Each quarter, the organization would use events and programs to focus on its four pillars – community, mentorship, personal development, and advocacy.

Mentoring was the main focus in Q1, and WILMAH created a lot of momentum in its efforts at VMX and within its membership. However, Q2 and Q3 proved to be disruptive on multiple fronts. In Q2 as the constraints and challenges of the pandemic increased, the events scheduled were canceled as both board members and regular members scrambled to adjust to the new normal. As protests cropped up in the early summer, Q3 added a new layer to WILMAH’s efforts for diversity and equality. “I think we learned a lot about being agile and shifting,” said WILMAH Chairman Julia Loew.


One of the biggest adjustments had to do with WILMAH’s Leadership Summit. The organization had planned to have a live, in-person Leadership Summit at Amelia Island, Florida, in October. With the pandemic, the organization quickly recognized it had to pivot. Instead of an all-day, in-person event, WILMAH rolled out a virtual summit spread over the course of a week to accommodate members’ varying schedules. “We tried to make sure that we were getting people’s time zones throughout the country,” said WILMAH Board Member Heather Fox.

The speakers covered a range of topics. WILMAH Week kicked off with Marissa Orr, a former Google and Facebook executive, bestselling author, and leadership speaker, who discussed the truth about men, women, power, and the workplace. The second day’s speaker, Dr. Adam Dorsay, discussed scientific ways to increase happiness and resilience at work and at home. Dorsay is a licensed psychologist and a certified executive coach working in private practice in San Jose, California. In 2016 he gave a well-watched TEDx talk about men and emotions.

The third day shifted back to the animal health industry. Stacy Pursell, founder, and CEO of The VET Recruiter talked about managing job growth during COVID-19. On the fourth day, Gloria Ladson-Billings, a Professor Emerita and former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor in Urban Education talked about empowering teams by valuing differences. WILMAH week concluded with a health and well-being presentation by Hally Bayer, founder of Thrive Pilates.

“For the WILMAH organization … mental health and wellness, diversity, inclusion, mentorship [are all] very important pillars to the organization,” said Fox. “So we really thought about that when selecting these speakers and making sure they were aligned with the pillars of the organization.”

The summit was also a membership-driven opportunity. The organization had more than 40 new members sign up as a result of the summit.

“In a perfect world, we’d love to get back to an in-person event,” said Fox. “But we also know with daily life, we want to do what’s best for the members. We’ll continue to communicate with our members to find out what’s best for them in the future.”

Multiple roles of women

When you look at the multiple roles of women during the pandemic as caregivers, teachers, etc., Fox said they’ve heard from members that it’s been a struggle. “It’s hard to put family life on hold. You’ve got that balancing act of trying to do all things, and it’s been difficult.”

Loew said WILMAH is looking to shine more light on the effects of those difficulties in a survey conducted in the fall to help drive awareness and change in diversity, inclusion and equality.

“In addition to launching our first benchmarking study within animal health in 2020, we would also be better equipped to service our membership if we can highlight barriers and opportunities to your career journeys by listening to your thoughts and feedback,” Loew said.

The survey is anonymous. WILMAH will use both the benchmarking and survey data to have informed conversations with industry leaders on how to better achieve parity by 2025.

Loew said she tries to look for silver linings in any circumstance. Two good things have occurred from this year’s pandemic. One, the pandemic has humanized the people we work with. It hasn’t just been women working with their kids on school projects. Dads, grandparents – everyone has tried to pitch in. The Zoom calls have brought a personal element to business meetings as well. “We’re all in this together.”

The second observation is that businesses have learned employees can keep up and not have to be in the same office. For women, that is a major shift and consideration with job opportunities as often the decisions are affected by school schedules, a spouse’s job location, etc.

“We can conduct different types of meetings without being in front of somebody else,” Loew said. “So it could open up opportunities in the future.”

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/guvendemir