The arrogance of sexist business beliefs (part 2)

As it is been said, “You can’t be what you can’t see”

Dani McVety, DVM, and Mary Gardner, DVM.

In my last column, I told the story of how my eyes were opened to the lack of role models and mentors for women in the business world, particularly in veterinary medicine.

This was certainly my experience, and even today, while most veterinarians are women, our leadership is still dominated by men. This is changing, though, and one of the biggest reasons is the incredible example being set by the veterinary entrepreneurs I featured last time, and the four I’d like you to meet now.

Mary Gardner, DVM, and Dani McVety, DVM, Co-founders, Lap of Love

What motivated you to start your company?

Dr. Gardner: I have always had the entrepreneurial spirit and have started many side hustles with varying success. When Dani talked to me about what she was doing on her own relative to  how the [euthanasia] experience could be for a family, and the idea of growing it to a much larger organization helping families all over the U.S.—I fell in love with it and knew instantly this would stick!

I am a second-career veterinarian, having been in the software development industry for 10 years before vet school. I knew scaling something nationally required technology, and I was really excited to use my previous experience to build the technology structure behind Lap of Love.

In addition to Lap of Love, I have started my own pet crematory and veterinary conference, NoodleU. I love being creative and filling a void. For the crematory, I’ve also built software to manage the pets on their cremation journey.

Dr. McVety: In the beginning, I was motivated simply to be in charge of my own life and make a part-time income doing something I truly loved. I always knew I wanted to have my own practice, so I started Lap of Love as a part-time thing, hoping to learn some wonderful lessons that I would one day apply to owning a larger practice. Never would I have imagined it would grow to what we have today, with over 500 employees (and growing).

Who were your mentors?

Gardner: I have had so many along the way, but the biggest mentor in my life is my sister. She was a vice president of the software company I worked at and then started her own software company (which I ended up working in part-time as Lap of Love was growing—I needed to pay the bills somehow). She was an inspirational leader—very practical, well respected, smart, and supportive of everyone. I learned so much about business from her.

McVety: My parents, mostly, in addition to some wonderful business books I found along the way. Growing up, I watched my mom and dad build an incredibly successful business with no college degrees. They did what entrepreneurs do; they worked hard, they sacrificed, they made good, sound financial decisions, and they modeled the entrepreneurial spirit for me every day. We spent weekends at the office playing with random supplies while my parents worked (it was more fun than it sounds!), and I learned to professionally answer the phones at a very young age. I was told as the boss’ daughter, more was expected of me, not less. I was expected to work harder and longer than everyone else (and for less money) because my name represented the leaders of the company. All these seemingly little lessons have made me who I am today. However, the most important lessons I learned were from the example my parents lived in front of me every day.

What were the major lessons you learned?

Gardner: A major lesson I learned is there comes a point where you can’t do it all and do it all well at the same time. You have to bring on people better than you to make the dream a reality. Don’t let ego stand in the way of asking for help.

McVety: Entrepreneurism is not a job title; it is a set of personality traits. It means you’re willing to work harder, longer, and for less money than anyone around you. If that doesn’t sound like most vets, I don’t know what does! Being an entrepreneur is about taking responsibility 24/7,  and being completely mission-oriented. When something goes wrong at 6 a.m. on a Sunday, I’m there. If a client needs me but I’m on vacation, I’ll pick up the phone. That’s what being an entrepreneur is all about. Yes, you get to call the shots, but you must be willing to handle the 24/7 responsibilities, as well.

Find, hire, and keep people who are smarter than you, then get out of their way. My greatest achievement as a businesswoman has been finding and, most importantly, keeping amazing people who are much smarter than me. Our team is incredibly tenured, which has been the most important part about mindfully growing our company and pivoting when needed. Replacing key people can cost you years of growth, as can holding onto the wrong person. You have to let these superstars shine; they don’t like to be micromanaged.

Do you have advice for other women?

Gardner: I guess my advice is for anyone—regardless of gender. This industry is small, so don’t burn any bridges and be kind to everyone. Also, don’t be scared to give your idea a try. Some things will stick, others won’t, but when you find the thing that sticks, get after it and don’t ever let the little failure live rent-free in your brain!

McVety: Don’t blame your stumbles on anyone else, just get up and keep going. I have immeasurable respect for the women who have paved the way for my generation. Countless female veterinarians I’ve spoken to along the way have told me stories of being the only woman in vet school or being told to “go home and cook.” I have never faced that kind of blatant scrutiny, nor do I ever imagine I will, thanks to how far our profession has come. Yes, we have a long way to go still, but the grade is less steep than it used to be.

Personally, it never occurred to me I couldn’t achieve any of this! I always knew I could; it was simply a function of how hard I was willing to work. There’s a quote that sums this up: “Women who seek to be equal to men lack ambition.”

Joya Griffin, DVM, Dip. American College of Veterinary Dermatology, Star of Pop Goes the Vet with Dr. Joya

What motivated you to buy into a business and star in your own TV show?

Joya Griffin, DVM, Dip. American College of Veterinary Dermatology

When I became boarded, I joined Animal Dermatology Clinic, the largest group of veterinary dermatologists in the country. I set out early on to become a shareholder of the Louisville clinic, and bought in over 10 years ago. I did this not only for the potential financial gain, but to be vested in what I was building daily while working at the clinic. I set out to create a respectful and fun work environment for me and my staff that focused on high-quality care for our patients and their pet parents.

Coming to work surrounded by positivity helped me to aspire to bring what we did to the television screen. When the opportunity arose to be the Dr. Pimple Popper of the veterinary world, I said yes! That’s me! I bet on myself and my television show Pop Goes the Vet with Dr. Joya aired in January 2022 and is now streaming on Disney+! It has been a dream to expose the world to the field of veterinary dermatology and show that you can work hard, while having fun doing it.

Who were your mentors?

I have been fortunate to have great male and female mentors. While at Cornell, I had two male mentors who helped me with research while in veterinary school and then welcomed me back to Cornell for residency. They believed in me and created a residency position for me even when we did not have one available that year. While in my rotating internship in Chicago, I was fortunate to work with three incredibly talented and successful female dermatologists. They inspired me by balancing full work schedules, families, and speaking engagements, all while training interns and residents. They did it all, and I wanted to do the same in my career.

What were the major lessons you learned?

Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for yourself. As a younger veterinarian who was “low man on the totem pole,” I was afraid to speak out about things that were inappropriate in the practice. I was afraid if I spoke out, my job would be in jeopardy, and I worried no one would believe me. I regret not speaking up sooner because when I finally did, positive change occurred that allowed me to create a happy, healthy, and fun work environment.

Do you have parting advice for other women?

My advice to any woman wanting to create the life she wants is to bet on yourself even when others around you aren’t, and to say yes to the things that seem a tiny bit impossible or even scary. Remarkable things can happen when you take a chance.

Addie, Reinhard, DVM, MS, Founder and CEO of MentorVet

What motivated you to start your company?

Addie, Reinhard, DVM, MS

After overcoming severe burnout twice in my early career, I felt a calling to help others navigate the ups and downs of a veterinary career. I started MentorVet to empower veterinary professionals, using evidence-based approaches, to create a more sustainable career for themselves and others.

Who were your mentors?

I could not have accomplished so much without the support of my team of mentors—individuals who are one step ahead of me in their careers as well as peer mentors on a similar path. Some of my most trusted mentors include Jules Benson, Elizabeth Strand, Alyssa Mages, Ginger Templeton, and Josh Vaisman. My friends and family have also been a vital support system for me.

What were the major lessons you learned?

The journey of entrepreneurship, particularly as a young woman, is a rollercoaster, and there have been many setbacks and many wonderful moments. Having a strong support network and staying connected to your purpose and meaning in your work will catalyze your success.

Do you have parting advice for other women?

Let’s do our best to support one another. It’s not a competition, so let’s lift up one another to create a healthier profession! l

Marty Becker, DVM, writes every other month for Veterinary Practice News. He is a Sandpoint, Idaho, practitioner and founder of the Fear Free initiative. For more information about Fear Free or to register for certification, go to Columnists’ opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Veterinary Practice News.

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