Challenging Conversations
Marissa Robson, BVEDS; Charlotte McCarroll, Surrey Vet School; Claire Hodgson, ‘Spoonies community’. Chair: Femi Otitoju, Challenge Consultancy

Issa Robson, BVEDS

Issa is  a dedicated farm vet graduating from Edinburgh Uni in 2008. As well as clinical farm practice, she has been a project manager, a lecturer and finally a Veterinary Teaching Clinical Fellow, working with final year students at Surrey, ‘a role I absolutely love!’

In 2016 Issa co-founded BVEDS (British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society) with her colleague Navaratnum Partheeban after realising that there was no support for BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) vets/ students /nurses facing discrimination in the profession.

Femi Otitoju, Challenging Consultancy

A charismatic and inspirational leader, Femi is a diversity and inclusion specialist with a career spanning over 30 years. Combining a scientific background with persuasive and engaging training skills, Femi is often described as a “gifted presenter”.

Femi founded Challenge Consultancy in 1985 to provide high quality, effective training and consulting services for the private, public and voluntary sectors. Challenge is now an association of trainers and consultants designing and delivering solutions for a wide range of UK and global organisations, including senior leadership teams at the BBC, Eli Lilly, Imperial College London, Nationwide, the United Bank Ltd, Viacom and Zenith Bank.  Femi has designed much sought-after Unconscious Bias and Inclusive Leadership programmes and delivered a wide range of equality and diversity courses, cultural awareness, dignity at work, coaching, mediation and Board development services.

Femi’s most recent success has been in being engaged to design and deliver training on harassment, bullying and sexual harassment at the Houses of Parliament.

Dr Charlotte McCarroll, MRCVS

Dr Charlotte McCarroll is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Surrey.  She graduated in 2008 from the University of Glasgow and went into a small animal rotating internship at the University of Liverpool.  Following the internship, Charlotte returned to Glasgow to do a master’s and PhD focusing on cardiovascular physiology.  Charlotte came out as trans while at Glasgow between completing her PhD and starting a post-doctoral position in the same lab.

Charlotte usually very active, and when swimming pools are open, a keen swimmer.  It was the love of swimming that prompted Charlotte to co-found a trans and non-binary swimming club in Glasgow and advise Glasgow City Council on how to be more inclusive to different people using their leisure facilities.  It was Charlotte’s work with the council and diversity and inclusion work with the University of Glasgow and other local organisations that prompted nomination for The Herald’s Diversity Champion and Worker of the Year Awards which she won both of.

Charlotte left Glasgow and moved to Hampshire after meeting her now wife through sports inclusion advocacy.  After a return to clinical practice for just over a year, Charlotte then got her position at the University of Surrey where she teaches physiology and is the senior tutor for pastoral care of students in their earlier years of veterinary education.  She is also the welfare representative for the British Veterinary LGBT+ Society.

Dr Claire Hodgson  BVetMed CertAVP MRCVS co-founder of Veterinary Spoonholders Facebook community and British Veterinary Chronic Illness Support (BVCIS)

Claire is a queer, female vet living and working in the Greater Manchester area when not following her passion for travel and dance. She has worn many hats through her 20+ year veterinary career starting as mixed vet, then equine GP where she gained her CertAVP (EM) and now a small animal locum giving her more autonomy over her time and work.

“I was diagnosed with ME/CFS 7 years ago so am passionate about raising awareness and changing things for the many amazing folks out there working and living with chronic health issues. I confounded the Facebook community called Veterinary Spoonholders to provide people within our industry who live with health issues a safe space to find support, realise they are not alone and get tips and tricks on surviving and thriving despite the challenges they have. It’s become obvious through this group that a more formal voice is needed to raise awareness within the wider profession and to represent the community at a level that can facilitate the change and so we formed the group BVCIS.”

Session Synopses

If you were applying for a job, would you challenge a racist, ableist or homophobic comment during the interview?   And what if you were part of the minority group in question? How do you protect your mental wellbeing? If a client makes a racist or homophobic comment intentionally or unintentionally, do you know how you would call it out?   How about if it comes from a colleague in the practice coffee room?  And if you did, would you be supported by your boss and colleagues?  What constitutes an unacceptable comment?   Would your practice be welcoming to anyone with a disability or chronic illness, physical or mental? If not, why not?  Can minorities be ‘too sensitive’? What are the common themes that the majority don’t get? How do you gently make your point, without escalating the situation? How do you take feedback about your behaviour with grace?  How do allies best show support for their peers in the face of an unpleasant incident. Maybe you are able bodied, cis gender, heterosexual and white, but worry about the right language to use or that you may inadvertently cause offence?  What do you do when you do trip up?

These questions are why, as a profession, we need to talk about and explore the ‘Challenging Conversations’  that are faced in everyday practice. Charlotte McCarroll teaches pre-clinical medicine at Surrey Vet School and is an award winning advocate for diversity and inclusion within STEM.   She is joined by Issa Robson, who is a clinical teaching fellow at Surrey and co-founder of BVEDS (British Veterinary Ethnicity & Diversity Society) and  Claire Hodgson from BVCIS (British Veterinary Chronic Illness Society) and the ‘Spoonies’ community.

Femi Otitoju from Challenge Consultancy will chair the discussion around how to challenge ‘isms’ in colleagues, team members and clients with those who may be unaware their micro-aggressions are a problem.  All staff need to recognise the impact of unconscious bias from yourself and others on the ways we work and to feel empowered to challenge overt prejudice. This discussion will give a taster, with the option for those who would like to engage more, to move to a different space for a workshop session.