Language Workstream

The language we use each day can sometimes impact on those around us, even if that’s not what we intend. To improve the clarity and precision of our language, the Vet Futures Language Working Group is looking at how our industry communicates and ways we can improve to be more inclusive of all veterinary professionals.

Leading the group is Veterinary Council of New Zealand Professional Advisor Seton Butler, who says the purpose of the workstream is to ensure that accurate, evidence-based, and context-sensitive language is used across the industry.

“We are starting to think even more about how inclusive and representative our language is,” he says. “It’s about expanding our horizons. We want to be conscious of the words we say, so that we use them appropriately and in the right context.”

One example Seton gives, is the prevalent but unfair mindset that veterinarians who don’t work in a clinical setting, are not ‘real’ vets.

“Often, practice-based vets don’t view those who work in other environments, like for example pharmaceutical companies, Ministry for Primary Industries, or in education such as Massey University, as fellow veterinarians. Similarly, vets in these positions sometimes feel like they aren’t included or are overlooked. This is a troubling dynamic, as MPI is actually the single largest employer of New Zealand vets,” he says.

“We need to make sure that, as a profession, our conversations and interpretations of what a vet looks like, includes everyone – not just those in clinics.”

Other complex language issues that the workstream wants to assess include the way mental health and suicide are spoken about, and terms that have been used in a derogatory way to explain the veterinary shortage, like ‘feminisation of the workforce’.

“Often, it’s part of the narrative that the reason we have a veterinary shortage is because women leave and have babies,” Seton says. “It’s insulting to women and it’s not a good representation of what’s actually happening.”

There are also more immediate language improvements Seton says the workstream will encourage.

“We want to ensure our communication across the industry is reflective of our modern, diverse workforce. That means being more inclusive of Aotearoa’s cultures, and the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s also about moving towards non-gendered terms, like saying ‘parental leave’ instead of ‘maternity leave’.

“We want to remove discriminatory, stereotypical language where we can. By adapting our language and thinking, we can rise above these types of challenges to become a much more inclusive industry,” he says.

The first steps for the Language working group will involve proposing the language that could be used and providing definitions. The next step will be seeking to align the language across the whole veterinary sector.

If you have a specific interest in the language workstream and would like to be considered for this working group, please contact Seton by emailing [email protected]

If topics in this article have been distressing for you, help is available 24/7:

  • 1737 – call or text to speak with a trained counsellor
  • Depression Helpline – call 0800 111 757 or text 4202
  • Alcohol Drug Helpline – 0800 787 797
  • Healthline – 0800 611 116