International Women’s Day (IWD) will be held this Wednesday 8 March with the theme of #EmbraceEquity.

With this in mind, we reached out to some female voices from across the pet sector, to hear how they connect this theme with the industry, and what IWD means to them.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an annual celebration of everyone who identifies as female and pushes for a world with gender equality.

The theme this year of #EmbraceEquity has triggered a real discussion around the difference between ‘equity’ and ‘equality’. Personally, really wrapping my head around the definitions of these two words and how they relate to society, business, and the industry, took a great deal of thought and reflection.

Let’s start with the definitions of each word, as provided by the official International Women’s Day website:

Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities.

Equity recognises that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the conversation around equality versus equity is critical. The concept of equity, giving every person what they need to be successful, is a far better goal that will achieve a more impactful outcome for women.

In reaching out to women across the industry, it was encouraging to hear from a number of women who chose not to respond, given their personal experiences in the pet industry. Having come from corporate backgrounds in heavily male dominated industries, where the life of inequality and inequity for women is seen all too frequently, they have found a new experience within the pet industry. These women highlighted that the businesses that they deal with day-in and day-out see a person for their knowledge and skills rather than their gender.

Those women who chose to reply, echoed this sentiment, and shared some examples of how this is evident in their places of work and in their personal experiences.

Tia Wishart, Business Development Manager, IndePet

“Working in the independent pet space gives me the chance to celebrate inclusivity, diversity and things that are a little bit quirky every single day. The theme of #EmbraceEquity means a lot to me as I have seen the value to the pet industry of recognising that ‘one size fits all’ fits no one.

“One of our guiding principles at IndePet is to ensure equal access to what we offer our members, and this flows through to how we work as a team. I am fortunate to work for a business that has a strong focus on equity. We know that the majority of pet customers are women, and we are proud to be made up of mostly females (83 per cent of IndePet employees), allowing us to reflect and understand the needs of our customers and industry.

“We have put an emphasis on providing a flexible working structure at IndePet as half of our team are also balancing childcare responsibilities. The theme of #EmbraceEquity is especially important in this context to support talented employees to reach their potential in all facets of their lives.

“Personally, joining a small business has allowed me to have a strong impact as a female leader and allows me to feel like my voice is heard and I am having a positive impact while representing a female perspective. There is research to show that women in particular will shy away from applying for a role where they don’t already exceed all of the minimum requirements. Throughout my career, I have had managers and mentors who have seen my potential far clearer than I could see it myself and have provided me with an environment to meet that potential. By providing this level of support, these key people in my career have provided me with access to opportunities I otherwise would not have been able to achieve, truly embracing equity.

“Working closely with independent pet store owners and their team leaders, I have seen that there are many strong female leaders in our industry, but that hasn’t always translated to store ownership. At IndePet we are focused on fostering programs that support the strong female leaders in our group to take the next step and move towards strengthening and diversifying the independent channel by owning their own stores.

“Historically, being compassionate or emotional were traits that were frowned upon in business and used as reasons why women didn’t progress to the highest ranks. The pet care industry is one that is built on compassion and emotion – I believe the pet specialty channel couldn’t exist without these key ingredients. Celebrating this in our industry will help lead us towards a more gender equal future as well as provide the best possible experience for our customers and their pets.”

Dr Fiona Patterson, Veterinary Advisor, Mars Pet Nutrition

“IWD is a great opportunity for all of us to recognise the enormous contribution women make to the pet industry. We all know that working in the pet industry is highly rewarding, but not for the faint hearted. These are roles which are physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding, and even more so in the face of a booming pet population.

“Women generally juggle so much – they work in paid employment as well as all the unpaid work such as caring for families and running households. Women bring unique attributes to all facets of the pet industry through their passion, agility, compassion, and importantly their energy.

“I take my hat off to all the wonderful women who contribute to improving the lives of pets. Many of these occupations were once male-dominated and it’s great that women have become more empowered to choose a profession they love. I would also like to pay my respects to the trailblazers that came before us, such as the women studying veterinary science when they were in an absolute minority. As a University of Melbourne Veterinary graduate from 1995, my year was the first where women outnumbered men.

“It’s my hope for IWD in 2023 that we can continue to bridge the gender gap and drive gender equity by supporting women in the pet industry with what they need to be successful. #EmbraceEquity.”

Melissa Devereaux, Founder/Director, Laila & Me and Rawvolution Pet Foods

“Equality is a heavy focus within our business. We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk, and we do it well. Our staff are almost all female (we have one male), and of these females we have young mums and older women wanting to return to the workforce. We are very flexible with days and times worked, and make sure everyone’s unique circumstances are catered to, to ensure everyone has the same opportunities.

“This flexibility does not impact how much work we get done, in fact, we believe it makes us a faster and stronger team than one trying to work around the regular Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm schedule, which would literally be impossible for most of our team.

“Most of the suppliers we work with are used to working with businesses with a Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm work schedule. This can sometimes be hard when, for example they schedule a delivery between 4pm – 5pm assuming someone will be here, when in fact there is rarely anyone here after 4pm. We start early and finish early as this is what works best for us, our circumstances, and our families. This is just one example of why people need to never assume, and always check the details of business days and hours. The world isn’t just changing now, it has already changed.

“This IWD, we hope that all women are inspired to ask for the flexibility they seek or put in place a flexible schedule for their own business without being worried about how it might implicate the business. Since Covid and working from home was forced, we have noticed that more businesses are open to these conversations and changes, and women should not be worried about speaking up, or making the change to achieve the best work/life balance.”

Krysten Arnold, Marketing Manager, IndePet

“I have been in the pet industry for almost seven years and have always been surrounded by a group of hard working and inspiring women, many in senior management and CEO roles. In my experience, the industry has always shown to embrace gender equity, and even more so now, working for IndePet with a predominantly female team. Working in a small team and reporting directly to the CEO has allowed me to take ownership of my role working on projects and making big decisions I may not have had the opportunity to do in the past.

“The flexibility as a working mother at IndePet really shows me how our business adopts gender equity and having a child is not a barrier to my success. I can work part time hours, there are no questions asked when my daughter is sick, I can work from home and the list goes on. The supportive environment and flexibility I have allows me to reach my full potential at work.

“Joining the IndePet team seven months ago, I have been impressed with the strong female business owners in our group. There are constant challenges for independent pet stores to stay relevant in this highly competitive market, however, to see these stores thriving is a testament to them and their hard work.

“At the heart of our industry is compassion for pets, and I think this naturally translates to the people it attracts. We are fortunate to have people who cultivate the success and empowerment of others, male or female.

“At IndePet I am constantly inspired by the women I am surrounded by and IWD will be a wonderful opportunity to reflect and celebrate our achievements and our goals for the future.”

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