5 min read
Stayin’ Alive: Gatekeeping
Published on Oct 9, 2023
Stayin’ Alive will bring to light some real-life experiences veterinary technicians face in their roles within the veterinary industry. Some lessons may be obvious, others not so obvious. In this first issue of Stayin’ Alive, what better topic to discuss than gatekeeping. For those of you that have had the blessing of never being exposed to gatekeeping, I’d like to give a breakdown of what it entails. Miriam Websters definition of gatekeeping states that “gatekeeping” refers to:
- one that tends or guards a gate
- a person who controls access
My definition of gatekeeping is:
A person that intentionally withholds important information and/or tools in hopes of obtaining a higher level of status at the expense of others.
Within a veterinary hospital, you have different levels of skill sets and different levels of leadership. With employee engagement numbers shrinking in our industry, the most senior technician can be given the title of “Lead” or “Supervisor,” because they’ve either been there the longest or they know more than everyone else. Don’t get me wrong: there are some senior technicians that are great leaders and absolutely deserve the new role. However, unfortunately we can’t say that for every situation. Due to environmental factors and patterns of history repeat itself, we can sometimes mistakenly create a gatekeeper: a technician that has withheld information, tools, or resources to restrict advancements in others. While the result may not be intentional, this technician has equated success to everyone needing and relying on them for the hospital to function. When I say patterns of history repeat itself, what I am referring to is the repeating cycle of a potential leader watching another leader who watched another leader do the same things when it came to gatekeeping. The unfortunate piece is, we may not even realize we are doing it
Why Do We Gatekeep?
From my experience, gatekeeping has been a normal practice within the veterinary industry due to a lack of growth opportunities as well as proper recognition for those that are growing. It is often perceived by staff that if you gatekeep information, you retain your value within the hospital by not being “easily replaceable”. In doing so, you may put yourself in a position to make more money than your coworkers. I like to think of it as a shark tank sometimes: the biggest and baddest survive and thrive. But as I mentioned before, most may not even realize they are doing it; they are just doing what their prior leader taught them to do. It may have never been verbally advertised, but monkey see, monkey do.
The technician that is gatekeeping is often doing what they think is best, but what they don’t realize is that they are a huge inhibitor to the culture of their hospital. Having a positive culture within a hospital is probably the most sought-after characteristic a technician wants in their workplace, other than good pay (who doesn’t want that?). Gatekeepers can evoke a hostile work environment, especially if nobody realizes it is happening. Other impacts gatekeeping can have include a drastic decline of growth opportunities for everyone across the board. With only one employee holding all of the answers, their peers may develop a fear of asking questions, admitting they made a mistake or admitting they don’t know how to do something. Gatekeeping can suffocate growth and creative thinking. Ultimately, gatekeeping takes away the working environment that everyone strives to be in: happy, healthy, uplifting, and lots of room to develop one’s self.
How does gatekeeping hinder the person that may already be in the leadership role they strived for?
I challenge that question with the following question:
How can someone move on to a larger role with more responsibilities if the surrounding team has been forced into being reliant on the gatekeeper?
The answer is, they can’t.
Thus, we reveal the vicious cycle of gatekeeping: suppression of success for the surrounding team and suppression of the gatekeeping individual’s advancements. Now, everyone is unhappy.
So, what is the best practice to move forward? How can we break the vicious cycle?
I believe that it starts with becoming self-aware. This may not be easy at first, and it may even require an outside spectator pointing behavior out. Once the behavior is recognized, a gatekeeper must want to be an advocate for change within their hospital and veterinary industry. Pointing out that the behavior not only hinders the team, but the gatekeeper’s own advancements may help inspire the employee to change. Once they commit to changing, a reforming gatekeeper must spend time listening to the team’s pain points and look for key words or phrases such as: “lack of motivation”, “lack of opportunity”, “fear”, “intimidation”, “discouraged”, or “unhappy’”. Understanding what you are doing and why you are doing it will help the reforming gatekeeper, “Reverse Gatekeep”. Yes, we are going to make this a thing.
Reverse Gatekeeping for the Reformed Gatekeeper
Educate and inform anyone who is eager to learn, so you can empower them to grow. ‘Train’ yourself out of your role to open the door to new possibilities. Once you become replaceable by uplifting those around you, it creates a sustainable way for you to move up in your organization and career. Simple as that. Scary sounding? Initially, yes. But the end result is a team that works together to push one another, so everyone gets the opportunity to move on to their individual next best thing. Let’s also take a minute to point out that when a team works together, and everyone knows how to do everything… it makes EVERYONE’s job easier. Remember your commitment to bettering not just those around you, but bettering yourself.
I hope that we can all work together to break this norm within veterinary hospitals of gatekeeping and shift to “Reverse Gatekeeping.” If we really want to see change, we need to all do our parts to be the driving force for it.
- Recognize how gatekeeping can create a toxic work culture
- Become self-aware if you think you might be the gatekeeper in your workplace
- Look at the big picture and realize that gatekeeping not only prevents others from growing, but holds you back as well
- Reverse gatekeeping makes everyone’s jobs easier in the long run and promotes a healthy, encouraging, work environment
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I would love to hear feedback about the topic of gatekeeping as well as hear about some of your own experiences with it.
– Written by Melinda Ferrara, Director of New Hospital Openings