Karmen Webbe
Owner & Veterinary Surgeon at King Street Vets


Tell us about your business

We set up in May as a small animal practice caring for the pets of Twickenham. We are the only independent veterinary clinic in the local area and one of only a handful of GP clinics with a CT machine on site. We have designed the clinic to be well equipped and modern- but also beautiful to spend time in because if the humans are relaxed, their pets are relaxed. A lot of the dogs think they are in a coffee shop until they see my consulting table!

I want to get to know my patients and their owners so that we give that ‘family doctor’ feel. I love it when I get to know your pet so well that I already know whether they are sick or well, just from how they walk into my consult room.

Tell us a bit about yourself
I grew up in New Malden and attended Tiffin Girls’ School so Twickenham is somewhere I spent time with friends as a teenager. I decided to be vet at the age of 4 and am still waiting to ‘grow out of it’ as I was told I would do by most adults throughout my childhood! I qualified from Cambridge University Veterinary School in 2010. My first job was as a mixed practice vet in Morpeth, Northumberland where I looked after everything: dogs, Marabou storks, otters, cows, sheep, cats, horses, hedgehogs etc. However, I missed South West London and returned to work in Wandsworth for 10 years. King Street is my first foray into being by own boss and practice ownership. I still have to pinch myself when I come into the practice as I can’t quite believe that these lovely people wishing me a good morning in reception actually work for me as well as with me!

What made you start your business / career?

We aim to provide cutting edge treatment, friendly and personal service, and also create a workplace where people can thrive in the veterinary profession. The first two aims I think are pretty common across the industry and we hope we do an uncommonly good job at it. The latter is important to me as a member of the veterinary profession. For context:

The veterinary profession is under immense pressure as the workforce depleted by 30% after Brexit and the Pandemic. Meanwhile, pet ownership increased rapidly during the Pandemic where 3 out of 10 families welcomed a new cat or dog into their homes. Prior to these events, the veterinary profession already had a shortage of veterinary surgeons and a terrible mental health record (suicide rates are 4 times the national average according to the ONS). It is therefore really important to me that my business is a fantastic workplace for staff as well as customers and developing my leadership as an independent, female business owner is at the core of why I opened the practice.

I also feel that independent veterinary care is on the wane and it is important to give people more choice on the high street. Small local business is such an important part of a local community.

Current figures show that women are behind roughly one in three businesses, why do you think that number isn’t higher?

It’s hard to ‘have it all’. To run the practice my partner and I have done a complete role swap. I have been at home 60% of my week previously looking after my kids (3 and 6 years old currently). Luckily he works for the NHS and so it was easy for him to reduce his hours and take on the care-taking role at home. If we both worked full time, we would not have had the capital to hire a nanny and take on a business so I am really fortunate that he has both been in a position to do this and also was keen to spend more time with our kids (and finally learn to cook!) after the demands of shift work as a Paediatric Registrar. It has been so eye opening for us to swap- I understand much more of how he felt after a day at work and I have been re-assured that he finds the challenge of keeping 2 boisterous little boys entertained as exhausting and difficult as I did!

Not everyone is in a position to be able to do this and so it is hard to return to work and build a business when you are a woman. It is hard to maintain a business and carry out the mental load of running a house. Sadly even in 2023, women are generally doing more of the juggling of meal planning, laundry, cleaning, social secretary duties for themselves and their family members. Until this evens up and men also receive less stigma for career breaks, the power balance in the workplace will be as uneven as it is at home.

It takes a lot of confidence to go into a business and I feel the traits that help you do this are not nurtured and valued in women in the way they are in men. They get labelled early on in a negative manner. There is a lot of levelling up to do from the cradle to the boardroom in short!

As a women in your sector, what challenges have you faced?

My sector is over 60% female and so I think that my gender has not held me back in the way it might do in other sectors. However, the demographic of business owners does not necessarily reflect quite how female dominated the profession is. Male vets often get paid more than their female equivalents. I have seen interview processes in practice where the male candidates are filtered out and interviewed first because they are perceived to be more valuable.

How important is it for women to lift each other up and which women do you feel has supported you the most to get to where you are today?

This is incredibly important because if we don’t support one another, then we cannot expect men to see us as equals. We need to reflect in each other’s successes and admire strong and successful women the way both men and women admire strong and successful men.

My Mum is definitely the person that has supported me the most. I was talking myself out of business ownership. She was a stay at home Mum and so I was surprised when she was 100% for me opening the business.

As I have had children, I have developed stronger bonds with women around me. It is such a levelling experience and you suddenly have something in common with women across different ages, races, nationalities. I wish I had realised how important female solidarity is and knew how to forge strong female friendships earlier in life.

The IWD theme is #EmbraceEquity. What do you think we can do to promote this thinking to the next generation?

We need to see each other’s diversity as strengths, not weaknesses. We need to teach our children to see diversity in a positive light. We need to stop gender being a tool with which to make assumptions about others. We need to talk to our children about difference and explore how we showcase and celebrate these aspects of those around us, rather than trying to hide or conform to them. We need to explain that everyone getting treated the same is not the same as everyone getting treated fairly because of these differences.


King Street Vets, 38 King St, Twickenham TW1 3SL