Article Date: 12/1/2002

A Salute to 20 Years of Progress

The role of women in optometry has changed drastically in two decades.

Because it happened so gradually, it's difficult to fathom how much the role of women in optometry has changed over the last 20 years. We can begin to understand the depths of this transformation, however, by comparing optometry to the business world in general.

Look at the numbers

Twenty years ago, nearly all optometry school graduates were male, as were graduates of most of the world's MBA programs. So in terms of gender, both were male dominated. Today, men continue to make up the majority of those enrolled in graduate-level business programs.

We can argue that the majority isn't nearly as one-sided as it had been in the past, yet in schools of optometry, it's not unusual for women to make up the majority of the class. If I were keeping score so far, it would read: Women in optometry 1, women in general business 0.

Offering a better start

Optometry schools appear to take the lead in providing adequate facilities for women. The University of Houston College of Optometry, for example, developed a "lactation station" that allows new mothers to safely and privately breast-feed and store milk for their babies. Yes, my evidence is purely anecdotal and no, I'm not keeping score. But if I were, the score would read: Women in optometry 2, women in business 0.

Real world answers

Perhaps the clearest indication of progress occurs when graduates enter their professions. In general business, reports of discrimination and "glass ceilings" are not that unusual. In a rather harsh assessment, former CEO Margaret Heffernan recently wrote that women in the workforce are labeled as one of three stereotypes: The "guy" who assimilates, "the geisha" who is hired for her looks or the assertive woman who is known as the "b" word.

In our special report, "Women in Optometry: 50/50," which begins on page 28, women who are O.D.s acknowledge challenges, but they each were able to achieve their individual goals as they persevered.

Credit in the face of challenges

Certainly, optometry is not immune to discrimination. And it's not to say that there won't be challenges ahead as demographics continue to shift. But over the last 20 years, the profession of optometry has demonstrated a leadership position in its treatment of women in the workplace. For that, the profession deserves credit.


Optometric Management, Issue: December 2002