Women are an integral part of the Optometric community. Decade by decade, the percentage of US and Canadian female Optometrists has risen dramatically. Optometry school graduating classes averaged 37.1% female from 1982 to 1991, 56% from 1992-2001, 66% from 2002 to 2011, and an astounding 69% between 2012 and those who will graduate in 2021.¹ New and ambitious industry-wide efforts have emerged as a result of these demographic changes, efforts that empower female eye care professionals such as the publication Women In Optometry, the social media group OD Divas, women-only panels of thought leaders and educators, and COPE courses educating people about human trafficking and other issues that impact females more than males. Women are and have been the dominant force in our profession both clinically and economically for almost 30 years now, yet the industry is just starting to pay attention to this fact.
In addition, Asian Americans are a large and growing subset within the profession, with increases in the total number and percentage of Asian students from 1,252 (23.3%) in 2006 to 1,931 (28.0%) in 2016, an increase of 54.2%.² African American optometrists are making strides in increasing their representation in the optometric workforce. The organization Black Eyecare Perspective is working on “The 13% Promise,” an initiative to increase the share of black practitioners to 13% to match their prevalence of the population in the US³ and scholarships specifically designed to help attract black students have been established at several schools and colleges of Optometry in just the past year.
Despite these encouraging numbers and initiatives, women, black people, and those of various ancestries continue to face subjugation, discrimination, and second-class treatment daily. This negatively impacts both their income potential and their professional advancement not to mention their mental health and well-being. Misogyny, racism, and xenophobia are endemic in society; they happen frequently and repeatedly even after people change jobs or life situations to get away from it. People suffer long-lasting effects of these experiences, from anxiety to CPTSD and more as a result.
Women, black and Asian members are speaking out in increasing numbers, bravely sharing their personal and professional encounters with sexism, racism, and xenophobia. Nevertheless, it has been discouraging to see how some colleagues react to these threads. We have witnessed people raising doubts about and discounting members’ experiences, hijacking threads, accusing authors of “reverse” discrimination, undermining otherwise uplifting posts, and even making sexist and racist comments in response. Specifically, many male colleagues have shamed, insulted, and belittled women’s efforts to have positive and supportive conversations about their encounters with sexism and misogyny. Many white colleagues have done the same to members of color and those of Asian descent. It’s clear that, regardless of the growing population of women, black and Asian Americans in our profession, discrimination and harassment are unfortunately alive and well in Optometry.
I created ODs on Facebook with the mindful intent of maintaining a safe space where people can share clinical and practice management issues that impact them professionally and societally and have fun, but NOT at anyone’s expense. Now is the time to reiterate that our purpose and mission have not changed. ODs on Facebook DOES NOT allow posts that are racist, sexist, or discriminatory against any subset of individuals. Do not confuse posts that discuss topics of race, sexism, or xenophobia with topics or comments that are racist, sexists or xenophobic. The former is OK, the latter is not. While ODs on Facebook does not allow posts or comments that are racist, sexist, or discriminatory against any subset of people, it DOES allow posts discussing race, gender, and other aspects of identity as well as uplifting, empowering and supportive posts about member experiences in these areas. Members should be able to share and have difficult conversations about these experiences and feel safe. Awareness is the key to defeating these “isms” and “ists” that plague our society. We need to take time to try to understand our colleagues’ struggles, listen before speaking and do what we can to elevate them, not bring them down. If you see a guideline violation, please report the comment to firstname.lastname@example.org or “report” it by clicking the three dots in the upper right-hand corner of the post and click “report post to group admins”. We will handle each post accordingly.
Thank you for being a member of the community, for valuing the space I created, and continuing to make ODs on Facebook a safe space to share. Thank you also to all the women and minorities who have worked with me to become more educated and aware of these issues.
- ODs on Facebook Demographic data