Creating change in the workplace

With International Women’s Day 2022 next month, OT  highlights the value women bring to STEM subjects and offers insight into the AOP’s support services

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As a self-confessed history buff, I’ve always had a keen interest in women’s history and the role of women within society – from the bluestockings, changing perceptions of intellectual thought to the Ford factory strikers leading the way to equal pay.

Stay with me, this isn’t going to be a history lesson, but it did get me thinking about how far women have come in the workplace, where we are today and what actions are being taken to create change and gender equality.

Looking back at my own education, attending a North London mixed secondary school, in my 200 plus year group only a small number of girls progressed on to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects and an even smaller proportion went on to pursue STEM careers. At the time, in the mid noughties, their choices were often met with surprise or a sense of bravery at entering a male-dominated field. I would like to say attitudes have changed – hopefully they have.

One change, launched in 2015, and celebrated earlier this month, is the United Nation’s (UN) International Day of Women and Girls in Science – shining the spotlight on women in STEM and acknowledging disparities in the sector.

According to the UN’s research, globally, only 33% of researchers are women. Female researchers are awarded less research funding than men, and are less likely to be promoted. In the private sector, women make up just 22% of professionals working in artificial intelligence. 

On International Women’s Day last year, we spoke to optometrist, lecturer and researcher at Aston University, Flors Viñuela. She highlighted that, “although women represent a significant proportion of optometry students, they are still underrepresented in vision research. International Women’s Day is a great opportunity to highlight and recognise women’s contributions to the field of vision research and empower more women to pursue a career in this field.”

This year, International Women’s Day takes place on Tuesday 8 March, only a few weeks away. The theme and campaign for this year aims to challenge bias and stereotypes with a large emphasis on the workplace. 

So whether you work in High Street practice or in eye related research, we would like to celebrate your achievements. Get in touch with us by email and share why International Women’s Day is important to you. If you need some inspiration, you can look at our contributions from last year on OT’s Instagram page.

To support International Women’s Day 2022 the Women in Vision Network, which aims to promote connections between women working in all fields related to vision, will host a live online Q&A, titled Women in Leadership: Building an Equitable World. The international discussion panel will include three inspirational women: Dr Oni Blackstock, Professor Mala Rao, and Professor Flavia Senkubuge.

While representation may be lacking in vision research, more women are now qualifying as optometrists than men in the UK. Despite this, there is still progress needed and actions we can all take to learn more and support each other. In order to support our members, OT and the AOP produced a range of resources.

In January this year, The House of Commons women and equalities committee compiled written and oral evidence that examined the extent of discrimination faced by menopausal people in the workplace. OT reported on the hearing and published a summary of the findings.

Launched this year, the AOP created a range of support services to help and offer advice to members and their employers to prepare for and navigate the challenges of the menopause.

For AOP members, the AOP legal team has recently published updated advice for pregnant women and their employers in response to the Government’s coronavirus guidance for pregnant employees. The AOP employment law experts explain more and set out employers’ responsibilities to conduct risk assessments on the AOP website.