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Time to speak

“Don’t laugh it off or let it go – call it out”

Ophthalmologist and researcher, Professor Mariya Moosajee, tells OT  about the Women in Vision UK network

Mariya Moosajee

Through the Time to speak series, OT profiles how discrimination in the workplace is affecting eye care professionals. If you would be willing to share your experience, please contact [email protected].


Ophthalmologist and researcher, Professor Mariya Moosajee: “Don’t we all want the world to be a better place for our children”

We know that there are equal if not slightly greater numbers of female trainee ophthalmologists, optometrists and post-doctoral research associates within our field. But the number of women drops off at more senior levels.

Approximately 25% of professors in the UK are female. Fewer than a third of consultant ophthalmologists in the UK are women, and, more shockingly, only 1.8% are of Black ethnicity. The representation of women speaking at meetings, giving keynote lectures and on grant panels or scientific advisory boards is far below that of male counterparts. We really need to raise awareness of this inequality and address this balance both in terms of gender and diversity. There are glaringly obvious reasons why we need the Women in Vision UK network.

Everyone is welcome to join Women in Vision UK. Our aim is to promote connections between women working in all fields related to vision – that spans ophthalmology, optometry, orthoptics and vision sciences. We want gender equality to be front of mind rather than just an afterthought.

I want to see women have equal opportunities and a career pathway that nurtures their choices

 

My first experience of indirect discrimination was when I was a senior house officer. I was having lunch with my neurosurgery consultant, when he said the reason there were no female consultants was because their hormones kicked in and hence left to have children. I recall feeling bewildered by his comments, but it did reflect the attitude of those around me; a very male dominated environment, which was perpetuated by these types of remarks.

During my surgical training in ophthalmology, there were certainly some male consultants who would give more surgical opportunities to male trainees. Male colleagues tended to go out for drinks after work together. Having a young family meant that I needed to get home to my children, so this was never an option.

When my twins were younger, and I was an ophthalmology registrar, I remember some of our clinics would finish around 8pm at night. Then with theatre the next day, it felt like I was just coming home to sleep, hardly seeing my children. That was really hard – especially, for example, if they got ill and then wanted comfort from the person who was around them the most, which wasn’t me.

We all make extremely big personal sacrifices for our work, and I would like for that not to be the case in the future. I want to see women have equal opportunities and a career pathway that nurtures their choices. They should be able to have a workplace that supports them if they choose to start a family or have to look after dependants.

Historically men have not put women at the forefront of their minds when making decisions about who could give a keynote lecture or who they could collaborate with on a large grant applications. Someone has to be in the room, actively saying ‘How about x?’, because sometimes it can be an afterthought. We need raise enough awareness to then make this process subconscious, so females and males are considered equally for all opportunities.

It would help us so much if our male colleagues call out gender discrimination when they see it. I also think senior women have to keep in mind the struggles they have gone through and try to smooth the road for the future generations. Don’t laugh it off or let it go – call it out.

I think having strong female leaders is so important otherwise we have no visible path to follow, and our identities/characteristics are not represented . I feel really passionately about that because don’t we all want the world to be a better place for our children.

There can be a hesitation to talk about these issues because you are worried about rocking the boat and subsequently may not be supported to the next stage of your career. It does take courage to stand up. There have been points early in my career when I haven’t been able to because I felt that it might have an impact on me progressing. Those events are moments that I regret deeply on a personal level so I made a decision after those experiences that I wouldn’t stand for it in the future.

  • As told to Selina Powell.

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