Embracing diversity

Employers in optics that address unfairness, including the gender pay gap, will be rewarded in both the short and long-term, writes Henrietta Alderman

Work team

What is a diverse workforce? It is not one that can tick off its members according to their differences. Nor is it one based on the idea that if you treat everyone equally you are automatically being fair.

A diverse workplace is one that recognises everyone as an individual and provides a positive working environment for everyone. It recognises and values differences, building on them as a rich source for intelligence, innovation and connection with the community it serves.

The profession is changing. We visit all the universities to meet the new optometry students every year and these days the majority of young people in the room will be Asian women. Employers looking to attract these young people to work for them as pre-registration students or newly-qualified optometrists will be thinking about how to make their workplace a welcoming and supportive place.

The AOP’s membership has changed too and is set to change further. A total of 58% of our members are women and among students the proportion is 68%.

We asked a question about salary in our recent Optometrists’ Futures survey. This is a tricky calculation because many factors can influence income. But, controlling for age, ethnicity, working hours, geographical region and being a carer for children or adults, the Institute for Employment Studies, which carried out the research on the AOP’s behalf, found that women were earning 17.2% less than men per hour and women with children earned 12.9% per hour less than men with children. These figures are worrying, although broadly in line with other jobs in society.

Explanations for this disparity could include factors such as women still being the main carers (and taking career breaks for that reason), possibly being less able or willing to move for a salary increase and, simply being less bold and therefore less likely to ask for what they are worth.

Whatever the reason, we think all employers in optics should look at the figures for their workforces and if they find that women and men are being paid differently for doing the same job, they should address that unfairness.

"Recognising the different career paths members can take and the impact this has on a growing workforce is one of the AOP’s greatest strengths"

Business rewards

Recognising the different career paths members can take and the impact this has on a growing workforce is one of the AOP’s greatest strengths. When planning and developing education our focus is to understand the specific needs of members and where possible, tailoring our support to them. This is evident through our events programme that offers dedicated content to hospital optometrists, locums and those practitioners with an independent prescriber qualification, or an ambition to have one.

It is important that our portfolio of services also recognises key life stage milestones, such as maternity/paternity leave and lengthier career breaks. By June 2018, we had 210 members on our parental grade and new for 2018 was our first Return to Work event.

The AOP is here to help you embrace diversity in the workforce – and the business rewards will follow. 

Image credit: Getty