AOP support

AOP insight: equality, diversity and inclusion

Serena Box, PR and media manager for the AOP, on the 100% Respect campaign and building inclusive workplaces

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Serena Box

Communications: Serena Box, PR and media manager

What is the AOP’s 100% Respect campaign? What led to its development?

Optometrists and every member of the optical team should be able to do their job without having to face or worry about discrimination at work. But sadly, we hear personal accounts of abuse from practitioners that are deeply troubling and must be addressed.

We launched our 100% Respect campaign in March as part of an ongoing programme of work to unite optometry against discrimination.

We believe in long term action that will support behavioural and cultural change through our guidance, employment services and campaigning.

Could you summarise what the AOP found in researching this area, speaking to councillors and members?

One in four

optometrists surveyed had experienced or witnessed discrimination at work in the last two years

Our survey looking at the experiences of our members around equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) revealed a shocking number of incidents – with one in four optometrists saying they had either experienced or witnessed discrimination at work in the last two years.

A concern for us is also the number practitioners who feel unable to report discrimination. Anecdotally, we know that members don’t speak out for fear of being labelled a ‘trouble-maker’ or losing their job and our survey findings support this. Almost half (44%) of participants said they felt unable to report discrimination because they were either unsupported by management or had experienced negative consequences of reporting discrimination in the past – 18% said they felt unsafe to do so.

The stark reality of our research is that for many eye care professionals, discrimination is commonplace in daily practice, and this needs to be tackled head on.

What has the response to the 100% Respect campaign been like?

One of the stand out features of this campaign is the number of members who have bravely come forward and spoken out about their experience to help others in the profession.

Many have chosen to share hugely personal and distressing events, particularly through OT’s Time to speak series, because they recognise the need for change, not just in optometry but societally. This individual action, sharing powerful and relatable stories, is at the heart of collective change.

In what other ways has the AOP been working to support equality, diversity and inclusion?

We’ve developed a range of advice for both employers and employees including a suite of resources that promote inclusivity, from our expert legal and employment team.

The AOP’s anti-racism and equality team (ARET), made up of AOP staff optometrists, also provides emotional and practical support where an individual is facing discrimination.

Experiences shared by members also indicated that in 80% of the incidents it was patients who were “the perpetrators of discrimination.” So we’ve created resources, such as practice posters, that highlight a zero tolerance approach alongside social media and digital assets to share online.

What is next for the AOP in this area?

Our EDI work is designed to help build inclusive workplaces where everybody can be accepted for who they are regardless of race, gender, sexuality, beliefs, age or disability.

We’re looking at how we can best support members to feel safe and protected. A large part of this work is not shying away from difficult conversations – making sure we’re there to engage, foster healthy debate and celebrate the milestones. But we’ve also recently launched a new template equal opportunities policy and CPD on the Equalities Act

Members experiencing discrimination can contact the AOP’s employment team who can offer advice and discuss options. The AOP guidance for employees can also be found online.