Optometrists describe a culture of ‘normalised racism’ and discrimination at work – with over half of incidents going unreported

  • In a survey of over 1000 optometrists, one in four experienced or witnessed discrimination at work in the last two years – yet 58% didn’t report the incident
  • Almost half (44%) of optometrists said they felt unable to report discrimination
  • Of those who had experienced discrimination, 80% said that it was ‘perpetrated by patients’
  • 28% considered leaving, or had left their job, because of a form of discrimination
  • The Association of Optometrists is launching it’s 100% Respect campaign designed to unite the profession by asking individuals and businesses to pledge action against discrimination

The Association of Optometrists has shared the findings of one of the largest surveys of the sector looking at equality, diversity and inclusion – revealing that one in four optometrists experienced or witnessed discrimination at work in the last two years.

Optometrists, who mostly work in High Street opticians to check vision, eye health and prescribe spectacles or contact lenses, reported that race discrimination was more prevalent than any other form with 60% citing skin colour, nationality or ethnic background as a defining factor in the discrimination that took place. But 36% also reported incidents relating to their religion and 35% in relation to sexism in the workplace.

In the survey of 1105 optometrists across the UK, of those who had experienced discrimination 80% said that it was ‘perpetrated by patients’; 37% saying they had suffered abuse from colleagues and 36% attributed the behaviour to managers.

Adam Sampson, Chief Executive at the Association of Optometrists said: “The stark reality of this survey is that, for many eye care professionals across the UK, discrimination is commonplace in daily practice, and this needs to be tackled head on. The data and personal accounts our members have shared in the survey are deeply troubling – revealing abhorrent examples of racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination that in some cases are so ‘normalised’ that those who suffer abuse feel unable to speak out.

“Eye care practitioners should be able to do their job and focus on caring for patients without having to face or worry about abuse and discrimination at work. It is simply unacceptable that we’re hearing these kinds of experiences and is clearly not an issue that is going away without decisive action. We have a duty of care, as do all the employers in the sector, to address the problem for those who have or are currently experiencing discrimination at work, so these behaviours and cultures do not continue.”

Optometrist Akbar Shah shared his experiences of discrimination: “I absolutely love the profession but there are things that go on in the background that make people feel very uncomfortable and alienated. Patients have booked in appointments and jump to conclusions from my name. They ask the receptionist ‘Am I going to be able to understand what he is saying?’ Every time there is some sort of terrorist incident, patients look at me and ask – ‘You’re Muslim, what’s your opinion?” and some of my closest colleagues have used derogatory language and think that’s acceptable. I have two young children; I am hoping they might go into optometry, because I love this field, but I don’t want them to face discrimination. I don’t want my children to have to deal with it – for people to think twice about their name or the colour of their skin. I want people to judge them by their character, how hard they work and the way they care for people.”

Optometrist, Farah Topia, Clinical adviser for the Association of Optometrists and member of its Anti-Racism and Equality Team team said: “It’s sad to see that discrimination is prevalent in the optometric workplace. We know from our research that many people feel unable to speak out but it’s important that every employee feels able to talk about what they’ve experienced and seek advice. This is why we’re using our position, as the leading representative organisation for optometrists, to support our members in this area and create change through our guidance, employment services and campaigning.”  

The Association of Optometrists is committed to creating safe working environments where eye care staff feel protected from discrimination. In response to the survey findings, the Association of Optometrists is launching the 100% Respect campaign which will work with all major employers in the sector around equality and inclusion.

As part of the 100% Respect campaign, the Association of Optometrists is encouraging individuals and businesses to make a pledge and take steps to create inclusive environments.

The professional body has also developed advice and information for both employers and employees. For more information, visit

Quotes from the Association of Optometrists equality, diversity and inclusion survey:

“It’s become so normalised as an experience & often we are just met with “are you sure it was discrimination…” so you grow tired of reporting.”

“Discrimination due to ethnicity, race, colour, nationality etc is unfortunately something I've grown up with. I don't see it ever going away.”

“Didn’t feel comfortable reporting when it happened to myself - initially made excuses for it or chose to ignore it, to admit it happened took a very long time - too long to act upon after the fact. With experiencing it for others - behaviour was so ingrained didn't realise how discriminatory this was until other situations and further education on the topic later.”


For more information, please contact Serena Box, PR and Media Manager, at the Association of Optometrists, [email protected] or telephone 020 7549 2040.

Notes to Editors

Spokespeople from the AOP are available for interview and discuss the findings:

AOP spokespeople:

  • Adam Sampson, Chief Executive of the Association of Optometrists
  • Farah Topia, Optometrist and part of the Anti-racism and Equality team for the Association of Optometrists
  • Akbar Shah, Optometrist

You can download hi-res images related to the campaign via Dropbox.

Association of Optometrists

The Association of Optometrists (AOP) is the leading representative membership organisation for optometrists in the UK. We support over 82% of practising optometrists, to fulfil their professional roles to protect the nation’s eye health. For more information, visit