By Manasi Mahesh Shirke
Despite making up more than half of new doctors, women are underrepresented in a vast majority of specialties, ophthalmology being one of them . A US study concluded that the percentage of women in ophthalmology continues to lag behind the average for all clinical departments at entry-level. Although the academic faculty of women in ophthalmology has gradually increased, the clinical field has observed a steady decline . Moreover, females are significantly underrepresented in consultant positions, organisational leadership roles, and members of executive committees. This can be detrimental to the incoming generation of female clinicians due to the lack of role models, explicit and implicit biases shown towards females in competitive medical and surgical fields. Organisations that address these issues and counteract them, thereby promoting gender equity are the need for the hour.
Figure 1: An active women’s leadership program is needed in ophthalmology, not to give women an unfair advantage, but to decrease their barriers to advancement .
An organisation as such is Women in Vision UK (WVUK). WVUK is a network that raises awareness and promotes careers for all women working in vision and related sciences. The organisation aims to bring together women of all backgrounds, provide support, and encourage those at different levels of experience. Founded in 2017, Maryse Bailly, Julie Daniels, and Mariya Moosajee aimed to develop a support network to help raise female profiles and promote female representation at conferences and grant panel review bodies.
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists reported that at the time, only 31 percent of consultant ophthalmologists in the UK were female. Additionally, studies show that female principal investigators (PIs) on average obtained research grants with smaller monetary value than their male counterparts, especially early in their career. Hence, the founding members felt that it was imperative to address this imbalance. Over the years, WVUK has helped showcase inspiring, knowledgeable speakers as well as increased networking opportunities to help develop careers. With a dynamic network of over 300 members, the organisation has helped women in the field realise their potential and grow in confidence to achieve their goals.
Helen Khan, the Vice President of the organisation aims to bring positive change in the field since its foundation. She expresses her interest in WVUK since its initial launch meeting by supporting in terms of publicity and PR. The organisation has grown from strength to strength, hosting three national meetings, as well as other smaller seminars. The organisation also runs a successful mentorship programme. Being a part of the network would entail members an invitation to attend meetings and events, access to speakers, mentors, and a network of experienced Women in Vision, and regular news and updates in the field.
Gender disparity being a global issue, Women in Vision UK are now embarking a more international presence with hopes of gaining insight into other successful networks to learn and grow further. This will also help members widen their network and connect further to professionals from around the world. The group is fast becoming a prominent force universally, with its first international meeting held at the annual meeting for the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO) where members joined the Women in Eye and Vision Research (WEAVR) group and the European Association for Eye and Vision Research (EVER). These endeavours will establish international links with other counties where similar issues are prevalent .
WVUK believe that awareness and communication are key to bridging the gap between gender inequality and further promoting gender equity. One way in which this can be done is ensuring that there is equality among speakers when a meeting or event is organised. The organisation holds a positive outlook towards the potential of the upcoming generations to bring about complete equality. They also stress on educating those in senior positions to raise awareness, promote, and support each other.
Ophthalmology and vision science professions have not been immune to the gender inequality seen in STEM fields. Historically, there have been more men in senior positions, or speaker panels and on boards. This is sadly not unique to vision medicine and science; it is seen across all STEM professions and needs to change. This balance cannot be attained immediately; there is potentially a long journey ahead. However, gender equality across ophthalmology and vision sciences can be achieved with persistence, determination, and support from all.
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