A new report showing that 64% of Australian optometrists surveyed have encountered gender bias, discrimination, harassment and aggressive behaviour in the workplace, with 27% in fear of speaking out about such incidents, is “confronting and unacceptable”, says Optometry Australia president Mr Murray Smith.
Other findings of the organisation’s new #BreakTheBias report also show that while patient behaviour was cited as the most common cause (80%), almost one-third (28%) had experienced some form of bias, discriminatory or aggressive behaviour from a practice owner or manager.
The is despite almost two-thirds stating their workplace had a harassment and bullying policy.
In March, in direct response to a challenge set by International Women’s Day 2022 to #BreakTheBias, OA invited members to provide feedback on their experiences with gender bias, discrimination, harassing and/or aggressive behaviour in the workplace.
Almost 320 optometrists completed the survey, offering a snapshot of this type of behaviour within the profession.
Other findings showed 45% of respondents disagreed that all genders in optometry were treated equally, with 43% agreeing there is salary parity between genders in optometry (versus 35% disagreed).
Asked if transitioning back into the workforce following a career break, such as parental leave, is well supported in optometry, 40% agreed and 27% disagreed.
Fifty-five per cent encountered insulting or offensive terms about men or women used in their current or previous workplaces, and 73% have felt that patients have treated them differently because of their gender.
Concerningly, 15% have experienced physical abuse once or sometimes, and 70% feel uncomfortable when spending time in a darkened consulting room with patients of another gender.
Eight per cent fear going to work due to gender bias, discrimination, harassment and/or aggressive behaviour.
While there were some encouraging results within the report, Smith said a number of them indicated more work was needed to make optometry workplaces safer for all practice staff.
“Over the coming months, we are committed to working with [members] to create the necessary tools, policies, education and training that will help our profession to challenge bias and promote cultures of inclusion within our sector,” he said.
OA CEO Ms Lyn Brodie said the organisation was committed to working with optometrists to help drive real long-term change in this area.
She said OA would roll out a suite of customised resources and tools suitable for employees and employers in their practice. It has engaged HR lawyers to develop a range of resources such as sample policies.
“We will also produce a range of patient-facing campaign materials and deliver webinars and tips to help you navigate this complex area,” Brodie said in an email to OA members.
“These new resources will be designed to provide you with the information you need to make your workplace safer, and to help you reduce the uncertainty about how best to respond. They will supplement those resources already available to all members such as our flexible workplace and career and employment guides.
“We are also developing a specific section of our website so that you will have access to all these tools at the click of a mouse.”
The report can be accessed here.