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Women in eye care 10 years later


As the organization marks its 10th anniversary, Ophthalmic Women Leaders celebrates its milestones and challenges ahead.



As the organization marks its 10th anniversary, Ophthalmic Women Leaders celebrates its milestones and challenges ahead.


Dr. LinkThe OWL Quarterly By Marsha D. Link, PhD

In the professional world, there’s never been an easy path for women to tread. Fortunately, women today are afforded opportunities that never existed for their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers.

Unfortunately, it would be disingenuous to claim that we’ve arrived at our destination. One need not look further than recent data to see that-while great strides have been made in advancing women’s careers-stark inequality still exists.

  • As of 2011, women’s median annual earnings (for full-time, year-round workers) across the entire workforce represented only 77% of their male counterparts. This represents a pay gap of 23%-nearly an entire quarter’s worth of disparity.1

  • Among chief executive officers (CEOs), women in top-earning positions at S&P 500 companies accounted for only 8% of positions and faced, on average, an 18% pay gap.2

  • Additional statistics reinforce this trend: women represent 46.9% of the American labor force, but only 14.3% of executive officers, 16.6% of board members, 8.1% of top earners, and 4.2% of CEOs.3

Enter OWL

Ten years ago, my colleagues at Ophthalmic Women Leaders (OWL) founded this organization to address the same reality in the world of ophthalmology.

Tamara Swanson, then working for Heidelberg Engineering, observed a group of men networking at a conference and realizing a vacuum existed for women when it came to this type of industry support. Not content to accept this as a product of the way things were, Tamara-together with Jan Beiting, Jaci Lindstrom, Jane Aguirre, Adrienne Graves, PhD, and Marguerite McDonald, MD-set out to bring to fruition the dream of creating a support network for women in the ophthalmic space.

When OWL was launched, its advisory board included almost every woman CEO in ophthalmology. Ten years later, I’m proud to say that twenty are presidents or CEOs of their respective companies.

As a result, OWL has spread its wings beyond social support-such as networking events and cocktail hours-to offer its members strong, educational leadership programs designed to advance the role of women in the ophthalmic professional world.

Perhaps Jan Beiting, OWL’s current president, said it best when she explained that OWL “brings people together and fosters peer-to-peer learning,” often realized through educational activities such as webinars (of which OWL hosts several, on a range of topics), but also through “observing women I admire, working with them on OWL projects, and becoming involved in informal mentoring relationships.”

As incoming president, OWL is more relevant now than ever. Our growth over the past decade has, in many ways, cleared the path for women to advance in ophthalmology and beyond.

But even the best-cleared path leaves room for improvement. It’s time to lay down the proverbial stones that will lift our organization and its members in the decade ahead.

Enhancement, engagement, and energy

OWL is a place for women to grow, develop, and determine our own destiny-tangible actions that can be achieved with the help of three Es: enhancement, engagement, and energy.

  • We will enhance by continuously improving the educational assets we have in place; our content-rich website (http://www.owlsite.org) and impactful webinars, for one, but also our signature receptions at AAO and ASCRS and networking events at ARVO, ESCRS, and Hawaiian Eye.

  • We will engage members and encourage them to share their stories; not just about how OWL has provided them support, but how they have provided support or mentorship to other women, both within and outside of ophthalmology.

  • In our journey ahead, we will remain energetic, connecting with members about their wants and needs, creating new programs, activities, and content designed to enrich their professional and personal lives.

Despite the great headway we’ve made, both men and women continue to perceive men as the breadwinners or providers. I believe that unless an honest, ongoing dialogue between professional men and women is established, progress will continue to stall.

OWL’s core values-leadership, advancement, and community-can play a major role in empowering women to approach this dialogue with the confidence and skills necessary to achieve parity. If we as an organization affect ophthalmology in a meaningful way, our actions will resonate, bettering the careers and lives of professional women in a multitude of industries.

We haven’t reached our destination, but we are certainly at a crossroads. Our members-executives, surgeons, administrators, technicians, members of the media, marketers, researchers, medical educators, and others-have positioned this organization to make a real change in our industry and beyond.

Looking back on the past 10 years, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished. Looking forward at the next 10, I am ecstatic.


1. American Association of University Women. The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap. 2013. http://www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/The-Simple-Truth-2013.pdf.

2. Bloomberg. Best-Paid Women in S&P 500 Settle for Less Remuneration. Aug. 13, 2013. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-13/best-paid-women-in-s-p-500-settle-for-less-with-18-gender-gap.html.

3. Catalyst Research. U.S. Women in Business. July 1, 2013. http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/us-women-business.


Marsha D. Link, PhD, is the incoming president of Ophthalmic Women Leaders. She is the founder and principal of Link Consulting, a professional training and coaching firm with a strong heritage in health-care based in Orange County, CA. She may be reached at marshalink@4link.biz.


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