Independent ODs most diversity-savvy segment of eye care
Results of a diversity, equity and inclusion benchmarking survey showed that independent optometrists often scored highest among various segments of the eye care industry, according to a panel discussion held during Vision Expo West.
“About a year and a half ago after the unfortunate murder of George Floyd and the subsequent rallies around the country and world regarding race relations in America, the Vision Council decided to take this on to better understand if we have issues with equity and inclusion in our wonderful profession,” moderator Derrick Artis, OD, MBA, owner of Artis Consulting, said during the session.
The Vision Council put together a task force that tackled three objectives: talk to every segment of the industry to get their perception on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI); survey the entire industry; and collaborate with other entities in the industry, according to Artis.
“I’m pleased to say the American Optometric Association, Opticians Association of America, American Academy of Optometry and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) have taken on this issue of DEI, and together we’ll have an impact,” Artis said.
“At Vision Council, our mission is to help promote growth in the optical marketplace,” Vision Council CEO Ashley Mills said during the panel discussion. “When looking at DEI, what better way for us to fulfill our mission than to promote growth among diverse populations in our industry and show you how to put a concept into reality?
“We started with a good benchmarking survey to understand where we are,” she said. “The survey also lays out a good pathway for how we go to where we want to go, which is a more diverse, inclusive industry. It also applies to how you’re serving your patients. We think this is one of the most important things we can be doing to help.”
The Vision Council recruited 15 industry representatives to serve on a DEI task force and hired Nonprofit HR to conduct the survey, according to former Vision Council vice president of community relations-diversity and inclusion Tarrence Lackran, now with Luxury Optical Holdings and a task force member
Lackran said 1,723 people completed the survey: 37% were eye care providers and in retail, 20% were suppliers, 19% were in academia, 16% were in corporate eye care and retail, and 8% were a member of an industry group/other. The breakdown of respondents was 64% white, 12% Black or African American, 8% Asian, 7% Hispanic/Latino and 5% two or more races. The remaining percentages were Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, Native/Indigenous or Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.
The survey explored five key areas: commitment; belonging; inclusive culture; equity and systems; and rewards, recognition and advancement, Lackran said.
Respondents were asked if they believe their board management team or senior leadership demonstrates a commitment to DEI. Seventy-nine percent of suppliers, 77% of independent optometry and 61% of corporate optometry responded “yes,” according to the survey. Seventy-three percent of academia said their internal communications support DEI, and 59% of CEOs and senior leaders indicated their organization has conducted or plans training on DEI.
“I found corporate optometry surprising,” Artis said. “I found it quite low. I think this is a big opportunity and a challenge.”
Task force member and New England College of Optometry (NECO) President and CEO Howard Purcell, OD, FAAO, said, “ASCO and all the colleges have made a commitment, but there’s a way to go. I’m disappointed to see less than three out of four feel internal communications have been appropriate.”
Another task force member, private practitioner Diana Canto-Sims, OD, co-owner of Buena Vista Optical, said, “Being in independent optometry, it’s a lot easier to make changes than in corporate. I encourage independent optometrists to have that commitment to focus on improving DEI.”
“Another reason independent optometry is higher is because you can set your own mission,” task force member Millicent Knight, OD, FAAO, FAARM, senior vice president, Customer Development Group, Essilor, said.
Canto-Sims and Knight both spoke about being the recipients of “microaggressions.”
Knight said when she was in private practice and sought a loan to purchase a building, she was asked questions such as, “Are you going to get married?” and “Are you going to have children?”
“Have you ever had someone change the way they speak to you to match your dialect?” task force member and optician Phernell Walker, MBA, ABOM, said.
“Ask your colleagues to tell you their microaggressions,” Purcell said. “It’s so important to hear these stories. It makes an impact on those of us who haven’t experienced that.”
Canto-Sims said that it is important to “call out” people who exhibit microaggressions.
“Some people don’t realize they’re doing it,” she said.
Belonging and inclusive culture
The survey section on belonging evaluated if respondents felt they could bring their “whole self” to work, Walker said.
Independent optometry had the highest affirmative score at 84%, academia was at 77%, and corporate optometry was at 64%.
Respondents were also asked if they had the ability to voice concerns about DEI at work without fear of negative consequences. Seventy-nine percent of suppliers answered affirmatively, as did 76% of independent optometrists and 58% of corporate optometrists.
Purcell said that NECO was founded more than 100 years ago. The hallway to his office is lined with portraits of those who were instrumental in its establishment and development.
“I had a group of female students come into my office and ask if any woman or any person of color had anything to contribute to this institution,” he said.
“Seventy-five percent of our students are now female,” Purcell continued. “There are obvious ways you can make improvements. Come visit. I promise, if you came today, you would know that women and people of color made contributions to NECO.”
Lackran said his company is looking at the employee dress code.
“If we’re too strict with our dress code, we can erase culture,” he said. “Look at your employee handbooks with an equity eye.”
Individuals need to understand the company culture, and appropriate mentors are needed, Knight said.
“Just you, in your practice, you can really make a difference,” Purcell said.
Canto-Sims said frame representatives have told her they feel comfortable in her office because they can be their authentic selves.
“Certainly, DEI is important and the right thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do for your business,” Artis said.
The optical industry has used antiquated terms such as “Asian eye wear” and “African American eye wear,” Lackran said. “The [Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area] will not use those terms anymore. Think about eye wear vendors that are inclusive.”
Equity and systems
The equity and systems portion of the survey asked if the respondent’s board or senior leadership represents the diversity of the organization. Only 59% of suppliers and 46% of academia answered affirmatively.
Regarding compensation, 72% of independent optometry felt they are compensated equitability, but only 58% of corporate optometry agreed.
“These are pretty pathetic numbers,” Purcell said. “We have a long way to go. Support the companies that support equity.
“For independent optometry, 72% seems like a decent number, but look at the breakdown,” he said. “It’s 82% men vs. 64% women. Every year take a look at your compensation. As a whole, women don’t tend to negotiate as aggressively as men. We should not have such a significant gap. In certain regions, women who are of equal education, training and skill are making $100,000 less than men.”
Knight said the write-in comments on the survey were interesting.
“Someone said, ‘Diversity and any changes in this area should not be at the expense of those who have been in the majority,’” she said. “When we get really honest, that’s what slows us down. This should be considered an additive process, not a subtractive process. We have to make sure everyone feels they have a place in the conversation.”
Rewards, recognition, advancement
When asked if they feel they have the ability to advance in their career, 74% of independent optometrists said “yes,” as did 68% of academia and 56% of corporate optometry.
Fifty-six percent of suppliers said they feel they are compensated equitably and that promotion decisions are equitable. Seventy-two percent of independent optometry and 46% percent of corporate optometry said they feel recognition for their performance is equitable.
“The task force will have to determine what success looks like,” Artis said.
“One of the biggest measures of success in big companies is innovation,” Canto-Sims added. “You cannot have innovation without diversity.”
- Artis D, et al. Opening your eyes: An in-depth look at the industry’s diversity & inclusion survey. Presented at: Vision Expo West; Sept. 22-25, 2021; Las Vegas.