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Respect, always!

Optometry Australia has taken the challenge set by International Women’s Day 2022 to #BreakTheBias in optometry workplaces. We invited six of our members to share their experiences with gender bias in optometry and we then took a deeper dive and conducted a survey in March 2022, attracting responses from 320 members.

The survey results revealed that unfortunately, gender bias, discrimination, harassing and/or aggressive behaviour within optometry exists on many levels. Members report being subjected to sexist and crude remarks, jokes and gestures, verbal abuse and worryingly, physical abuse.

The World Health Organisation cites that between 8% and 38% of health workers suffer physical violence at some point in their careers with many more threatened or exposed to verbal aggression. WHO also says that most violence is perpetrated by patients and visitors.

Likewise, patients and the families of patients are cited as the cause of significant aggressive behaviour in optometry workforces although disappointingly, 28% of members who responded to our survey, cited owners and managers as key contributors.

Members also feel uncomfortable when they have to spend time in a darkened consulting room with patients of another gender although thankfully, their workplace ensures that they are not alone in the practice and they can call for assistance if needed.

And while the majority of workplaces have a harassment and bullying policy, some members fear going to work while others are fearful to speak out against this type of behaviour in their workplace.

This type of behaviour in any workplace is unacceptable and Optometry Australia calls on all members to join us to say: Respect, always!

Read more about the #BreakTheBias survey results here.

We are here to support you

If you are subjected to, or witness this type of behaviour in your workplace, we encourage you to talk to your manager or if you prefer, you can obtain complimentary confidential advice from Industry Legal Group, you can contact our Optometry Advisor Help Desk, you can access our Member Assistance Program which offers all members access to qualified counsellors to participate in three coaching and counselling sessions annually or you can contact Lifeline or 1800Respect.

Evidence shows that 45% of negative behaviour will cease after being reported either by the person experiencing the unwanted behaviours, or by those witnessing that behaviour. Active bystanders, or witnesses, can also play an important role in reducing the harm of unwanted harassment and ensuring that there is no tolerance for it in their workplace.

Watch this space

Optometry Australia has committed to rolling out a suite of customised resources and tools suitable for all members – employees and employers alike. When ready this will include:

  • Sample policies and guidelines developed by our HR lawyers that practice owners and managers can download, tailor and apply within their workplace.
  • A range of patient-facing campaign materials.
  • Webinars and tips to help you navigate this complex area.

These new resources will be designed to provide you with the information needed to make your optometry 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 Optometry Australia’s flexible workplace and career and employment and parental leave guides.

Can’t wait?

If you can’t wait for these optometry-specific resources to be developed, or you want to learn more, you can check out these resources:

·         Australian Human Rights Commission:

o    Recognising and responding to sexual harassment in the workplace: Information for employees

o    Know your rights – sex discrimination and sexual harassment

o    Bullying – know your rights: violence, harassment and bullying fact sheet

o    Workplace discrimination, harassment and bullying

·         Fairwork Australia:

o    Diversity and discrimination

o    New sexual harassment protections take effect

·         Workplace Gender Equality Agency

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