International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day has occurred for well over a century and is now a central point for action to build support for women’s rights and full participation in life.
The campaign theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough. Action is needed to level the playing field.
In 2020, the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness Gender Equity Work Group ran a gender equity survey with its members. The survey found that only 34% of members had a gender equity workplace policy and a little under 30% of CEOs were female. Further research shows that women make up only 17.8% of Chairs and 28.3% of Board positions across the sector. These figures show we have a long way to go before we achieve gender equity in eye health leadership.
On this International Women’s Day, we acknowledge the work we need to take more broadly as a sector to build a fairer, more equitable global health system and, through gender equity and women’s leadership, unleash its full potential.
To #BreakTheBias and celebrate #IWD2022 Vision 2020 Australia has spoken to the following influential women in the eye health sector to celebrate the achievements they have made in eye health and examine the stereotypes and bias they have experienced as women in leadership.
Name: Jaki Adams
Role and Organisation: Director Social Justice and Regional Engagement, The Fred Hollows Foundation
Have you faced any barriers in your career due to your gender and how did you overcome them? I have faced many barriers throughout my career, as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, and still experience these today. Often misunderstood and seen as irrelevant due to other people’s biases. For me, I overcome these barriers by knowing who I am, what I stand for and what my worth is. This has not always been easy and at times it has been very demoralising, but I am very fortunate to have a lot of love and support around me, good people, mostly women, to lean on. That is what is important to me.
What is the most important career advice you have been given? Be true to yourself, always.
Which women inspire you? All the women in my life and especially my Mum, Margaret, who has passed away but who’s love and support is still felt every day. The unconditional love and sharing of her life learnings, through good times and bad, have made me the strong, independent and caring woman I am today.
How do you think the eye health sector can #BreakTheBias? Celebrate women and the role that women play across the health sector, and to have women’s voices heard at all levels.
What career achievement are you most proud of? I am most proud of being me and that that is enough to inspire others to do the same – showing strength, resilience, courage and empathy in achieving what is right and needed, whilst encouraging others take pride in their achievements, uniqueness and in what they bring to the table.
On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send to the sector and beyond? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women bring an invaluable perspective and skill set to all sectors and their contributions need to be recognised and celebrated – get informed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, as they impact directly on improved health (including eye health) outcomes. Stand up and be an ally – this includes being informed on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, an invitation to all Australians to walk together to build a better future for our country https://ulurustatement.org/ The time for action is now.
Name: Sally Aurisch
Role and Organisation: CEO, Blind Citizens Australia
What is the most important career advice you have been given? Calm people calm people. In a role where I am constantly engaging in advocacy, negotiations, and campaigning, I often encounter a broad range of emotions. By remaining calm and present I am able to navigate complex situations, hear the perspectives of others, and work towards sustainable solutions.
Which women inspire you? Penny Wong; I have always admired Penny’s calm demeanour, her thoughtfulness and honesty.
On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send to the sector and beyond? in the disability sector, and the social issues sector broadly, women continue to put in the hard miles and do the work, grassroots or otherwise, and that this work should be acknowledged every day of the year and not just on IWD.
Name: Patricia Sparrow
Role and Organisation: CEO, Vision 2020 Australia
Have you faced any barriers in your career due to your gender and how did you overcome them? It is only fairly recently that I faced systemic gender barriers. As a female CEO (in my previous sector where the majority of CEOs, and senior positions were held by men) my contribution was often overlooked. There were gentle assumptions that others were more strategic or more commanding. I’m sure that many women will know the experience of making a comment in a meeting that goes unnoticed only to be repeated moments later by a male to be greeted with cries of how excellent that thought was. But the worst experience was to have my knowledge and advice discounted during the COVID pandemic because I was seen to be over emotional and “catastrophising”. All that I said sadly came to pass. All you can do is acknowledge the behaviour, continue to do your best and overcome it.
What is the most important career advice you have been given? Whenever you walk in the room or speak people will see and know you are a woman. Be proud of that and don’t let that dictate the way you behave or the choices you make.
Which women inspire you? My wonderful mother is a daily inspiration as are those women in public life who stand up against gender bias – Julia Gillard in particular as well as Julie Bishop (in a coincidence they are all also Adelaide women!). In addition, the fabulous Betty White who has so many great quotes on the strength of women.
How do you think the eye health sector can #BreakTheBias? Support women in all roles and acknowledge that there are many different leadership styles not just the command and control. Womens styles are often different to that and that’s OK. Women in the sector need to call out the bias when they see and experience it. The sector needs to find a way to make that safe for women to do.
What career achievement are you most proud of? Making a contribution regardless of the bias and not bowing to the pressure to behave like a man to get ahead.
On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send to the sector and beyond? Listen to and value the diverse contribution all people can make. Ensure your work place is a safe place for all and that an individual who is brave enough to call out unacceptable behaviour is supported rather than ridiculed.