Optometry is gaining a reputation for being a family-friendly career for women, much to the chagrin of many who want things to stay the same. But, is it wrong to ask women to preserve the professions past at the expense of their own futures? 

You would think that, in this day and age, a publications decision to make women the months cover focus would be little cause for controversy. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the handful of articles weve devoted to this topic since I became editor-in-chief in 2003 have sparked more than their fair share of debate. So why the controversy?

In 1983, Review of Optometry featured an article entitled, Will Women Ruin Optometry? Its a bold question, indeed. But, its still attracting attention today, some 25 years later. The concern is that many women enter the profession because it is perceived as a family-friendly career choice. Independent private practice has long been considered optometrys golden ring; yet, many women either work fewer hours than their male counterparts or may choose employed positionsoften at chain or retail locationsbecause these positions may be more amenable to part-time arrangements for employees looking to build families. Assuming this is true (and for many it is not), it begs the question, Would such a trend, in fact, ruin optometry?

I would say, No. Whats more, I would add that, while women are undoubtedly reshaping the profession, it is becoming their own to do with what they wishto the benefit of optometry in particular and society in general.

Women are modernizing a profession once dominated by traditional thinking and outdated business patterns. The reality is that our world and the way we conduct business is changing. Optometry does not exist in a vacuum and shouldnt consider itself exempt from these changes.

In The Long Road to the Fast Track: Career and Family, Claudia Goldin, professor of economics at Harvard University, illustrates the changing patterns of women in the workforce in the twentieth century.1 She separates womens approach to career and family into five cohorts:

The first cohort graduated college between 1900 and 1920 and had either family or career.

The second graduated between 1920 and 1945; these women had job then family.

The third cohort graduated between 1946 and the mid-1960s and had family then job.

The fourth cohort graduated college between the late 1960s to 1980; the stated goal of these women was career then family.

The objective of the fifth cohort, women graduating between 1980 and 1990, has been career and family.

Goldin looked at the success rates of each groups approach and found that the women who selected career and family were significantly more likely to achieve that goal than their predecessors who attempted to establish a career prior to beginning a family (this was measured by womens likelihood of having both by age 40).

It is clear that women are indeed beginning to find ways to have it all. And the more they succeed, the more likely other women will be to follow. And this is the point of contention. It is the building momentum created by womens success that is causing some to pause and reflect upon what stands to change in optometry because of it.

But I ask you to consider this: Before you raise your shield to protect the past, dont overlook the fact that it was broken to begin with. Women should not have to choose between making a living and raising a family. It relegates us to second-class citizens. Furthermore, while the unique character of optometry, as a profession, does indeed stand to lose some of its former characteristics, whomale or femalewould stand up and claim that creating an exclusionary environment within the profession or debasing women for making family-friendly choices is for the best in the grand scheme of things?

Ted Childs, IBMs chief diversity officer and the architect of some of the worlds most progressive family-friendly policies, says it best: Our country cannot prosper without women in the workforce, and our society cannot go forward unless women have children.2

1. Goldin C. The long road to the fast track: career and family. Annals, AAPSS 2004 Nov;596(1):20-35.

2. Evans, C. Working moms: you can do it all!  Available at: www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12632367/.  (Accessed May 2008).

Vol. No: 145:06Issue: 6/15/2008