As part of its ambitious Roadmap 2025 development plan, EURETINA is launching a dedicated Women in Retina (WiR) programme.
Anat Loewenstein, General Secretary of EURETINA and the driving force behind the WiR initiative, explains why such a programme is needed and what it hopes to achieve.
Do we really need a special programme for women working in the field of retina?
When I started my career as a female retinal surgeon, working in a world of mainly male retinal surgeons, I naively thought that there was nothing needed to differentiate women in our profession. I presumed that if a woman wanted to make it to the top of her profession, she simply needed to be good at her job and that gender should not be an issue one way or another. In fact, I really felt that it didn’t even need to be mentioned, as I believed that people would advance in their careers based on merit and that gender would have no bearing on their professional development.
My own personal circumstances probably dictated my initial stance, as I had been well supported by my family and peer group in my own career choices, so it was actually difficult for me to understand that a woman might need some specific support compared to their male counterparts.
But I was wrong about that. This became apparent to me as I evolved in my career and I saw that something really did need to be differentiated between men and women. It was impossible to ignore the evidence in front of my own eyes.
Can you give some examples of the type of experiences that changed your mind?
Well, the numbers tell their own story. More than 50% of ophthalmologists are female, which is a positive development, yet when we look at the percentage of females in leadership positions within the profession, it is only about 10%. I see this disparity in my own country. In the hospital where I work there are around 50 departments, but only 8 of them are led by women. In Israel, there are 22 departments of ophthalmology yet there are only 5 women in leadership positions.
The same is true when we look at academic publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Although the number of papers published is broadly equal between male and female authors, there is still a systematic underrepresentation of women as referees and editors. The editorials in the more prestigious journals tend to be written by men and there is a clear disparity in the number of females serving on the editorial boards.
The disparity also extends to the major ophthalmic meetings, our own included, when we see the small percentage of women moderating the sessions and giving invited lectures.
These are just a few examples and I could cite many more. Obviously, the problem is a complex one and there are a lot of societal and cultural factors which contribute to this situation. While we can’t change the world, the bottom line is that there are issues in gender bias within our own profession that need to be addressed. The Women in Retina programme is our modest effort to make a positive contribution to rectifying this imbalance.
In what ways will the Women in Retina programme make a difference?
Our broad aim is to support the professional development of promising female retina specialists. For a start, we will be more actively promoting women in the scientific programme of the EURETINA annual congress to ensure fair representation in terms of moderation, invited lectures and so forth. We will also provide a number of annual grants for young retinal specialists, and plan to establish a number of long-term fellowships for women, at least one of which will be laboratory-based for promising research in the field of retina.
In addition, EURETINA will put in place a mentorship programme specifically to help EURETINA members in their early career development. This is important to nurture talent and provide help and guidance in all aspects of their personal and professional development.
Another initiative which we plan to develop is a virtual lounge to facilitate gender-related conversation among participants. This will also host a schedule of quarterly talks by experts who can assist in professional development and with whom female participants will be able to discuss gender-related challenges.
We have assembled an excellent committee of talented leaders, including Nicole Eter, Caroline Klaver and Tunde Peto, which will meet regularly to put these ideas into action and to put forward new proposals.
There is a lot of work to be done but I think this programme represents an excellent opportunity to raise the profile of women in the field of retina, nurture their talents and give due recognition to them for their contribution.
Further information about the Women in Retina programme is available here.