Professor Stephanie Watson (Australia) and Professor Helen Danesh-Meyer (New Zealand) have been recognised as two of the world’s 100 most influential female figures in ophthalmology. Almost 1,200 nominations for 300 individuals were received for The Ophthalmologist Power List 2021, and judged by an international panel.
Professor Watson said she hoped this global recognition of women in ophthalmology may help prevent the “leaky pipe” in career progression that results in the loss of women from senior positions. As an academic eye surgeon, she is one of just three female professors out of 34 in Australia. Professor Watson is Head of the Corneal Research Group at The University of Sydney, Faculty of Medicine and Health; Head of the Cornea Unit at Sydney Eye Hospital; and Chair of the Ophthalmic Research Institute of Australia, Sydney, Australia
Among her many professional achievements, Professor Watson has translated her research findings into two world-first therapies; developed the “Save Sight Registries” for corneal diseases to hold over 30,000 visits from over 600 patients from 82 clinicians worldwide; conducted 11 clinical trials (five as Chief Investigator); and improved patient care through benchmarking and guidelines. Additionally, she has trained 70 eye care workers (including 15 corneal fellows) and 25 researchers.
it is important we all work towards common goals, there is no point having women ready to lead to only find there are no doors to open
“Training these “next-generation eye experts” is what I’m most proud of, as this has helped build a workforce with the skills needed to save sight and improve patient care into the future,” she said. “Guiding emerging eye experts to fulfil their career and personal goals has been personally rewarding.”
Professor Helen Danesh-Mayer was the first female professor of ophthalmology and the youngest professor in a surgical specialty in New Zealand. Now the Sir William and Lady Stevenson Professor of Ophthalmology Chair at the New Zealand National Eye Centre, University of Auckland, New Zealand, a nominee said “several aspects of her clinical research have influenced and altered clinical management strategies in the international arena, in particular her work on imaging of the retinal nerve fibre layer in Alzheimer’s Disease and chiasmal compression. She pioneered quantitative evaluation of the optic nerve and its morphological changes.”
Validation of Excellence
Prof Watson, who is the mother of three boys, said recognition of the Top 100 Women in Ophthalmology would allow the work of all nominees to be celebrated and validated.
“This in turn can inspire the next generation of female achievers, provide a platform to showcase the achievements of women to the profession and general public, and promote success in ophthalmology. For female surgeons and scientists, there is an urgent need to celebrate success to help prevent the “leaky pipe” in career progression that results in the loss of women from senior positions. In surgery and science, women hold fewer senior positions, apply for and win fewer awards, file fewer patents, and receive less grant funding than our male counterparts,” Professor Watson said.
She said action is needed to make the field more diverse. “Without it, unconscious bias will continue to inhibit change. The first thing we need to do is measure performance in terms of the diversity. The data on diversity can inform the conversation. Goals can be set based on the data and evidence-based research on what is needed to achieve diversity employed. Leaders need to communicate their goals for diversity and be held accountable for their delivery. Whilst there are many great programs guiding women in how to navigate their careers, it is important we all work towards common goals, there is no point having women ready to lead to only find there are no doors to open.
“It sounds simple, but there are still many examples where diversity is still lacking and action needed. For example, I commonly see conferences where female speakers are in the minority, not present at all, or typically asked to speak on non-surgical subjects or as non-experts despite being excellent surgeons with considerable expertise. If all societies had gender diversity at conferences as a KPI then this could be identified and positive action taken. The conference organizers would be able to deliver a program that caters to the entire audience and provides inspiration to emerging leaders – a win-win.”