Practice Management

Focus Group: How Do Men & Women Differ as Practice Owners?

By Diane Palombi, OD

Feb. 14, 2018

With more women than ever entering optometry, we are seeing how optometry and patients benefit from our greater inclusion in the profession. More women as optometrists also means more opportunity for women to become practice owners, and managers to employees. I was curious about how women practice owners might differ, for better or worse–if at all–from their male counterparts, so I reflected on my own experiences, and also asked a few peers what they thought.

I recently interviewed a few optometric workers in an attempt to confirm, or refute, my suspicions about gender and the workplace. One was Joleen, a former employee of mine, one was Laura, a fellow employee, who has been both an optometric technician and office manager, and the third a male employee of a private doctor in Florida, who prefers to remain anonymous. This is what they had to say about gender and optometry.

They had all worked in the optometric field for a while, two for over 20 years. None of them had a preference whether they worked for a male versus female optometrist. Joleen said my office was her favorite, but she may be biased.

Who is More Intimidating or Demanding?
I inquired if male optometrists were more intimidating or demanding to the staff. Joleen said that she does know of some practice owners–both men and women–who are that way, but that she has only had to deal with one boss with that personality type in her career so far. In fact, she says she has been blessed to have had amazing doctors and staff, who became friends with her over the past 20-plus years. Laura said that a male optometrist may seem more intimidating if he is the owner of the practice. The male employee felt that gender makes no difference in how intimidating, or demanding, a practice owner seems.

Who Likes to Be Friendlier with Staff?
I wondered if women optometrists tend to buddy up with the staff more. Joleen felt that we bond better, but do not actually buddy up, preferring instead to maintain a professional distance. Laura felt that she developed closer relationships with female optometrists, but probably not so much because of gender as because most of the women optometrists were closer to her age, and had more in common with her. Our male respondent noticed no difference.

Who Maintains their Cool Better?
I inquired if women optometrists were more emotional when dealing with staff issues, since the “emotional female,” is a long-held, historic stereotype of women. Joleen mentioned that women doctors tend to wear our hearts on our sleeve more, but she would not say that we get more emotional. Laura felt the opposite with an emphatic YES, that she noticed more emotion expressed by the women she worked with in optometry when managing challenging staff issues.

Do Patients Care About Their Doctor’s Gender?
I also wanted to know if patients care about the gender of their doctor, and whether age affects those feelings, with older patients preferring male doctors. Joleen said that she did not feel that patients have preference based on gender. If a patient likes the doctor, they will come back yearly. Laura agreed on the lack of patient preference on gender, but said a larger group of patients may feel more comfortable with an older, seemingly more-experienced doctor. Our male respondent agreed with Laura.

However, Laura also felt that the patients she worked with may have felt more comfortable with female technicians, possibly because of the perception by some that women are better caregivers. She worked with a couple male technicians, whom patients loved, but says they were exceptions.

Are Male & Female Employees Generally Treated Equally?
I asked Laura and Joleen if they felt that male employees were treated differently by their employer than women employees. Joleen felt that her employers try to treat all employees equally, regardless of their gender. However, when the employer and employee are of the same gender, they may have more in common, so they can appear to be treated differently because it can be easier for people with more in common to bond. Indeed, Laura thought her boss may have treated the male employees differently, more as buddies.

Laura worked for the same male optometrist as a fellow employee, his optometric technician, and then as his office manager. I was curious if she was treated differently in each situation.

They started out as fellow employees at Pearle Vision. At Pearle, Laura was treated as a friend. They did things outside of work, such as attend parties together. They weren’t close, as it was what she described as “more of a casual friendship.” When he opened his practice, the relationship changed, but Laura said she understood why. He was more concerned as a practice owner with the bottom line, rather than in building relationships with co-workers.

However, when she moved to the office manager position, he seemed to respect her more than when she was an optometric technician. At that point Laura knew all about the finances, and was focused on the same things he was: that is, for the business to be successful. He trusted her, and Laura took that trust seriously.

The end result of my informal research: As many of you already suspected, men and women practice owners are equally good–or bad–to work for. The one way in which gender can affect a boss’s relationship with employees is in the ability to possibly bond easier with an employee of the same gender, as those of the same gender can have more in common.

The essential point to make is that employees and patients usually don’t care about your gender, as long as you do your job well, and treat everyone fairly and equally. Do a good job as doctor and boss, and that’s all anyone can ask of you.

In general, have you noticed any differences between male and female practice owners in how employees, or patients, are treated? How can men and women ODs best optimize their respective strengths?



Diane Palombi, OD, retired now, is the former owner of Palombi Vision Center in Wentzville, Mo. To contact her:

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