Women’s History Month and Inspiring Strides in Eye Banking

Inspiring Future Generations of Women

By Ryeá O’Neill - March 29, 2024

Women’s History Month wasn’t celebrated nationally until 1988 but women continue to make strides, especially in the eye banking industry. We are inspiring future generations of women with key mentorship.

President Jimmy Carter once said in a message to the nation, “Too often the women were unsung, and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength, and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”

Women’s History

Women’s history is, after all, every woman’s right and heritage, according to Gerda Lerner, world renowned scholar on gender and women’s history. Recognition for women came back 1978 in Santa Rosa California when a local teacher, Molly McGregor led a weeklong celebration highlighting women’s contributions to American history, culture and society. After the event, local activist groups began lobbying for a National Women’s History Week.
Then President Ronald Reagan signed the Women’s History Week Proclamation in 1982 calling upon the people of the United States to celebrate women’s history for a week in March. This continued for several years until 1987. In 1988, Congress passed a proclamation preserving the entire month of March as Women’s History Month. Women across the nation continued to overcome gender barriers and recognize and celebrate their successes on a national level in all industries.

History is Being Made Now

Right now, in the eye banking industry women are making history. The Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank (RMLEB) is a proud member of the Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) and pioneering members at EBAA are holding majority positions on the  board (7-5) for the first time in its history. In addition to the board, 65% of EBAA committee chairs are women and 48% of EBAA-Member eye bank Executive Directors are women. The Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank leadership team is also a majority-women led team (4 of 6).

Inspiration for Future Generations of Women

We’ve reached out to some of the superstars in the eye banking industry to offer advice to young women just starting their careers. We asked each woman, who is at a different but pivotal point in their own careers, the below question and presented their answers. 

Encouraging Advice

What advice would you give to young women just starting their careers?

"I would encourage young women to present themselves in a professional manner that reflects of the position to which they aspire. Additionally, I'd encourage them to speak up when they have identified an issue that needs to be corrected, and to offer a solution along with the problem."

~ Patricia Dahl, CEO, The Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration (New York)

“These are my top five thoughts and suggestions: 
  • Look for a mentor - When you don't know what you don't know, she can put you in the know. 
  • Consider all possible paths ahead of you. There are opportunities that are probably unfamiliar to you until you enter the specialty or start work at your organization. Look for them and design a path, for those that ‘speak to you.’
  • Get out of your comfort ‘bubble’ with both people and ideas; It takes time for some people and ideas to reveal themselves.
  • Dress for success (dress ‘for’, not ‘up’); Look around you to identify an accepted and acceptable ‘uniform’. You don't want to invite prejudice because of your ‘look’; in time, as these ‘strangers’ become colleagues and are comfortable with you, you can bloom. Remember, you are entering their environment - don't rock the boat unless you are hired to be a ‘Change agent.’
  • Keep a running ‘diary’ of small and large successes. Not only are they good references but they can bring comfort and cheer!”
~ Patricia Aiken-O’Neill, Author and former EBAA CEO and scholarship honoree

"Find mentors and be resilient! The most rewarding careers often require demanding training paths, work hard, and don't lose sight of your goals.”
~ Karen Christopher, MD, Assistant Professor, Ophthalmology, CU School of Medicine

"For me, the greatest answer to that question would be from my mom. She always said, ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ When I graduated college, it was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so trying to start a career was difficult or nonexistent due to hiring freezes. Since then, I have personally tried many things that correlate to my degree and have had a lot of failures while trying to find my footing in a STEM career. Those failures have opened new possibilities for successes. If things did not work out the way they did, I may not be here working for a wonderful organization today. I love what I do, and every little step that didn’t work out prior to my time at RMLEB was for a reason.”
~ Emily, Tissue Processing Technician, Rocky Mountain Lions Eye Bank

By sharing these valuable words from women in the eye banking industry, we hope to inspire others just starting their careers. One can gain wisdom from the lessons learned and practical tips in the words of these female sages. We encourage proactively seeking feedback and mentorship along your journey. Mistakes are inevitable, but you can grow through them. And remember, when it’s your turn, lean down and help the woman below you up the ladder. 

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