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September 2020 : Truly Inspiring: The OWA Award Honorees Q+A Session


Incredible women doing inspiring work in vision care.

Here, we catch up with each of the three OWA 2020 Award Honorees to get the inside line on everything from their views on being a woman in the vision care industry today to why they chose their charity of choice — plus what winning this special award means to them.

OWA 2020 Pleiades Award Honoree —
Millicent Knight, O.D.
Senior Vice President, Customer Development Group, Essilor of America

Interviewed By: Carrie Chambers, OWA Communications Committee
Pleiades Award

Each year, the OWA Pleiades Award honors an individual who has shown exceptional support in advancing the leadership role of women in the optical industry. This award is named after the star cluster "The Pleiades," also known as the "Seven Sisters." Together these stars create one of the brightest clusters visible in the northern hemisphere, just as by working together, the women of the OWA have created an organization that is bigger and brighter than the sum of their individual efforts.

What does this special award from the OWA mean to you?

Earning the prestigious Pleiades Award from the OWA is a highlight in my career!

Part of my speech would have shared a personal story of the roadblocks I encountered in pursuing my dream to become an eye doctor. I struggled with vision problems as a little girl, and I knew then that I wanted to help people see, like someone helped me.

So now, in addition to the over 150,000 patient encounters through my practices, I have had the honor of traveling the world providing eye care to those without access. This has been especially meaningful, as I know first-hand how precious vision is.

My journey into the industry provided a different avenue to continue a mission of advocating for quality patient care through the opportunity to work for two mission / credo-oriented companies, Johnson & Johnson Vision and Essilor. I was proud to begin working for Essilor, and its mission of "improving lives by improving sight," and now EssilorLuxottica working to eradicate poor vision around the world. It is a meaningful way to contribute to an industry and profession that has given me so much.

What is your view of being a woman in today's optical industry?

Being a woman in today's optical industry is an honor, as it has always been for stakeholders delivering on the most precious of our senses — sight. It also carries a responsibility to deliver.

Many barriers have been removed by women who took great risks (and men who took great risks supporting them) to provide opportunities for innovation through female insights and rigor, which have elevated the entire industry.

What is your best advice for other women looking to succeed in the optical industry?

To succeed in the optical industry you have to care, you have to stay focused, and you have to be willing to make tough choices. You have to put in the work and be committed to being a lifelong learner and contributor.

Why did you choose your charity of choice?

I was proud to accept the opportunity to join Essilor, in part because of the mission of improving lives by improving sight. One part of the mission in particular really resonated for me: Partnering with Essilor Vision Foundation (EVF) has enabled so many optometrists to give back to their patients and communities by working with EVF for frames and lenses for patients in need.

This program supports optometrists in fulfilling their optometric practice oath of providing care to all that seek it, regardless of their ability to pay. It is a real partnership benefiting patients and communities.

What makes you most proud about your own career and accomplishments?

What I am most proud of is being able to develop ingenuity, agility, and strength to deliver on my goals and convictions in the eye care/optical space. I had the honor of starting my career providing patient care as a hospital-based optometrist in a time when very few ODs had hospital privileges.

I was then able to develop a mission-based private practice while caring for my community as a business and multi-purpose building owner and an eye care advocate for 20 years.

Next, after consulting for industry while practicing for many years, I followed my passion of believing that industry and the profession should work together, along with other industry partners delivering innovation, safe and effective optical solutions, and developing eye care categories.

What inspired you when you were younger to take this career path?

According to my father, when I was 8 years old and returning from vision therapy, I told him I was going to be an eye doctor.

I am sure that I did not know what the doctors (interns at Illinois College of Optometry) were doing, but I intuitively felt that they were invested in helping me see better, perhaps laying the groundwork for broader vision.

What is your best advice for succeeding and surviving in today's coronavirus world?

The coronavirus certainly brought a challenge to many practices, but it also brought with it opportunities to be better clinicians, provide better services, and revisit the practice's or optical's mission and business plan. If you don't have one, now is the time.

Identify a team of professionals you can access as needed. This should include a business banker, HR expert, practice consultant, and accountant to name a few.

The pandemic has been a wake-up call to both plan ahead and revisit industry partnerships. Strong partnerships that provide practice solutions, education for the entire team, and fiscal support are key. If you are in your business alone, consider a support network through a study group, professional associations, and alliance groups. You do not have to navigate uncharted waters alone.

OWA Visionary Award Honoree —
Sheena Taff
@OpticianAboutTown, Optical Manager at Roberts & Brown Opticians

Interviewed By Erinn Morgan, OWA Communications Committee Chairperson
Visionary Award

The year 2020 will forever mark this pivotal time for the OWA and our #1000memberstrong organization. To celebrate our growth, the OWA will recognize a member who is known as a "Visionary" in our industry. This influential leader demonstrates progressive thinking and actively cultivates professional development of women, contributing to the successful future of the entire optical industry.

What does this special award from the OWA mean to you?

Celebrating my 10-year anniversary as an optician and being honored with the OWA Visionary Award in the same year is very serendipitous. Being recognized as the 2020 OWA visionary means that people are connecting with my vision for elevating the optical experience and the perception of what it means to wear glasses.

What is your view of being a woman in today's optical industry?

It is an industry with limitless opportunities. Women are making their mark on the optical industry and are holding more leadership roles.

I find that women in the optical industry, and through organizations such as the OWA, have such open hearts to mentor, support, and uplift their fellow peers in the industry — which will only lead to more women embracing roles traditionally held by men.

Why did you choose your charity of choice?

I choose Cat Therapy and Rescue society because I have experienced first-hand the joy of being perfectly paired with furry family members. Their founder is an ambitious woman that will stop at nothing to rescue and rehabilitate the most vulnerable and forgotten animals.

She gives each and every animal a fighting chance, even if that means flying them in from war-torn countries and nursing them back from the brink of death, returning them to their rightful role of playful kittens. I know this donation will help her continue her crusade to rescue cats and even the occasional dog from kill shelters.

What makes you most proud about your own career and accomplishments in optical?

It makes me proud to break the mold of what it means to be an optician. Opticians have such an integral role the process of vision, yet I feel they are very underrepresented.

I want to showcase the balanced skill set of fashion and fitting, with the technical prowess that a skilled optician possesses, to encourage the public to understand our value and encourage people into the profession.

Best advice for other women looking to succeed in the optical industry?

Be yourself and don't be afraid to put yourself out there. You can never get to 'yes' if you are too afraid of hearing 'no' — no it isn't a scary word, trying something and not having it work leads to learning something new and you can try again with an advantage the next time around.

What inspired you when you were younger to take this career path?

I was born into it, both my parents are opticians, and I honestly did not think it was going to be my calling. But I learned the fundamentals from them and saw an opportunity to evolve the modern-day role of optician. To make a bigger impression, not only on my patients in my shop, but to share my passion for EyeStyle and what it means to be an Optician with an audience around the world.

What is your best advice for succeeding + surviving in today's Covid world?

Don't be afraid to act fast. Everything is changing in our day-to-day lives and in how we conduct our roles as eyecare professionals. Those who are slow to adapt and evolve and those who push against the limitations of life during Covid are bound to be left behind.

OWA Pyxis Award Honoree —
Jean Sabre
Co-Founder, former Practice Administrator, Buyer and Lead Optician, Uptown Vision

Interviewed By: Debra Siegel, OWA Communications Committee
Pyxis Award

Pyxis is a constellation in the southern sky known as "The Compass." The Pyxis Award is presented to a member of the OWA who actively participates in the organization and promotes the OWA throughout the optical industry, contributing to OWA's continuing growth. The recipient of the Pyxis Award is exceptional in her commitment to support and develop the OWA. She helps set direction of the organization by her actions and inspires by her leadership.

What does this award mean to you?

It touches my heart to know that I have made an impact on the industry. It's like throwing a pebble into a pond — you never know what the effect will be and how far the ripple will travel. I am honored and thrilled that my peers have made this nod in my direction. I couldn't be more flattered.

Why did you choose your charity of choice?

The decision to support The Sarcoma Foundation of America is personal. My husband of 40 years is an eight times survivor of sarcoma cancer. The Mayo Clinic kept him alive. It gave us the support we needed, and they have given me more time with him.

What inspired you when you were younger to take this career path?

When I started in this industry, I saw the opportunity to merge the field of optometry [husband Mark Sabre, O.D. is an optometrist] with my former world — selling fashion at companies known for their superior customer service, such as Barney's New York and Nordstrom.

When we started our own business, we often thought, 'Why are there so many great coffee shops with 'okay' bakery items, and many great bakeries with so-so coffee? Why not combine them for the ultimate customer experience?

So, we incorporated this idea into the world of optometry. I made it a goal to create a concierge patient experience — great eye exams combined with a superior retail selection.

What is your view of being a woman in today's optical industry? And, what is your best advice for other women looking to succeed in the industry?

There is so much more to gain in this field. Get involved in the OWA! Surround yourself with people who you respect. The work ethic and knowledge that they can offer will support you.

We're all in the healthcare industry because we care. Ask questions. And, don't be afraid to ask for help.

What makes you most proud about your career and accomplishments in optical?

My involvement in the industry. Having the opportunity to meet top leaders, the female 'movers and shakers' — I proved to myself that a small business owner can have a voice and make a difference in people's lives.

Challenges are faced by everyone in this industry. Not a day goes by where you don't have to make an adjustment, like a bend in the road, or a sharp U-turn. You need to be able to see what's down the road in order to best serve your customers.

What is your best advice for succeeding and surviving in today's coronavirus world?

Every day is a challenge, Covid or no Covid.

Patients and customers are comfortable in an environment where they feel cared for. I advocate for being flexible. Making small changes like wearing scrubs instead of 'street clothes,' making sure your coworkers and patients feel comfortable can make a significant difference — and now we're starting to see more patient loyalty because of it.

And telemedicine — it has been knocking on our door for quite a while now. It is the wave of the future.

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