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Interview with OWA Past President, Tiara Claxton: Pathway to Leadership in the OWA

Tiara Claxton speaking at a podium

Tiara Claxton joined the OWA after some initial apprehension, but once she got involved, she dove in and made growing awareness within the industry and strengthening the organization a personal mission.

“Get Involved, Get Inspired!”

How did you initially get involved with the OWA?

Ann Englert a longtime friend, supporter, and mentor asked me numerous times to join, but I initially was not a believer in an all-woman only organization. I’m from the Generation X era and grew up in a family of 8 siblings (5 brothers & 2 sisters) where everyone was treated as equals– no exclusion based on gender. In September of 2010, Ann called me from Florida to ask for my help on covering an OWA POWW (Professional Optical Women’s Workshop, now the Connection Series) event at Vision Expo West to take notes for the newsletter, since her flight was delayed, and she would miss it.

Writing (on a professional level) was outside of my comfort zone, but out of great respect for Ann, I accepted the task. I was pleasantly surprised at the POWW Vegas event being greeted by Dave Beebe who was the executive director at the time for the OWA. I was happy to see all the familiar faces that I have known throughout my years in the optical industry. The rest is history…as I took notes for Ann, I realized how much I love our industry people and the strong women industry leaders who knew the next generation needed this organization. Ann took my notes from the POWW event and gave me author credit. This is what we do here at the OWA. We bring forward and nurture our next generation women leaders!

I went from my first OWA event in September 2010, to being invited to be on the Communications committee, then to the Events committee, and recognized in 2013 as the OWA Pyxis Award honoree. I was then asked to join the Board of Directors, then to VP, and on to OWA President in 7 years. Time flies when you’re having fun!

How did you get involved in a committee?

The event article launched me onto the Communications committee.  As I said, writing was outside my comfort zone, but the committee chair, Christie Walker, assured me of her full support on editing and proofing before any articles were published and she and the rest of the committee delivered on their commitment.

How many committees did you serve on?

Communications and Events – I learned how the OWA Executive Director (based in Dallas, Texas), the dedicated membership, and Board of Directors truly support the volunteerism needed to continue the growth of this organization.  The Events committee was where I felt I could really apply my love for people, the industry, details, and hosting events.

During my 3 years on the Events committee, I moved from a “member volunteer” to being the committee chair and invited to serve on the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is comprised of strong women leaders from all facets of our industry. I found so many wonderful mentors and coaches. I was coached by Dr. Lorie Lippiatt, Jean Sabre, Debbie Myers, and supported by the entire board as they prepared me to take on the Presidency. I currently serve with past presidents on the Nominating committee (NC) where we are diligent in keeping a strong talent pipeline for the OWA Board of Directors to choose new committee leaders. The NC also selects the annual award honorees to present to the Board of Directors and industry for final vote and selection.

“Get involved with something you want to learn or bring your talent to demonstrate organic growth of this wonderful organization.”

You will be encouraged here at the OWA to share your talent and in turn you will receive it back tenfold.

On the Events committee we developed the OWA’s “new look” to our industry. One of our goals was to make our events more inclusive, simply by inviting men to participate. Initial events were smaller scale and only included current members and some industry professionals that knew about the OWA. The Events committee collaborated with the Communications committee with the purpose of marketing our events to both women and men in our industry – member or non-member.  By extending the invitation to all, the attendance grew, and our membership flourished from around 200 to over 1,000 OWA members over the course of a few years. The contribution from all the OWA committees were set with these goals in mind. Our social media presence engaged the optical community with the consistent message. Bravo to all our volunteers and committees for their outstanding efforts!

What were your biggest successes on the committees you served on?

My success on the Communications committee was having the opportunity to be supported and mentored by women like Christie Walker and Ann Englert. Their support helped me to develop skills that were outside of my prior comfort zone.

My success on the Events committee was to elevate our events and take the OWA branding to the next level, being consistent throughout the industry communications, written and verbally showing that our events were for everyone and making sure we portrayed our inclusiveness. Both men and women who attended an event were able to learn more about the OWA and could share their experience and the OWA membership grew in a more organic way.

How were you invited to join the Board of Directors?

Before being asked to join the Board of Directors, I was thoroughly engaged and impactful at the committee level. I served to enhance the OWA’s mission.

“To enhance and promote the leadership role of women in the optical industry through networking, education, and peer support.”

As a committee member for the events, I was invited to accept a seat on the Board of Directors which allowed me to serve as the Chair of the Events committee (all committee chairs are Board Members). The Board of Directors saw my effort, passion, and event execution. I gladly said YES! What a privilege it was to serve as the Chair of Events and on the OWA Board of Directors.

How were you invited to join the executive team board?

During my time on the Board of Directors and Chair of the Events committee the NC saw my commitment and passion for the OWA, and they extended an invitation for me to join the Executive team as Vice President. Fairly early in my 2-year term as VP in 2016 the current OWA president left the industry and therefore had to resign. In most cases, the VP moves to serve as President. On a career and professional level, I wasn’t ready to take on the responsibilities, yet. I was making professional moves and still had more to learn from the executive team and Board of Directors. The NC and the Board appointed an interim President, Maureen Cavanaugh, and I was blessed to be supported and mentored by her while finishing my term as Vice President. At Vision Expo West in 2017, I was appointed the position of President of the OWA. A position I was proud to lead through Vision Expo West 2019. I was honored to serve an additional 2-year term as Past President on the executive team and now continue to serve as part of the Nominating committee.

How did serving on the OWA committees, board, and as President impact you personally?

Honestly this journey has been amazingly wonderful! I learned so much about who I am as a leader, communicator, person, wife, mother, friend, and colleague. I will forever be grateful to everyone who put time into me, so I can put time into you! One of my fondest memories and accomplishments was being taken under the wings of Sue Downs, CEO of MYEYEDR. Sue offered her personal professional media team. I was trained on how to present effectively to large audiences, which was something I never had the opportunity to do. I experienced first-hand how the OWA can take you to the next level personally and professionally. My continued service and learnings here at the OWA are something I will continue to be thankful for and cherish. Thank you to all who believed in my leadership abilities. I will continue my journey here at the OWA connecting, inspiring, and leading our next generation optical women leaders!

Tiara Claxton, OWA

I found this quote years ago and thought to share with all of you. This is true here at the OWA:

Let other women know they are brilliant. Let them know what kind of brilliance you see, and why it’s so special. Call them into greater leadership and action. Let them know that they are ready. Watch out for that subtle, probably unconscious thought, “because I had to struggle and suffer on my way up…they should have to too.” Watch out for thinking this will “take” too much time — when the truth is it always has huge, often unexpected returns.

BRILLIANT WOMEN – I’m calling you to greater leadership and action! I believe the unexpected returns are there for all of us who believe in giving back and volunteering their time and talents. Here at the OWA we focus within our industry, worldwide, to make a difference in the optical community.

Enjoy the opportunities, friendships, experiences, and your personal and professional growth here at the OWA!

Wishing you all great success in 2022!

“Get involved, get inspired!” -Tiara Claxton, OWA Past President

Tiara can be reached at

Written by: Yvette Carranza

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