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Evaluating the ‘Herstory’ of the Optical Women’s Association




The Optical Women’s Association began as a gathering of a few women attending Vision Expo East, who met in a hotel room one evening to share their experiences and ideas for improving gender diversity and inclusion within this male-dominated industry. These visionary women scribbled in notebooks, shared refreshments and quickly formed a bond envisioning something much greater than themselves. 

Their vision was turned into action, and the original participants became the founding members of the OWA. With a bold mission statement, bylaws written, and a board of directors recruited and installed, the OWA was officially incorporated in January 1997, as a non-profit membership organization. 

Now, as the organization celebrates its 20th anniversary, we are proud to be thriving. We’ve added new educational programs, expanded award honorees, and have the highest membership enrollment ever. More and more women are reaching out to the OWA to join forces and participate in networking events and leadership programs.

“As the organization celebrates its 20th anniversary we are proud to be thriving.”

It is proof that in this day and age, it is still critical to have organizations like the OWA that cater to women searching for guidance, leadership, and mentorship programs that speak to the need for diversity and inclusion in corporate America. Today in the U.S. there are less than 20 percent of women who sit on boards and much less than that hold senior leadership positions. I was recently interviewed on the Power Hour by Dr. Gary Gerber and his very first question was why there are no men’s associations like the OWA. I quickly reminded him that if the statistics were reversed and there were over 80 percent of women sitting on boards, I am sure there would be. 

The fact is, gender diversity can enhance the overall performance of a company’s top and bottom lines. Research shows creative thinking, listening and communication skills are key attributes women are known to bring to the table. The OWA strongly believes we must continue to encourage women to step into roles that bring value to the overall performance of corporate America.


Year after year we continue to have men ask if they can join our membership but the legacy of what started 20 years ago still rings true today. Although we are grateful to have mentors and bosses who are men, the OWA is and will remain a “women only” association. We are grateful to have the support and partnership of almost 40 optical industry vendors and a dozen individual contributors, some of whom are men. Without this support, the OWA would be unable to offer such rich educational programs and attract eager women looking to lead, inspire and connect with other like-minded women. 

We are also happy to see other optical companies creating their own diversity and inclusion networks like Essilor, VSP and others. We need to forge ahead with our agenda for equality in the workplace for women. 

A 25 year veteran in the optical industry, Maureen Cavanagh is a certified optician and currently serves as the President of Optical Women’s Association and senior executive at Essilor. For more information, please go to

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 edition of INVISION.


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