Let’s face it. In many situations, women make the world go around, especially in the world of audiology, where women make up 82 percent of the workforce (American Academy of Audiology, 2019).
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused women to show their true strength. The pandemic forced audiologists to rethink and restructure their method of service delivery, as many of our patients are at the highest risk for morbidity. In addition, a record number of audiologists have been furloughed or forced to reduce their workload.
As the pandemic moved into weeks and then months, I connected with colleagues who shared how the many stresses and challenges were affecting their lives and businesses. In response, I formed a Facebook group, designed for females, dedicated to inspire, enlighten, and empower every woman to become her most awesome self (Kasewurm, 2020).
The group that began with a mere 50 individuals has grown to almost 2,000 women. I have been amazed, inspired, and comforted by so many women in this group. This article highlights a few of the many amazing women in audiology.
The new “normal.” The workplace is not what it once was. The doors are now locked, there are no walk-ins, telehealth is present, there is constant sanitizing and mask wearing. Stress is up and revenue is down.
A’ja Penn, owner of Penn Audiology, remarked: “My patients have been understanding and I am happy that I am still open. However, my work-life balance scale is now tipped in the opposite direction, leaving me with much more time for family. As great as that may be, it is simply the inverse of the pre-pandemic and it’s difficult to adjust to.”
For Sarah Roggenbuck, field sales representative at Starkey Hearing Technologies, the change in business practices forced significant alterations to lifestyle and thinking.
“How do you stop a perfectionist in her tracks? Invite her to a conference call and announce that she and many of her teammates were selected to be furloughed,” said Sarah. “I suddenly found myself immersed in quarantine, navigating unemployment, and in a new role as my daughter’s teacher. I missed my customers dearly, as I was instructed not to discuss any business matters during furlough. For months, I pondered who I was without my career.
“After four months, I received the call to come back. I worried whether I was even capable of doing my job well. One morning, my seven-year-old came to me and said, ‘You know Mom, you don’t have to be perfect.’
“I realized that I am stronger than I give myself credit for and my determination will get me through whatever obstacles I encounter. At the end of the day, it is far more significant to be present rather than perfect.”
Randa Monsour-Shousher, owner of Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, shared that COVID-19 presented both challenges and opportunities.
“When the stay-at-home order went into effect, I made the decision that our services were essential,” she said. “How could I deny the emergency room physician’s request to fix his hearing aid so he could treat patients?
“I felt fortunate to be financially strong and knew that was one less concern I needed to handle. I cherished Zooming with my employees wanting to get ahead of the game fulfilling many tasks for 2020. We knew meeting the goals early on would give us the opportunity to hit the ground running when we would be allowed to reopen. Operating during a pandemic produced a new definition of ‘difficult.’ What COVID-19 is teaching me is to slow down, breathe, and literally look at the snow out the window.”
Finding Strength and Rising to the Challenge
Angela Alexander, owner of Auditory Processing Institute, has experienced the unexpected before.
“I lost my first clinical job during another crisis, the 2008 global financial crisis,” she said. “I was working in an ENT office with my master’s degree and suddenly found myself without a job, with a six-month restraint of trade, and a year left in my AuD program.
“I was also working in Jack Katz’s office on Saturday mornings, seeing his overflow patients for evaluation and therapy at his clinic. I started working three days a week for myself, making similar money as I did working previously, and it made me realize that life didn’t have to be about working 40 hours a week dispensing hearing aids. This change in perspective was huge for me.
“In addition to making a living wage, I now spend time doing what makes my heart beat 100 percent of my work hours and I get to support others as they pivot in audiology. Somehow, I’ve created the best job I’ve ever had.”
Kristi Mendoza, owner of Optimum Audiology, experienced COVID herself.
“When I did, I regretted not having started my own business after 30 years of being an audiologist. In addition, I have a 17-year-old entering college next year who wants to be an audiologist and I realized that I would like to pass a business on to her.
“I decided it was time to grow and to start training and preparing for a business of my own. The past six months of planning, executing, and meeting with architects and builders has made this transition one of beauty. Even I stand amazed, but I am ready to further create and grow. This new office is the beginning of so much more.”
Jessie Dimmick, owner of Hearing Doctors of Iowa, remembered: “On career day in high school, I remember looking at the variety of paths before me, wondering how it would feel to choose just one.
“Fast forward to five years into my career as an audiologist and in between jobs, I again found myself at a crossroads. I took the big step toward founding my own private practice.
“The business grew steadily and I approached 2020 with strength and tenacity. Amid this pandemic, I discovered that I was expecting a baby. At my first appointment with the obstetrician, I found out I was pregnant with twins. During a pandemic, through uncertainty, I was responsible for growing two tiny humans, my patients, and my business. Would I be enough?
“I watched my business account drain to keep employees paid and the bills paid. My practice survived. I delivered full-term healthy twins. We braved the storm and became better because of it. It has been a major risk, but audiology private practice (and motherhood) is so worth it.”
Staying Positive and Staying Safe
“In these trying times, I have been challenged more than ever to keep the morale of my staff positive,” admitted Sheryl Figliano, owner of Centers for Hearing Care. “As the leader of the staff, I must make everyone understand that this ‘new normal’ is to keep patients and staff safe.
“We have closed lobby doors and patients must call before they come in. Both staff and patients must have a mask in place. Unfortunately, we have experienced a continual stream of negative patients that literally beat on our doors demanding that we open the doors for them. They even gave us negative reviews on Google, stating that ‘there is no reason to close our doors.’
“Having a staff of all female employees, I must ensure that each person feels safe when dealing with patients. When someone is around mean, angry people all day, it is very difficult not to become mean and angry. Now more than ever, we need to thank staff, cheer them on, and tell them ‘you’ve got this.’ If staff members are still with you after this year, they are very special and dedicated.”
Working 38 years in private practice, Kay Young, owner of Shelby Hearing Center, has many stories to tell in terms of changing, adapting, and surviving disruptions, both industry-wide and within her business.
“Life has been a struggle during this pandemic and it’s been challenging,” she said. “However, we have also been amazed by our patients, their understanding, and, at times, their patience with us. Reinforcing our patients’ confidence in our services when they are already coping with unprecedented times forced me to dig deep and to focus on my ‘why.’
“Charles Mackesy said it best in his book, The Boy, The Horse, The Fox and the Mole: ‘The truth is, everyone is winging it. So, I say spread your wings and follow your dreams (2019).’”
“Throughout my years in practice, I have been faced with many difficult situations with employees and patients,” Noël Crosby, owner of Advanced Hearing Solution shared. “A pandemic has a way of forcing you to see things that you really don’t want to see.
“I recently realized that an employee, who I genuinely liked and cared for, wasn’t the right person for the job. Instead of addressing this head on, I spent quite a few years changing my office to accommodate the employee, instead of doing what needed to be done, which was discharging him. It has nothing to do with the person; it has to do with what is going to work best for the business.”
Strong women don’t pretend they know everything. Instead, they are curious and they are learning something new all the time. Strong women are confident in their talent, intelligence, and strengths, and aren’t afraid to ask questions or the opinions of others. Strong women ask questions, gather information, and then make up their own mind.
Leading During Difficult Times and Addressing Workplace Bias
Women make up 82 percent of the audiology workforce and their annual salary is only 85 percent of the average male audiologist’s salary (American Academy of Audiology, 2019). While the gap is closing somewhat among younger women who are more likely to ask for raises and promotions, women are far from equal when it comes to wages and leadership roles in audiology.
A.U. Bankaitis, vice president of Oaktree Products, reflected: “For decades, we’ve seen headlines discussing gender bias in the workplace. We know mixed gender leadership teams boost companies’ profitability—so why is bias still an issue?
“The stubbornness of this problem lies in the fact that it is rooted in our societal beliefs about men, women, and leadership. We believe men should be ‘agentic’ (assertive, decisive, strong) and women should be ‘communal’ (warm, caring, sympathetic).
“These gender stereotypes clash with the leadership prototype, i.e., the societal view of what a prototypical leader should be. The leader prototype shares characteristics with the male stereotype: self-reliant, assertive, dominant, and competitive. This prototype is widely shared and, if I asked you to close your eyes and picture a leader, most people would automatically picture a tall, white, middle-class man. Conversely, women are seen as caring, sympathetic, and sensitive to the needs of others.
“Empowerment is the process of becoming stronger and more confident. It is accomplished by surrounding yourself with people who mentor, inspire, and support you to become your most authentic and awesome self. It took a pandemic to remind me of the many individuals who shaped my professional life.”
“Pandemic crisis management is yet another opportunity to cultivate more skills,” surmised
D’Anne Rudden, owner of Longmont Hearing and Tinnitus Center.
“The year 2020 brought my first worker’s compensation claim in 18 years of owning a business, which was the result of a dog bite to an employee. The thought of someone looking to sue me would have crushed me into a puddle of tears just a few short years ago.
“What I have learned is that there is a big difference between being fragile, being resilient, and becoming ‘antifragile.’ If you are fragile and life hits you hard, you break. If you are resilient and life hits you hard, you withstand more and eventually…you break.
“If you’re ‘antifragile,’ when life hits you hard, you actually get stronger.”
Tish Gaffney, a professor at Nova Southeastern University, reported that: “Women have long been the majority-identified gender of audiologists in the United States. Although women make up most audiologists, there continues to be a bias in favor of male audiologists.
“Even within the category of one to three years of experience, male audiologists have higher salaries than their female counterparts. In addition, many featured lecturers or well-known researchers tend to be men. So, we should be asking ourselves why this continues.
“I believe that much of this comes down to confidence and risk. There are some great resources available, such as the book The Confidence Code (Kay, 2014). We must encourage girls, teens, and women to be more confident, take risks, believe in their abilities, and not to doubt what can be accomplished.
“COVID-19 has been a wake-up call to the possible potentials that surround us and our need to re-invent ourselves, strategize our futures, and shape our own success.”
Loren Lunsford, owner of Sonus Hearing Professionals, shared: “I’ve been in management and leadership roles for many years. At the age of 31, I was leading a large team of hearing-care professionals; most of the group was male. When I was presented with the opportunity to become co-owner of 26 Sonus Hearing Professionals locations in southern California, I didn’t have much time to ponder.”
“Fear of failure couldn’t really be a factor or I’d lose my chance. I said ‘yes’ and joined forces with a wonderful partner who happens to be a male. It is interesting how people react to our leadership styles. If I get passionate about something, I can be perceived as harsh or rigid, whereas it is more expected and acceptable for my partner, as a man, to react strongly to situations.
“It’s not uncommon for folks to assume that I work for him. When something like this occurs, I had to learn that I have a choice to react calmly or take it personally. Being too reactive feeds into stereotypes of women being too emotional for leadership roles. Taking care of everyone but yourself isn’t a strength. Strong women respect others enough not to feel responsible for them. However, it is particularly difficult for women to know the difference between being responsible to someone and being responsible for someone.”
After hearing these heartwarming and inspiring accounts from audiologists, I’m confident that the profession is filled with strong, resilient women and that the future looks bright.
As Eleanor Roosevelt liked to say: “A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong it is until it’s in hot water” (The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Foundation, 2018).