Women are driving change in the pharmacy leadership stakes
Pharmacy has been a female dominated profession since 2001 but men continue to occupy the majority of senior roles in the sector.
Four female pharmacy role models, who will be speaking in a debate about the role of women in pharmacy at this year’s Pharmacy Show, all agree that women are more than capable of stepping up into a wide variety of leadership roles in the sector.
The barriers holding women back include a lack of support for flexible working or time out for attending meetings or leadership courses, and the requirement in community pharmacy to work long hours.
But Dr Christine Heading, Executive Committee Member and former president of the National Association of Women Pharmacists (NAWP) is optimistic that the tide is starting to turn. NAWP is currently in talks with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) about closer working and in particular to find a way to increase the profile of gender issues in pharmacy.
“Workforce discussions until now have always focused on making sure we have the right numbers of pharmacists and that they are competent. These talks have completely ignored the problems that women struggle with like managing a career and a family and issues of prejudice and bias.
“We now need to get all these issues aired in mainstream discussions. In order to make our case for change we also need to start collecting data and funding research into the barriers that are holding women back.
“If the merger goes ahead between NAWP and the RPS that will give us more clout to discuss these problems and really look at how they can be solved.
“Men should get involved in this debate too because it is a workforce issue. They are employers, managers and colleagues and need to be able to help push women up the ladder,” says Dr Heading.
Thorrun Govind, a community pharmacist, who this year became the youngest elected board member at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, believes many female pharmacists have huge amounts of untapped potential.
“I feel we should be providing coaching for women to encourage them into leadership positions – these are skills that can be learned. Sometimes you can simply get bogged down in the day job and it does take some effort because often it requires putting in your own time after work. It also requires a certain amount of self-belief in order to succeed.
“One of the criticisms women might face for example when they are in a leadership role is that if you speak out forcefully, as a man you will be seen as assertive but if you are women they will say you are bossy. We have to change these perceptions of female leaders,” she says.
Reena Barai, a community pharmacist, who owns her own pharmacy and who is currently the only woman who sits on the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) board, says the issue of women and leadership is gaining ground nationally with increasing numbers of online debates, academic reports and discussions at events like the Pharmacy Show.
“Being in a leadership role brings me great professional satisfaction and the ability to influence change in a profession that I really enjoy.
“Breaking the mould can be tough – but only if you let it be. Sitting on the NPA board has been a really positive experience, I feel that I bring a different perspective to the discussion and that they do listen to me.”
Reena says undergoing the NHS leadership training course really helped her to pursue her ambitions. She was initially held back by ‘imposter syndrome’ – thinking that she could not do the job - but overcame this with the help of some inspiring mentors.
Olutayo Arikawe, superintendent pharmacist for the YPG Project Ltd (The Priory Community pharmacy), a social enterprise which serves one of the most deprived areas in Dudley, West Midlands, says the importance of diversity in the board room cannot be over emphasised.
“Everyone has got something of worth to bring to the boardroom. If we only have a room full of men, we are losing out on the great contribution, experience and uniqueness that women can bring to the work they do. Sometimes simply believing in oneself and saying ‘yes’ to opportunity can help break down the barriers.”
Olutayo says this Pharmacy Show debate is a great opportunity for women to come along and support their female colleagues and to hear how women like themselves, against all the odds, have managed to get to where they are.
“I hope it will motivate others to see the possibility of achieving their goals. Men should attend as well as it will help them to understand how the decisions they make in the boardroom affect women.”