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Xrayser experiences his own #MeToo moment

Xrayser uses the wave of gender pay revelations to reflect on boundaries in the pharmacy

An email dropped into my inbox – an invitation to ‘boundaries training’. “Ooh,” I thought, “I wonder if that’s anything to do with the merger of our clinical commissioning group and cross-border working?”

Of course, had I remembered the C+D articles about pay differences at the multiples, I’d have guessed this was to do with avoiding sexual assault, harassment, prejudice and discrimination in the workplace. Occasionally we regretfully see reports of obvious occurrences of assault or harassment by pharmacy professionals, but so much must go unreported or unrecognised, and pay difference is but one example.

Before writing this article, I’d have said that I couldn’t understand sexual discrimination or pay difference. I’d have argued it would be considered illogical and stupid by science professionals whose training includes evaluation of evidence. We regularly appraise studies of value, cost-effectiveness and ability – whether of a drug or a human being – and would naturally say that gender or sexual orientation doesn’t affect someone’s ability to do their job in a pharmacy.

It perhaps shows my age, my generation, and maybe my gender that upon receiving the ‘boundaries training’ invitation I didn’t immediately think about the #MeToo movement. I’m a heterosexual man surrounded mostly by women all my working life. I’ve worked with pharmacists, dispensers and counter assistants, both male and female, and their gender or sexual orientation has never been significant to their role. But that’s not to say that gender and sexual discrimination hasn’t reared its head over the years.

My pre-registration tutor was a woman and rumour had it that she’d been denied a senior role at head office owing to her gender. I wasn’t appalled by this knowledge, but just accepted it as what was normal for the 1980s. Then a few years later came personnel training with a scenario of choosing a staff member for redundancy, either a man you understood was a family breadwinner or a woman you knew to be a second wage earner. All else being equal, I chose to make the woman redundant.

“Sex discrimination!” cried the trainer, and no amount of my attempting to justify discrimination based on circumstance helped me to see what I believe now was an exercise in gender determinism. In other words, part-time female workers in the 1980s were likely to be women and so my choice perpetuated the pay gap.

It’s easy to think because I’ve not assaulted or harassed a colleague or staff member that I can ignore the issue of sex discrimination, but I know over the years I’ve related sexist ‘jokes’ and made sexist comments. Equally, I’ve been the butt of comments from female staff about male traits such as lacking intuition, not multi-tasking, and having ‘man-flu’. There is a level whereby these are acceptable and harmless, but there’s also a boundary that can easily be crossed.

Maybe, then, I should rethink my opening “jokey” remark, and rethink the boundary training as not just for others but for #MeToo.

C+D revealed today that the average male employee pharmacist is paid more than £2,000 more than the average female, according to respondents to its 2017 Salary Survey. Read the news story here, and read C+D’s in-depth analysis of gender differences in community pharmacy here.

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