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We shouldn't be equivocal about having gender equal boards in pharmacy

Being a woman is an unavoidable factor in a conversation about career progression

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is right not to shy away from its responsibility to reflect the pharmacy workforce on its boards, says C+D deputy editor Lilian Anekwe

“We need to be disruptive if we want to change things.”

This was the challenge set at the very beginning of a recent seminar to discuss leadership in pharmacy.

I should add, the leadership event I attended was for women – last month's Women in Leadership seminar at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, to be specific. Which shouldn’t be noteworthy, but as the day progressed, more speakers attested to the fact that being a woman is an unavoidable factor in a conversation about career progression in pharmacy. Indeed, one speaker went as far as to say that “all of the challenges [I have faced in my career] come down to being a woman”.

It was a different speaker who dared pharmacists to be more “disruptive”. This challenge came from Deborah Evans, who most would agree has achieved success in her career, as managing director of training provider Pharmacy Complete, and a recent winner of the C+D Training and Development Award 2018.

Ms Evans struck me as extremely self-assured, but she shared with the delegates her memories of her time on the RPS’s English pharmacy board – when she says she initially lacked confidence, for example, to speak up during board meetings. She described how being in the minority as a woman in a room of men during policy meetings was sufficiently intimidating to make her reluctant to put her points of view across.

This can occur in reverse, too. Current board member Dr Mahendra Patel – who attended the seminar along with RPS president Ash Soni and director of pharmacy and member experience Robbie Turner – said he “felt really scared for [the] first time ever walking into room full of women [and] dynamic leaders”.

Experiencing the intimidation – for a short time, in a familiar environment – “brought the whole #WomenInLeadership day into an even greater perspective”, he said. “Feeling inferior on a regular basis can leave permanent scars. We cannot allow it to happen in our profession.”

Getting the balance right

While none of the women in the room should feel inferior, a lack of confidence and self-limiting beliefs have been cited by leading female pharmacists as a major barrier to progress in community pharmacy.

So what suggestions were put forward during the seminar to try to address these issues? Claire Thompson, RPS deputy chief scientist, announced at the event that – unlike in previous years – the RPS would publish a white paper with outputs from the annual seminar. It would also sponsor two new awards to recognise the contribution of women in the profession.

Both pledges are commendable, but it is another measure that was announced during the seminar – the possible future publication of a charter – that could provide measures to which the society can be held to account for its future progress.

The concept of a charter was discussed at the seminar, to see if it would be helpful to women in the profession. Potentially, it could include the pledge to have a “50:50” gender balance on pharmacy boards by 2020, as one means of achieving an important “key strategic goal” of gender equality at senior levels of pharmacy – where research shows there is still more work to be done.

In some areas, the RPS wouldn't have that far to go – it already has an equal number of men and women on its English pharmacy board. There are five men and four women on its Scottish pharmacy board, and seven men and four women on the Welsh equivalent.

However, the executive team is male-led (six men and two women), while the assembly has just four women among 14 members.

Fairness and equality 

The RPS is likely to find it more difficult to redress a gender imbalance when it comes to other pledges in its draft charter, in particular “ensuring all shortlists for decision-making at senior levels include women”, and a commitment to “gender-balanced interview panels”.

How will panels of candidates be decided – and will this help or hinder free choice? As one pharmacist asked on Twitter: “If 100% of women…vote for a male candidate who is disbarred because a quota needs to be met, is that an advance for women pharmacists?” While another pharmacist tweeted: “How will the RPS ensure that human rights aren't infringed in the [election] process, or that a more competent person is not disadvantaged?”

These are hypothetical questions at this stage, as the RPS stresses the document is “very much in its infancy and continues to be a work in progress”. But just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be done. The RPS should get credit for making positive first steps towards creating the disruption necessary to address an issue that deeply affects more than half of the profession.

C+D hosted a roundtable discussion on achieving gender equality in pharmacy with five female leaders from across the sector in April. Listen to the full debate in C+D's podcast, and read highlights from the event here. You can subscribe to all of C+D's podcasts on iTunes, or by searching 'Chemist+Druggist podcast' on your preferred android podcast app.

Lilian Anekwe is deputy editor of C+D. Follow her on Twitter @CandDLilian

3 Comments

Michael Achiampong, Community pharmacist

I sympathize with Jonny Johal's short reply. I also have been following the gender inequality issue in pharmacy with an open mind as much as possible. In the real commercial world of locum pharmacy that I inhabit, you only get paid for what you can negotiate. Employers will not readily pay you a penny more unless you can repeatedly demonstrate tangible added value to THEIR business. 

On reflection, I too can learn so much from my two (higher earning) sisters in (medicine and pharmacy respectively). They often always tend to get much better bargains when, for example: shopping around for food groceries,  work-wear clothing and shoes; car insurance and holidays! It's fascinating to observe how they instinctly know they have the expectation to haggle and bargain for whatever they want! Plus, unfairly or not, they can always rely on their evolutionary femininity as a plan B!

So, a concern for me with three young nephews is that boys (and men) are still enduring many health inequalities; and potentially reduced opportunites to access meaningful work experience in their teenage years. For example, the recent DHSC decision to finally vaccinate 12 and 13 year-old boys with the HPV vaccine from September 2019 tells me all I need to know about the priorities in the health inequality gender agenda. The other glaring health inequality yet to be adddressed regards the life expectancy differences between men and women.

Jonny Johal, Pharmacy Area manager/ Operations Manager

Why this emphasis on gender? What about the other equality issues? The are much bigger equality issues in Pharmacy than sex.

Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

To be honest, Jonny, I don't give a monkeys about gender, race, religion or any of the other divisive factors in society. All I want from a pharmacist is for them to be a GOOD pharmacist. That should be the only factor at play. If someone is good enough, then what they are shouldn't matter (and I'm not so naive as to think that this is actually the case. I know there are small minded people out there for whom the world is like an old boy's club and for anyone who isn't white and male the world isn't a bed of roses)

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