“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