A woman of influence

In the third of a series of interviews with the top five of our list of 10 Women of Influence in pharmacy, we speak to community pharmacy owner Elise Apolloni

Do you think the full-time/pharmacy ownership expectation holds women back?

Perceived expectations hold women back. Expectation that you need to work full time, expectation that to own a pharmacy you need to be there every second of every day, expectation that if you want to be a great mother you can’t have a demanding career, expectation that you can’t ‘have it all’.

Sometimes our thoughts are what holds us back, but in looking outwards we can find examples of women in pharmacy defying expectations and creating their own standards to live by. The only expectations that women should be adhering to are those set by our professional practice standards, and those that we choose for ourselves. If those expectations don’t align with those of people around us, we should celebrate and respect the difference, not criticize it.

How could women be better recognised and represented in pharmacy leadership?

Many women have an internal dialogue that they are not good enough. That dialogue can relate to many parts of our lives, in particular our dedication to our families and work. It has been termed ‘imposter syndrome’ when it relates to our professional lives. No matter how wonderful our career is, or great our achievements, people can worry that the world might find out they are a ‘fraud’. This is obviously not the case, but it is that internal dialogue that can be very destructive if you listen to it.

Pharmacists are high achievers- we do well a school, we are trusted by our communities, we are passionate health professionals. As intelligent health professionals, I think it is our responsibility to each other to ‘call out’ our colleagues if they put themselves down, or sell themselves short in terms of their potential. If women in pharmacy believe they are ‘good enough’ (good enough to be a pharmacist; good enough to be a business owner, good enough to be an amazing mother, good enough to be an effective leader), that confidence would mean we wouldn’t let each other believe otherwise and magical things would happen.

Women can and will be better recognised and represented in pharmacy leadership when we take notice of which pharmacists are making a difference, and telling them that they are ‘good enough’ to take a leap of faith, and move out of their comfort zone. After all, most of the magic in my career (and I am sure in the careers of many pharmacists in the country) has happened when I was so far out of my comfort zone that I didn’t know if I would ever find my safe place again!

Do you think it’s short-sighted to focus on gender issues rather than the work a pharmacist is contributing?

Irrespective of gender, pharmacists are doing amazing work all over the country every minute of every day. There are unique issues and pressures which can impact the ability of women to be the best pharmacists we can be at times. Having said that, there would be unique issues and pressures for men at different times as well. I think the bits you were born with are irrelevant, if everything is otherwise equal (your salary, how you are treated at work), but I think it is also important to recognise that not all parts of our profession are equal at this time.

Do we need affirmative action at the top? If so, why?

I think we do need affirmative action at the top to make sure the best people for the job are gifted with the responsibility to represent our profession. Being the best person for the job doesn’t mean you have been there the longest, or are the most experienced, or the most liked. It should be about values, determination and passion for what you do. If those values, determination and passion are found in women in our profession then they should be up there- and given that we make up approximately 60% of the workforce, it would be great to see that proportion reflected in the leadership of our profession.

Do you think women bring a different skillset to pharmacy and if so, how could that benefit the sector?

Each individual pharmacist has their own unique set of life experiences they bring to their workplace each day. It is hard to generalise that one gender has a specific skill set. As a partner in the Capital Chemist group, where the majority of partners are women, I can confidently say that I find our Capital Chemist women to be strong, resilient, effective multi-taskers, fiercely passionate for their profession, and able to juggle the ever increasing responsibilities that fall in the lap of the modern woman.

These qualities cannot be a bad thing for the sector! The face of your family pharmacist is changing. Six short years ago when I first registered as a pharmacist, if a male pharmacy assistant was working and a patient asked to speak to the pharmacist, they would automatically think it was him and not me! Six years on, and in a pharmacy of predominately female pharmacists, our patients know and trust their family pharmacist because we are the familiar faces in the pharmacy- not because of a gender stereotype.


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