Out of balance: Part 2


Pharmacy is becoming a highly female-dominated profession… but is its demographic mix reflected in its leadership?

Part 2 of our feature looking at women and professional leadership. See Part 1 here.

Encouraging women

Eleanna Ballis, immediate past president of NAPSA, says that slowly, as more women enter pharmacy and the profession itself evolves, women will be better represented at the top.

“Women in those major organisations in leadership roles have been highly underrepresented, but in the last few years I’ve noticed a lot more women starting to take on those higher roles, which is great to see,” she says. “But we need to keep pushing through.”

Michelle Lynch agrees that while pharmacy leadership still has a way to go in terms of becoming representative, things are already changing.

“It’s certainly improved and looks very different to how it did 10 years ago,” Lynch says. “Whatever the representation is at an organisational level, it should be reflective of the profession and where they’re heading. As well as being predominantly female, we’re a young profession and we’re a multi-ethnic profession as well, and so I don’t think we’re completely representative, but we’re getting there.”

So how can pharmacy make the best use of the skills of its women?

Taren Gill
Taren Gill

Take part-time seriously. Taren Gill, who earlier this year was appointed as the first early career pharmacist to the PSA’s Board of Directors, says that pharmacy is not unique in that people who work part time or with flexibility may not be seen to be taking their careers seriously.

“The massive part-time and casual workforce that is made of women should be tapped into as with this comes varied experiences and often opportunities (as has been the case for me, the most full-time part timer you have ever met)!” Gill says.

Dr Roberts says that common perceptions that women are less invested in their careers because they have caring responsibilities and may work part-time are “complete rubbish”.

“I think a better question to ask is: where are those flexible arrangements that allow men to step back as well? Parenting and balancing work and life responsibilities is not actually a women’s issue.

“I’ve been the recipient of the good fortune to have a leader who values family and work-life balance, who models that and he’s a man. It’s critical to see men doing that so that we don’t have a situation where only a man working full-time can be seen to be successful.”

Consider the work-life balance of all participants: The nature of some meetings means that anyone with significant caring responsibilities may be excluded; women still tend to shoulder family responsibilities while male pharmacists may be more likely to have a partner at home willing to support them.

“Three-day board meetings in Canberra every two months are not very family friendly,” says Prof Nissen.

Many pharmacists, including younger men, are also unable to be absent from work for the amount of time required to participate at a high level.

“I at least had the opportunity to negotiate with my employer to count my work with PSA as service to my profession, which is valuable to the university,” says Prof Nissen. “But people who are self-employed or otherwise can’t just step out of work can’t do that.”

This is a problem not only for women, but for men who want to be involved with their families as well, she says.

Karalyn Huxhagen
Karalyn Huxhagen

Remunerate key positions: Karalyn Huxhagen, 2010 Pharmacist of the Year, says that without an income that keeps coming in even when a pharmacist is not at work, many are excluded from high-level stakeholder participation.

“If you want to do that kind of work you’ve got to have some kind of income behind you. As they’re more likely to be owners – and it’s not that long ago that to get a loan to buy a pharmacy was really hard if you were female – they can walk off-site from their business and it still runs and supports them,” she says.

“If you want equality, and more diverse people to get involved, there has to be a form of remuneration for the time and effort that you put in.”

Recognise women’s skills: Rachel Dienaar, president of the PSA’s Tasmanian branch, says that it’s well established that women’s high-level participation is correlated with strong performance of companies and other entities.

“It’s speculated that this is to do with women’s enhanced emotional intelligence – women’s ability to work together and bring teams together at the decision-making table,” she says.

“Yes, it’s a generalisation, but there’s less ego.”

Consider quotas or percentage targets: Samantha Kourtis, proprietor of the 2014 Pharmacy of the Year, Charnwood Capital Chemist says that we are “not going to wake up one morning and have 50% women in these positions”.

Samantha Kourtis
Samantha Kourtis

“You don’t want women being put into a role just because they’re a woman, but with 70% of pharmacists soon to be women it’s got to be pretty damn easy to find a competent, inspiring, passionate woman to put into that role,” Kourtis says.

“Really, if you’re going to have an industry that embraces quotas, why not pharmacy? Because 70% of us are women so it’s got to be easy to find good ones. Realistically there are barriers in our industry that quotas could remove.”

Encourage women to stand up: Eleanna Ballis says young women in pharmacy need to put themselves out there.

“You need to get out there, think big and go for those leadership roles,” she says. “We have so many amazing women in pharmacy, winning awards like Pharmacist of the Year and Pharmacy of the Year, so it’s not like great women aren’t out there.

“I’d urge them to start young. Start as a student, as an intern. If you want to gain as much knowledge and skills as you can, start at the bottom, work your way up, and bring those skills to the table.”

Amanda Galbraith agrees. “I do think that men generally are very good at coming forward and saying, ‘Pick me’,” she says.

“Women perhaps need to grab onto that skill – put yourself forward and say, ‘I’m as brilliant as the next person, pick me’.”

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