Women in pharmacy: leadership, networking and flexibility

On International Women’s Day, we spoke to leading women in Australian pharmacy to find out what they see as the challenges, opportunities and triumphs…

Debbie Rigby: While there has been a change in pharmacy demographics, women remain under-represented in leadership roles industry wide, says Debbie Rigby, consultant clinical pharmacist from Brisbane and long-time author of AusPharmList’s Research Roundup.

“We need greater recognition of female pharmacists at a leadership level as there are now more women than men practising pharmacy,” she told the AJP today.

“[But] there have been some positives, or what I would call trailblazers. For example, women such as Kate Carnell, who was the inaugural chair of the ACT Guild branch, also people such as Dr Lisa Nissen, and latterly, Sam Kourtis.”

Rigby has held a number of leadership positions including chair and director of the Australian Association of Consultant Pharmacy, and national vice-president of the PSA.

She says she would like to see female leaders from all aspects of the profession, not just the business side.

“I call them the ‘thought leaders’ of the profession who have gained recognition in the wider health arena.”

She says this is why she is proud of her role as director on the NPS MedicineWise Board.

“It’s also about having a voice of pharmacy on this hugely valuable and essential organisation.”

Rigby also says it is important for women in pharmacy to find mentors.

“Mentors are critical, and I don’t believe they must be female. They also don’t necessarily have to be older either. In my career, mentors have helped me grow and build my confidence.

“I would say to any younger female pharmacists that they should find a mentor who will offer a valuable supportive environment. And it doesn’t have to be formalised; it could a case of having someone to go for a coffee with and share ideas.”


Samantha Kourtis: Women’s leadership in pharmacy and ownership of stores is still an issue, says Samantha Kourtis (pictured, centre), owner of the Guild Pharmacy of the Year winning Capital Chemist Charnwood, but in one pharmacy group at least, partnership is close to par with the demographic makeup of the industry’s workers.

“Today I stand very proud to be an owner in the Capital Chemist group, because 55% of our owners on the mainland’s 35 stores are female,” Kourtis says.

“So today it’s pretty great to be part of a group that has partner representation that mirrors the workforce. Capital Chemist hasn’t created quotas, they haven’t had a specific strategy that says we need more women business owners – all they’ve done since the beginning of time is ask who is the best pharmacist to lead and own in this group and provide health care for the community.

“This may not be unique across all pharmacy groups but it’s certainly unusual.”

She says that as well as seeing more women taking on a leadership role in pharmacy policy, she’d also like to see more grassroots pharmacists doing so.

“When I’m at a conference and looking for inspiration and leadership from people who drive policy in our industry, it makes a difference if I can relate to them,” she says.

“These are questions we could ask ourselves in pharmacy. Are women not taking the opportunity to lead? Are they sitting back saying, ‘I’ve gone as far in my career as I can’?

“Or are the people at the top of our industry not mentoring women, doing enough to support and encourage more women? Are we putting that expectation on leading women in our industry, like Debbie Rigby or Lisa Nissen who are incredible leaders, or are all leaders taking on that role?

“And certainly I ponder what I’m doing as a business owner who tries to make a difference. I provide opportunities for my staff, male and female, but I do ask myself: what more should I do, how can I do more for my industry?”


Natalie Sirianni: Despite the numbers of women in pharmacy, population isn’t translating into ownership, says Natalie Sirianni, director of Attain Business Brokers.

“The feminisation of the pharmacy industry is clear, however, this has not yet translated into ownership figures where less than 10% of pharmacy owners in Australia are women,” she says.

“As a business broker, I’m lucky enough to see this trend changing as I am now dealing with more and more women buyers, however there is still a long way to go!

“Female pharmacy ownership will not only benefit women in the industry but also provide significant benefits to the profession by providing diversity to the ownership landscape, a greater distribution of independent ownership and perhaps alternative market offers for the community. “These are all factors that women pharmacy owners are currently bringing to the market which will be enhanced by increased women ownership levels.”

She encourages women to get networking, saying it’s a critical component of increasing women in the pharmacy industry in both ownership and leadership positions.

“For pharmacy owners who work in their business, networking enables pharmacy owners to step out of their role as a ‘business operator’ and gain valuable insights on what other pharmacies are doing and ideas for business growth and success. Networking also usually opens up the doors for many opportunities.”


Judy Plunkett: Pharmacy owners benefit from workplace flexibility when they retain essential skills from long-term staff, says Judy Plunkett, owner of the Port Macquarie Chemmart.

Plunkett led the delegation of women leaders to Parliament House in Canberra in late 2014, which promoted the cause of community pharmacy to Ministers, Members and Senators.

“Issues like penalty rates and maternity leave are the topics of the day, and allowing pharmacy owners more flexibility with their workforce – allowing job sharing and other family friendly workplace practices,” she says.

“I think these should be promoted more. I feel like I’m the Grandma of at least 15 children where my staff have had babies, they’ve gone away on maternity leave and come back.

“It’s important to encourage them back because of the investment of training and time you, as an owner, have put in. They already know all your customers.

“To let that go is not a good move. You’re far better to nurture them through maternity leave and have them bring back their skillset.”

She says the delegation was partly about identifying to policy-makers the fact that the pharmacy workforce is predominantly female, as is the customer base.

“Females are traditionally the ones who take their children to the pharmacy or doctor, encourage their husband or parents to go to the doctor,” she says. “So it’s valuable to target health education programs to females, as they’re the ones who take responsibility for family health. For the Guild and the Government, women are a good target group for promotions.”


Priceline Sisterhood Foundation: Supporting women in their role as carers helps support a healthier community, says a spokesperson for the Priceline Sisterhood Foundation.

“Our brand is targeted very much towards women and so it made sense to us to support women and their families wherever we could,” he says. “We know that women are more likely to be the carers in the family.

“They take responsibility for everyone’s health – that’s not exclusive, but we do know they’re more likely to take on that role.

“We see pharmacies as such a natural contact point for women with health care, from mothers with newborns to those who are managing the needs of older patients, looking after ageing parents or in-laws. So it’s a natural fit for pharmacy to help improve their health.”

Priceline Pharmacy did more than 6000 women’s health checks last year, with many clinics fully booked out in stores; it also trained more than 400 pharmacists to deliver these checks on an ongoing basis.

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1 Comment

  1. Samantha Kourtis

    Some great thought provoking words that I hope to see in mainstream discussion!

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