Is pharmacy a ‘woman-friendly’ profession?

While some say the profession is supportive, there are caveats … with nearly 1000 votes, we tallied up our poll results and spoke to pharmacists to find out more

Pharmacists are divided on whether pharmacy is truly a profession that supports women.

At a networking lunch in May this year, some female pharmacists told AJP that the profession was generally supportive of women. However others spoke of the difficulties of breaking into ownership or leadership.

We also interviewed several pharmacists who have shared varied experiences below—from being totally supported as a mother or an owner, to being hung out to dry by their managers and colleagues when needing more support.

AJP ran a poll over the past month asking you – our readers – what you thought of the issue.

We received nearly 1000 responses to our poll, with the following results.

“Do you think pharmacy is a woman-friendly profession?”

  • Yes, for all women pharmacists (44%, n=433)
  • No (21%, n=202)
  • Yes, except for representation in leadership positions (18%, n=179)
  • Yes, but only for women pharmacist employees (7%, 68)
  • Yes, but only for women pharmacy owners (6%, n= 62)
  • Other (4%, n=41)

Total n=985

In our interviews with women pharmacists, we asked them to share some of their first-hand experiences of working in the industry.

The results were quite split, which was reflective of the poll results.

Some common themes included the importance of workplace flexibility and encountering sexist attitudes from the public.

Let’s hear from some of our pharmacists about what they think.

Kylie Neville
Community pharmacist specialising in fertility and women’s health, Brisbane

“I greatly enjoy the professional experiences that I find working as a female pharmacist. Pharmacy offers many opportunities to grow and shape your career.

“Pharmacy is not a monoculture. Having worked in both large and small pharmacy settings I have observed differences in how workplace flexibility can impact upon the cohesive operation of an organisation.

“An employer who values staff will often support time off for family and personal leave and encourage growth in your field.

“There have been times in my career when I’ve been concerned about personal safety. For example, working late closing shifts without adequate security and at times being asked to attend alarm callouts at 3am. There is no doubt that working 12-hour shifts without a break will impact your health in the longer term.

“My advice to early career pharmacists is to seek out an employer who is serious about growing a positive, inclusive, and professionally rewarding workplace culture. When attending a job interview be inquisitive, dig below the hype, and assess how the organisation is a fit for your aims and values. In my experience finding a supportive organisation is the key to happiness and career longevity.”

Dr Erica Tong

Erica Tong
Deputy Director of Pharmacy at Alfred Health, Melbourne

“I strongly believe that hospital pharmacy is a very female friendly profession, especially where employers support flexible working hours and part-time study.

“Others who have worked in clinical pharmacy roles in generations before me have described how this wasn’t always the case, but in 2021 I believe that women are supported in clinical, leadership and academic roles in hospital pharmacy. 

“All of the senior clinical pharmacists working within my clinical program – which is a very acute program encompassing ICU, ED, general medicine and the COVID clinical service – are women.

Most of us are young mothers, and we support each other professionally.

“The clinical service my team provide to our patients is extensive, innovative and of the highest standard. New roles emerging for pharmacists in the hospital setting are also female friendly, including in the digital health and clinical informatics space and stewardship and governance roles.

“I’ve never felt that being a woman has hindered my ability to undertake any role that I’ve desired as a pharmacist in my career.”

Chantelle Pennington
Consultant pharmacist and former community pharmacist, Gold Coast

“As the primary carer for two young children, in my experience community pharmacy is not a woman-friendly profession.

“Before having children, most if not all of the community pharmacies that I worked for were owned by males. While I believe pharmacy was a reasonable choice of career, I have experienced customers refer to me as ‘the little girl’ or blatantly want to speak to the male pharmacist over a female one. This is possibly a societal problem rather than anything exclusive to pharmacy.

“Prior to my first child being born, I was working full-time hours for a small business pharmacist owner. After children, I tried to navigate the part-time community pharmacist role while being the primary carer.

“When I did return to work, at times I felt that the flexible working arrangements I requested, such as leaving earlier (e.g. to collect my one year old from a 10-hour day at daycare) or an occasional sick day, caused some resentment among other pharmacists who were not in the same family position, perhaps because they themselves felt unsupported and unrewarded for their dedication – as it often fell on their shoulders to ‘pick up my slack’ rather than on the owners.

“If a woman takes on the role of primary carer, then she needs to feel more supported in the role when needing to leave to collect sick children or calling in sick. What’s needed is perhaps more education and, in general, more sympathy for the role of a primary carer and why they may need to ‘leave at 3pm to collect the kids’ or have a sick day. Illness will always arise, so having a contingency plan if a staff member needs to leave will help other staff feel supported.

“Of course, if the remuneration been reflective of the sacrifices I felt I was making and had there been less stagnation in pay increases, then perhaps I would’ve felt differently and stayed in community pharmacy, and even perhaps thought about ownership opportunities.

“I am now currently a sole trader as a consultant pharmacist, and in this role it is entirely woman-friendly. I make my own hours and I can manage illnesses more easily. It is also a highly rewarding career pathway. It really all depends on which career pathway you choose in pharmacy and your own individual circumstances.”

Jacqui Hagidimitriou
Community pharmacy owner, Brisbane

“On the whole, I do believe pharmacy is a woman-friendly profession. Even in my 15 years as a pharmacist, I have seen a shift in a positive direction for women in the industry.

“There are lots of opportunities for female pharmacists in the profession, depending on career aspirations, but I haven’t felt disadvantaged for being a female pharmacist.

“I feel that I still get the same respect from my colleagues as any other pharmacist and have been fortunate enough as well to be presented with ownership opportunities, which I think is slowly gaining a higher female representation.

“Some of the biggest champions of my career have been from male pharmacists and I thank them for that.

“When I first registered, there was definitely a male-dominated stigma about the profession, mainly from the public, whose eyes would gravitate toward any male worker in the pharmacy and assume they were the pharmacist.

I’ve worked with some lovely male assistants in my time and the assumption was always that they were the pharmacist and the females were the assistants.

“Even working alongside other male pharmacists, there has been assumptions from the public that they must be more experienced and ‘in charge’ of the female pharmacists. However I find that expectation quickly dies down once they get to know you and your own expertise offering.

“There are many innovative ways to express yourself in the industry – for me, being able to develop good customer relationships and provide more in-depth clinical services satisfies a broader need to care for others.

“In the future I would hope to continue to see more female pharmacy leaders and owners as more opportunities are presented to people.”

AJP has also received several comments from readers on the topic.

Sean: “Working at the coalface in community pharmacy has been an eye-opening experience for me as far as sexism is concerned. Time and time again I see patients being rude/condescending to my female co-workers, referring to them as ‘little girls in the dispensary’ and telling them ‘the other guy knows what he’s doing’, etc.

“These same patients are usually noticeably less hostile to me, a young man, when I have the [dis]pleasure of interacting with them. This is despite the fact that the female pharmacists I have worked with have all been more experienced than myself.

“I guess this is probably something that happens in every public-facing job, but it’s enough to make me stop short of calling pharmacy a “’woman-friendly’ industry.”

PeterC: “I think women in community pharmacy who don’t aspire to ownership lack any proper opportunity to ‘secure’ their career and remuneration levels before child-bearing and -rearing intervene, and often end up leaving as a result.

“Not suggesting for a moment that men shouldn’t do (more than) their fair share of child rearing, but the fact is that too many women pharmacists I know have taken time off for children and, when returning to the workforce, have found themselves back on ‘bottom-dollar’ and family-unfriendly shifts and have left the workforce altogether, sometimes in disgust.

“We need among other things structured training and formal credentialling – including clinical credentialling – that is linked to wage rates, allowing women (and men) to secure a degree of ‘career seniority’ before the demands of family life intervene and we also to get it into peoples’ heads that such post-registration training is ‘normal’, not exceptional.”

Lucy: “Pharmacy is not a good profession for anyone really… But of course, women are on the back foot here too. People used to say to me that pharmacy was a great career for women because you can manage kids and work part-time. Now I find those comments repulsive. Why do I have to make sacrifices in my career, why not my husband??? I hope things change in our lifetime.”

Robert: “Many moons ago when I worked in community pharmacy and my wife was a nurse working shifts, I would have to take my turn doing drop offs and pickups – which meant not being early and leaving on time.

“I thought that it was interesting the comments that I got about ‘Do you not have a wife’ and even ‘women should work part time’. There definitely is sexism in this regard.

“But there is also the broader issue of the unfunded expectations, which still seem to exist – i.e about an hour unpaid work every day.

“Now I didn’t really mind. I earned decent money back then. But wages are now less than I was earning twenty years ago. I shudder to think what that means in inflation adjusted language. Expectations of employees therefore need to be different also.”

Patrick: “The issue of [the] community pharmacy family friendly workplace is much more significant in rural areas, particularly small communities. It is not solely about income. It extends to family support, trading hours and ability to be ‘off premises’ for any logical reason.

“The Pharmacy Council annual statistics clearly show that not only are community pharmacy hours worked declining in certain age brackets.

“Furthermore, registrations cease many of the 35-40-year-old experienced pharmacists dramatically each year. This a growing trend, however limited research has been done to understand fully the reasons.”

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