Is pharmacy a woman-friendly profession?

We spoke to some women at APP 2021 to find out more… and we also want to know what you think

Pharmacy is a good profession for women, delegates at APP 2021 Conference on the Gold Coast told AJP at the Women’s Networking Lunch.

However some spoke of difficulties being an owner or breaking into leadership.

“I think in general pharmacy is a good profession for women,” one pharmacist delegate said at the event.

“It provides flexible arrangements for women and obviously other women seeking healthcare for their families trust other women to give them advice.

“It can make it harder for employers though, when considering family options, but I think that flexibility also can strengthen our workforce as well and [build] trust with the community.

“A lot of women pharmacists that I work with are mothers and work well together to share the roles in the pharmacies that they work in.”

A second delegate was glowing in her review of pharmacy ownership for women.

“[As] a young female pharmacist owner, it’s been really welcoming coming to the pharmacy industry. I’ve had no pushback at all. It’s a really exciting environment because I have a lot of female friends who are owners as well – so yeah, it’s good.

“Because pharmacy for me is all about health and wellbeing, I think we’ve got that maternal instinct where we want to look after people. I think we can understand young mothers and babies and kids and also I connect really well with the older generation as well. I think having a woman’s touch in there is [nothing] but an asset.”

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However another delegate pointed out that while pharmacy is a female-dominated industry, ownership can be a struggle.

“It’s really hard being a female owner and a multiple owner, and I think that there’s probably a bit of a difference between female ownership and female workforce. But I think it’s definitely a great place to work as a female,” she told AJP.

The Pharmacy Guild’s Helen O’Byrne was MC at the networking lunch.

“I [also] don’t believe that there’s enough women in leadership in pharmacy. It’s still very male dominated. I know that is changing and they’re trying to get more females into those positions, but definitely when it comes to ownership, you’ll find that the majority are still male ownership compared to female ownership.”

Helen O’Byrne, President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Tasmanian Branch and MC of the Women’s Networking Lunch, agreed that there is still more progress to be made in this area.

“Women pharmacists have the confidence, talent and the potential to make our pharmacies better businesses. They can be more efficient and more profitable,” said Ms O’Byrne.

It makes sense for them to be pharmacy owners, but the numbers don’t add up.

She pointed out that while 63% of the pharmacy workforce comprises women, only about 32% of pharmacies are owned by women.

“So how do we address the internal and external barriers that we have, that are stopping men from moving aside to allow women to become owners, to purchase pharmacies and come into partnerships and deliver better businesses for our communities?” Ms O’Byrne queried.

What are the barriers, if any, to women in pharmacy? Let us know in the comments section below.

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  1. Andrew

    Conflating “ownership” with “leadership” I think.

    The KoLs that come to my mind are primarily female and not involved in the “business” of the industry. Academics and the like with new ideas and research.

    I can only think of a couple of KoL owners and the only reason I know about them is because of their financial clout.

  2. 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.

    • Sean

      Agreed. The years that women take out of the workforce in their early/mid career also lead to huge differences in superannuation outcomes.

  3. PeterC

    I’m not a woman obviously, but it seems to me that interviewing women still in the profession is blatant selection-bias. What about the ones who have already left? How do they feel? For what it’s worth, 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.

  4. Sean

    Working at the coalface in community pharmacy has been an eye-opening experience for me as far as sexism is concerned. There’s more to woman-friendliness than just professional relations, we have to factor in pharmacist-patient interactions too. Time and time again I see patients being rude/condescending to my female coworkers, 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.

    A similar question I would also ask is “Is pharmacy an employee-friendly profession?”. Given the garbage wages, high workloads, lack of enforcement of professional standards, lack of incentives for good practice, lack of representation at the legislative level, and the slow decline of our professional reputation due to inaction from the PSA and outright antipathy towards employee pharmacists from the Guild, I might be inclined to say no.

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