Barriers to ownership include resistance, judgement from both sexes… but things are changing, say women in the field

On entering pharmacy ownership, NSW Pharmacy Guild Branch Committee Member Caroline Diamantis says there was resistance, there was judgement and there was guilt.

“It wasn’t always external, a lot of it was internal as well,” says Ms Diamantis.

“Resistance was from the men, but judgment was from the women. Some days I didn’t have time for the morning coffee, I had to drop the kids to school early to go open the chemist. And the mums at the school gate would look at me and whisper to themselves, ‘those poor kids’.”

“Thankfully the judgement has changed [since then], there’s not the same pressure of gender inequality anymore.”

Ms Diamantis, who has been a pharmacy owner for 30 years, shared her experiences at a panel session hosted by the Guild over the weekend, entitled “empowering women in community pharmacy”.

The session was facilitated by Guild strategic advisor Pam Price, and fellow panellists alongside Ms Diamantis included Shu Fen Liauw (community pharmacy owner); Lucy Walker (Guild Pharmacy of the Year winner 2017); DeAnn Mullins (President, National Community Pharmacists Association US); and Christine Venter (President, South African Association of Community Pharmacists); and Rhonda White (White Retail Group), who was awarded honorary life membership of the Pharmacy Guild at the event.

Women and ownership

According to the latest stats, women make up 61.9% of the total number of registered pharmacists in Australia.

Meanwhile, among the Pharmacy Guild’s owner members, 31% are female.

“There’s something we’re doing or not doing to translate qualified young women in ownership and leadership roles,” says Ms Price.

The panellists (L-R): Christine Venter, DeAnn Mullins, Lucy Walker, Shu Fen Liauw, Rhonda White & Caroline Diamantis.

Ms Liauw, who owns a Tasmanian pharmacy, believes many women don’t receive enough support and encouragement once they enter the profession.

She said out of her group of female pharmacy graduate friends, not many had stayed in the profession.

“I think there’s a gap between coming out of university and coming into the real world, where any enthusiasm gets squashed because of the monotony, there’s no support, the low-ish wages, there’s not a lot of innovation.

“I think we need to support our young pharmacists, in particular our women pharmacists, to go into ownership so that they don’t get disillusioned and leave the profession after about 10 years.”

“We need to give more support in some way, some mentorship to guide people in the right direction, especially women – not to drop out and get disillusioned. Because they have so many great ideas.”

Ms Mullins says the ratio of women pharmacists versus women owners are about the same in the US as in Australia.

“I am the third woman president in 113 years, and I came to that position through the help of many mentors who were mostly men. So thank you to our ‘manbassadors’ who see we have unique challenges,” said Ms Mullins.

“My mentor was [former NSW Pharmacy Guild president] John Sidgreaves,” says Ms Diamantis.

“He had noticed all this bubbling enthusiasm inside of me. So he helped me to harness and apply that.”

Pharmacy Guild leadership has recently stated that it is “determined” to represent the diversity of its membership.

“The number of women entering the pharmacist profession continues to grow, with two-thirds of current graduates being female,” says Guild National President George Tambassis.

“However women are under-represented as pharmacy owners – at just over 30% – and in Guild leadership roles.”

Mr Tambassis has encouraged women to apply for these roles.

“We want and need more female members involved in the leadership of the Guild.

“So we are actively inviting female pharmacy owners to run for office, and we’re saying to them: we support you, we encourage you, and we need you to come on board.”

A profession for females?

Women in ownership are planting the seed to bring further women into the fold.

“I was the only woman in the buying group for many years. I said, ‘there’s something wrong with our little group. There’s no women.’ So I’d go out and try to enlist new young female pharmacists into our group, and encourage them to get into ownership,” says Ms Diamantis.

“I only employ women,” says Ms Walker.

“Women have support networks, we’re good at asking what other people think before making a decision. And we always have a plan. Females also have a huge amount of grit.

“There are a lot of females graduating, there’s a feminisation in the industry and it would be great to see more women in ownership. Pharmacists spend out days helping people and we should be really proud of that, of how valuable we are.

“Is community pharmacy a good profession for women? It has been and always will be a good profession for females,” says Ms Walker.

“We’re naturally good at listening and caring for people There’s a possibility for flexible work arrangements and you can actually be your own boss.”

“For young women, what I would say is that there’s really no prescription for finding your joy,” says Ms Mullins.

“Women are often worried about the ability to raise children, life balance is really a myth. You don’t balance life all at one time, perfection isn’t attainable and you don’t have to be perfect.”

Ms White is hopeful that the gender gap in the industry is changing.

“I look forward to there being a Georgina instead of a George as president, or a Catherine Bronger instead of John Bronger.

“But not every woman wants to be a leader. They also have the choice to stay home. There’s been some great changes in that aspect,” says Ms White.

“Many of us are determined, we want to win a place on the board, we want to win owning a community pharmacy. But are we prepared to win? Don’t let the stats rule you. Get on with it and get over it.

“Women are wired to care and nurture, men are wired to hunt and kill. So women: overcome the statistics, and go out and hunt and kill.”

The panel session was dedicated to Tasmanian pharmacist Judith Liauw who passed away in 2010. Ms Liauw was the Tasmanian branch president of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and a national councillor. She was also made an honorary life member of the organisation.