Women in pharmacy: ‘We’ve gotta toughen up a bit’.


Women need to take control of their own future in pharmacy, and seek advocates, delegates to the APP2018 conference heard

Facilitator Wendy Phillips, former executive director of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, introduced the inaugural Ann Dalton Address by stating that it is timely in the era of #metoo.

The address, From tokenism to leadership: women in decision-making roles, included panellists Catherine Bronger, branch committee member of the Guild’s NSW Branch; Helen O’Byrne, branch committee member of its Tasmanian branch; Lucy Walker, branch committee member from the Queensland branch; and Rhonda White, managing director of the White Retail Group.

The panel discussed a number of historical barriers to women’s participating in pharmacy leadership, the importance and early success of the Guild’s diversity call-out, and how women can take control of their pathways to leadership roles.

“Out in the wider world of pharmacy, getting your runs on the board and setting the example, and getting outcomes, is the way we will get inclusion and diversity,” said Rhonda White.

Ms White said that tokenism can lead to women being promoted beyond their current capability, which is not helpful for that individual or for the cause of women’s leadership in general.

She said that women can benefit from mentors, but more importantly also from advocates – those who identify their talent and help raise their profiles within the profession and suggest opportunities.

“Women are different to men,” said Catherine Bronger. “I think the statistic is that if a man thinks they can do 50% of the job they’ll go for it. And a woman will only go for the job if they think they can do 85% of that job.

“So I think that’s why advocacy is really important. It’s really important that if we see a lot of this talent within the industry, whether it’s getting to partnership, whether it’s getting into management roles, or getting into leadership roles, to say, ‘You know what? You’re actually really talented. Let me help you, let me support you, let me show you the paths to getting there’.

“They do need that difference, to say ‘Go for it like a middle-aged white male’.”

Ms White said that women need to address several issues if they do lack confidence in their ability to move upwards.

“They’ve got to put their hand up,” she said. “And when it’s knocked down you’ve got to put it up again.

“Because we’re no good at that – we’ll put it up once.”

When women are discouraged, they are less likely than men to come back and try again, she said.

Women need to understand and “get onto” inclusion, Ms White said. “It’s all very well to talk about diversity, but it’s just a number if there’s not real inclusion.”

Women aren’t voting for women, she said, citing the example of the 2016 US election, when Hillary Clinton was defeated by Donald Trump.

“It’s improved… but in the last election in America, there’s a 3% deficit just because they’re a woman. But it’s worse than that – in the first place, the women didn’t stand unless they were likely to win.

“So we’ve gotta toughen up a bit. We’ve got to toughen up and take the knockbacks, and come back again.”

She said that on corporate boards she frequently sees women talked over by men in meetings, but often these women “get back in their box” rather than pushing on.

“We need to take responsibility for it,” said Lucy Walker, who said the Guild has been “really good” about its diversity callout and that its committees are now more diverse in terms of gender as well as other parameters.

“We’re in there, now we’ve got to gain those skills, develop as people and get the knowledge… pass the baton through.”

The panel also discussed how things were for women in the past, with Rhonda White telling delegates that when she started out in pharmacy, cultural expectations that women be “kept in their place” made going into business very difficult.

Health professions were a little easier than careers such as the public service or banking, however, when policy meant that women lost their jobs upon marriage.

Helen O’Byrne gave a shoutout to the Capital Chemist Group, as more than 50% of the group’s partners are women.

She said that some of the financial difficulty women have faced getting started in the past have been alleviated somewhat by newer paths to ownership, such as coming in as a partner rather than a sole owner.

The group also discussed strategies to fit in motherhood, career and pharmacy leadership positions, with Catherine Bronger stressing the importance of supportive networks and Rhonda White telling the audience that there’s nothing wrong with child care, as using it it doesn’t mean women are losing motherhood.

Lucy Walker said that as her entire team is female, members understand stresses outside pharmacy and how they can be worked around.

“I’ve had to be honest with them, and say, look, my kids are sick… but then as employees, they also know they can come back to me and say, ‘I’ve got problems at home, I need time off’ – so I think it’s actually made me a better employer because I’m more understanding to all the women who work with me.”

Wendy Phillips also paid tribute to the “wonderful and inspiring” Ann Dalton and the passion and empathy she brought to her many years of work with the Guild before her death from brain cancer.

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