The 2014 theme for International Women’s Day is all about questioning the status quo and inspiring positive change for women. For many UK businesses and certain parts of the health sector, this remains a big challenge.
In the world of pharmacy, however, the battle is being won, thanks to the remarkable hard- working women who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to influence what the pharmacy profession could look like in future. In fact, women already make up the majority of the pharmacy workforce. Almost two-thirds of graduates are now female and two of the five main pharmacy organisations have women at the helm.
P3 speaks to five women about how they have inspired change within the pharmacy profession and what they hope to see moving forward.
Shaheen Bhatia owns P&S Chemist Health and Advice Centre in Ilford, Essex, and has been nominated for several awards, including a NatWest Everywoman Award for being an inspirational businesswoman.
‘I was nominated for being a young pharmacist who juggled having two very young children and running my own business. I did not want to do the bare minimum as it meant a lot to me to make a real difference to the pharmacy field.’
Ms Bhatia has carried out lots of health testing campaigns over the years and has worked hard to get her voice heard. In the early days she hosted annual events in her pharmacy and invited everyone she knew from the PCT to attend to help spread the message.
‘If you keep pressing the button, they’ll eventually hear the bell,’ she says. ‘Later on, I joined the LPC board. I was vice-chair for nearly 10 years and I was the only woman on the committee for a very long time. I knew a lot of women wouldn’t have put up with going straight from work to a meeting that didn’t finish until 11pm as it wasn’t very social or practical for family life.’
Today, Ms Bhatia is very keen to train young people who are studying pharmacy at university and she takes on pre-reg students too.
‘When I get female students, I tell them to set their goals high and not to let any boundaries get in their way. Women generally have compassion and they care, which are essential ingredients to be a pharmacist as a lot of our consultations today are about the patient needing to know you really care.’
Tricia Kennerley is director of healthcare public affairs at Alliance Boots and has been part of the changes that have taken place for the sector as a whole in recent years.
‘The role of the pharmacist itself has changed with more focus on the patient, providing a service and the level of care that goes along with that,’ says Ms Kennerley.
‘The whole skill set and the focus of the role of the pharmacy has changed from being back shop to more patient facing, which is great if you like dealing with the public. If you’ve got that caring streak then it really plays to those strengths.’
She is quick to point out that many men are good at communicating and engaging in conversations with patients, but she feels changes towards the pharmacist being front facing has made it a more attractive career for many women.
‘The visibility of women in leadership roles is changing and I’ve noticed these changes during my own career. I used to be on the NPA board, which was a board of 23 gentlemen and I was the only female. When I came on to the PSNC, there was only myself and one other lady, and now there’s five or six of us. I’ve also just joined the BAPW council and I’m the only female.’
Ms Kennerley continues to be a champion of development for women. ‘I’m very passionate about where pharmacy can go and the development of the role of the pharmacist and I think that it will continue to be a great career for women,’ she says.
‘We’ve already got more females in the workforce so it feels like there’s naturally going to be more women becoming the future pharmacy leaders of tomorrow to deliver that agenda.’
Helen Gordon is the first chief executive of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society since the organisation became a dedicated professional body.
‘I’ve come into an organisation that has a good mix of opportunity and posts held by both men and women. I’m really passionate about getting diversity right here at the RPS and I want to see it across all leadership positions in pharmacy as well.’
Mrs Gordon is proud that there is a rich and varied workforce across the sector, which should, under the right conditions, allow women to move up into senior positions.
She believes ‘anyone who wants to make a change for the better’ can be a leader. ‘My own personal experience is that with determination, good professional development, being clear about your own skills and seeking the support of a career sponsor, women can go forward into more senior leadership positions.’
Mrs Gordon is a firm believer that overt sponsorship by a senior person within an organisation can be really helpful for someone who wants to take that next step up the career ladder in any field.
Mrs Gordon mentors women through the Aspire Foundation scheme, which is a global initiative to match women who need support and mentorship with experienced leaders from across the world.
‘I’ve been delighted to be part of Aspire and, unsurprisingly, common areas of discussion are about career progression and confidence. I also coach individuals to help develop their careers and themselves from time to time as well.’
Sue Sharpe is the PSNC’s chief executive and received an OBE in the 2014 New Year’s Honours List for her services to the pharmaceutical industry.
‘When I first moved to the PSNC, there was a male-centric view and women represented on the committee were very few and far between, but that has changed quite a bit in recent years.’
Ms Sharpe explains that the overwhelming majority of pharmacy ownership is still male but what’s happening in pharmacy is reflecting what’s happening in the wider world with women in senior roles becoming more accepted. ‘If you look at the major pharmacy organisations, Helen Gordon [chief executive of the RPS] and I have got two of the five, which isn’t bad, and I suspect that it’s on us to show that it works.’
Ms Sharpe believes a number of women have been instrumental in showing what a pharmacy service can be beyond the absolute standard, notably Dr Gillian Hawksworth who has received an MBE for her services to pharmacy.
‘We should showcase these women and recognise what has been done to shape the changing responsibilities and performance of pharmacists. Women are in a strong position and we need to celebrate it.’
Professor Kay Marshall is head of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Manchester.
Professor Marshall’s role includes working with people across pharmacy and beyond. She says the latter is important because there is a tendency for pharmacists to be introspective. ‘I have seen more women being promoted and achieving their potential but there is still a long way to go as only three head of schools of pharmacy are women.’
She notes that women have always been well represented on the undergraduate course so from that perspective ‘we are ahead of the curve.’ ‘This said, it is surprising that not enough women are making it through to take up senior positions.’
Professor Marshall and her team at Manchester are involved in many outreach projects and she particularly enjoys meeting primary school children who come into the school to visit. She says working with her team to give children the aspiration for a university career is vitally important.
For Professor Marshall, it is a privilege and an honour to teach the pharmacists of the future as they go forth to change the world.
‘Pharmacy needs all kinds of people as long as they have the right characteristics to make them a great healthcare professional. In addition to ensuring the playing field is level, good role models are key to giving women the confidence to think they too could be a professor as is my case.’