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The Pharmaceutical Journal hosts its first Twitter chat on gender inequality in pharmacy

In a Twitter chat on gender inequality in pharmacy, barriers to women progressing in their pharmacy careers were discussed, including a lack of confidence, outdated attitudes towards childcare and inequality in recruitment at senior levels.

A lack of confidence, outdated attitudes towards childcare and inequality in recruitment at senior levels were all identified as barriers to women progressing in their pharmacy careers in The Pharmaceutical Journal’s first Twitter chat on gender inequality in pharmacy.

The Twitter chat, tagged #PJMindTheGap, attracted more than 150 participants, comprised over 1,200 tweets and made over 3m impressions, with a panel of pharmacist academics, executives, scientists, a pharmacy technician, a journalist and a pharmacy historian leading the discussion.  

An analysis of the representation of women across the hospital and community health services workforce, published in March 2018, showed that more than half of ‘very senior managers’ in the NHS are male, despite more than 75% of staff employed by the health service being women. Those taking part in the Twitter chat said women in pharmacy were most likely to experience “imposter syndrome” and would often wait until they felt confident before applying to progress further in their careers. In contrast, men are more likely to put themselves forward for promotions or senior positions. 

It was also mentioned that men were more likely to be promoted because of their potential, while women were promoted on the basis of attainment and achievement. 

Tweeters also said the expectation that women must take responsibility for childcare was a considerable barrier to progressing when, in fact, times are changing and many men are keen to share caring for their children. While it is often perceived as impossible to have a family and a career at the same time, many women enjoy both, the participants said. Although it was said that returning to work after having children can be difficult without the right support. 

Several women spoke from experience about how they had experienced “knockbacks” in their careers when trying to progress, for example when requesting additional training in order to gain further experience.

Others said there was a lack of equality in job recruitment at senior level and that some organisations were “unconsciously risk averse” to promoting women into senior roles. It was suggested that recruitment processes should be scrutinised to ensure that any unconscious bias is ironed out.

On the topic of unconscious bias, where individuals make snap judgements and assessments of people and situations without realising, several participants and panel members highlighted that female leaders are as guilty of bias as men. Participants said they had experienced other women feeling threatened by their success rather than congratulating them.

It was highlighted that pharmacy has been a “majority female profession” for decades, long enough for things to have improved, but despite this, it still fails to be reflected in senior pharmacy roles.

However, it was highlighted that men can also experience bias, particularly when it comes to traditional views of the roles of men and women.

Leadership is not just demonstrated in the boardroom, said Leyla Hannbeck, chief pharmacist and director of pharmacy at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA). Women are demonstrating leadership in pharmacy on a daily basis in a variety of settings and it is these women who can lead a positive change and act as role models to encourage and support other women to put themselves forward.

Leadership bodies in pharmacy also have a responsibility to be inclusive, positive and be responsive where change is needed, the chat heard. As one participant highlighted, many pharmacy and healthcare organisations, including the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), NPA and NHS England, are currently led by men, and more women should be encouraged to step forward for board positions in these organisations.

According to the National Association of Women Pharmacists, the organisation is currently in talks with the RPS about plans relating to gender and diversity. 

Sponsorship, career coaching and mentoring were common themes in the Twitter chat and were considered to be of huge value to participants in terms of women feeling empowered to grow in their roles and have confidence in the skills they possess.

When asked what changes participants would like to see and how to achieve this, several participants said everyone in the profession can facilitate change.

Programmes to support flexible working, transparency around pay, promotion and opportunity, shared parental leave and anonymised CVs were among the suggestions for improving gender equality in the pharmacy profession. It was also said that employers should create a safe space for discussions around gender inequality in order to generate a culture change in the workplace when it comes to the gender pay gap and inequality.

Panellists and participants encouraged each other to reach out and highlighted the supportive forums available, including the Facebook group ‘Women in Pharmacy’

On 17 April 2018 at 6pm, Briony Hudson, a pharmacy historian, will be holding a free talk at The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries exploring the history of women in pharmacy.

And the RPS will be holding a women in leadership event called ‘Survive and Thrive’ on 27 June 2018 at the RPS London office and a crèche will be available on site to ensure that as many delegates can attend as possible.

The conversation is still ongoing, so tweet your thoughts using the tag #PJMindTheGap to take part. 


Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2018.20204658

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