Pharmacy Own-HER-Ship: The plight of women in pharmacy leadership in a female-dominated field
By Armita Rabieenia, pharmacy student, and Molly Yang, PharmD, RPh, Manager of Pharmacy Innovation and Professional Affairs at Wholehealth Pharmacy Partners
Pharmacy is a female-dominated field and yet there remains a considerable gender disparity in pharmacy leadership and ownership. Women often face gender-specific challenges, including a lack of recognition, support, and mentorship opportunities. Highlighting the stories of women in pharmacy and shedding light on systemic issues is the first step toward equitable representation.
The Current Landscape for Women in Pharmacy
There is a gender imbalance in pharmacy with fewer women in roles of authority or leadership. In Canada, 60-70% of pharmacists are women, but women only represent 30% of pharmacy owners.1 When looking at leadership within national and provincial pharmacy organizations in 2018, there was an average of 44% of leadership were women, with Ontario at the lowest proportion at 22%.2 In addition, gender inequalities often extend beyond representation. Although Canadian data on gender-based pay gaps within pharmacy is not well-characterized, data shows a gap of 14.45% in the US3 and 22-31% in the UK between men and women4. It is likely a similar gap exists in Canadian pharmacy.2 Despite these statistics, a Canadian Pharmacists Journal study examining beliefs among pharmacy students found most to be unaware of such differences, with students disagreeing when asked if there was any gender disparity between men and women in pharmacy.5
Awareness about gender inequity in pharmacy is the first step to addressing systemic issues that reinforce gender-based barriers. A realistic picture of the field can create the space for new programs and supports to encourage women to break barriers in pharmacy, thereby changing the landscape of pharmacy leadership.
Highlighting Women in Pharmacy Leadership
Women in healthcare are less likely to be recognized, awarded, or receive mentorship opportunities.2 Recognizing female pharmacy leaders’ achievements not only highlights the women in leadership but also paves the way for new leaders to emerge. A Women's Leadership Study by KPMG found that while 6 in 10 women find it difficult to envision themselves as leaders, 86% of women reported that they feel more encouraged when they see women in leadership roles.6 Rosemarie Cordeta, owner of WholeHealth Pharmacy Edmonton, highlights that “opportunities or programs to recognize the achievements of women in pharmacy can inspire women to take more leadership roles.” Cristina Privado, owner of Schomberg Village Pharmacy and Sandycove Drug Store shares: “In the last few years, the pharmacy profession has been moving in the right direction recognizing contributions from women and people of colour…we need to integrate this into the curriculum so pharmacy students have a good foundation. Hopefully associations can continue to put resources into organized mentoring programs to support these groups.” Experienced women leaders better understand the nuanced journeys of women in business- it is the experience, advice, and achievements of women owners that boost confidence among female pharmacists to achieve their maximum potential.
Women are also under-represented in executive positions in national and provincial pharmacy organizations.2 Having already established the importance of seeing women in leadership to inspire young pharmacists and students, it is equally vital to foster the leadership interest in female pharmacy students to carry into their career. Being a female-dominated field, fair representation of women in executive decision-making positions can help bridge the gender gap and address the barriers women face in the field.
Equitable Pay and Business Support for Women
The lack of business mentorship programs poses a large barrier for women entering the pharmacy ownership and leadership space. Jenny Cherian, owner of LifeCare Rx, describes her journey when working towards pharmacy ownership: “it takes a lot of time, courage, and networking to learn about ownership. I didn’t know any female owners at the time, and I think that was an initial barrier.” A survey of women entrepreneurs, conducted by Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada, found that 20% of women indicated access to capital as a key barrier and 40% indicated they could use more financial support from the government or alternative funding opportunities.7 Approximately 40% of women also highlighted the need for additional education and training, moral support, and informational tools.7 Increased business support is a cornerstone of building confidence among female entrepreneurs. Women benefit more from connecting with female leaders; in the KPMG Leadership Study, 67% of women reported they learnt the most important lessons about leadership from other women and 82% believe access to networking with female leaders will help them advance their careers.6
Pay gaps exist between genders in many fields and are present in pharmacy as well.2 Investigating gender differences in salary is a first step to determining the state of salary equity and working to improve transparent, equitable pay for all. Women also struggle with applying for funding for their business ventures due to unconscious gender biases. A report by Scotiabank Women Initiative found that gender-influenced decisions were commonplace in funding applications.8 For example, women may be asked more invasive questions about their personal lives by investors.9 As a result of gender biases, despite women being three times more likely to view start-up as a career option than men, they are significantly less likely to apply for financial support or loans.8
Women also face challenges in leadership and business that men often don’t face, owner of Schomberg Village Pharmacy, Anna Patrizio, explains, “As a woman in a business role, microaggressions can be quite common… may it be dealing with business rivals over transfers or gender biases within the industry… and in order to overcome the barriers of being a woman in a business role, we need to stay visible and be ready to deal with the uncomfortable in professional ways that stay genuine to our core values.” Initiatives that raise awareness, empower women, and investigate these issues build the path for equitable pay and access to financial support for women.
Financial and education support helps connect women to mentors in their field and promotes the fair inclusion of women. Upon interviewing several female pharmacy owners, a commonly reported challenge is the struggle for work-life balance and the barrier it poses to leadership. Owner of Pharmagreen Pharmacy, Margarida Jon, explains, “As a woman and pharmacy owner, the major challenge was maintaining work-life balance, I didn’t have enough time for my daughter, especially during the pandemic. I try not to bring the exhaustion home because I don’t just want an amazing career, I also want an amazing family and that is something I work hard for everyday.” Lack of childcare support disproportionately affects women considering leadership, who may have to decide between their career and family life. In a 2013 report investigating the gender pay gap, 51% of working women with children said that being a working parent made it harder for them to advance in their job or career. By comparison, only 16% of men with children felt the same pressure.10The pandemic highlighted this issue for all healthcare and essential workers, prompting some provinces to provide free childcare for healthcare workers. Ongoing support for childcare should be a priority to allow women to maintain healthy work-life balance and contribute both to their family and career.
See some of the resources currently available:
The Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology (https://scwist.ca/) provides mentorship and education programs for women in STEM with a focus on volunteering, support, and diversity.
Raising awareness on the gender divide is the first step for individuals in leadership to evaluate the current system and identify patterns of bias. This opens up the avenue for organizations to re-evaluate their current leadership model and culture, in order to work towards leadership equity. Engaging women in pharmacy through mentorship and improving access to financial support and business training should be a priority in the pharmacy field. Connecting women uplifts and encourages other women to pursue their leadership potential. By empowering women to advance their leadership skills, incentivizing workplaces to recognize women’s talents, and providing childcare support, women will have more opportunities for leadership.
1. Canadian Institute for Health Information. Pharmacists | CIHI. www.cihi.ca. Published 2018. https://www.cihi.ca/en/pharmacists