Although women comprise the majority of pharmacy school graduates, gender gaps still exist in pharmacy ownership, school deanships, and other leadership positions, according to a panel presentation at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Annual Meeting. 

The presentation, titled “Women Leading Big Change,” discussed how the role of women in the pharmacy industry is growing but still needs to evolve in order to achieve equity. Presenters included Dean of the University of Florida’s College of Pharmacy Julie Johnson, PharmD; Raylene M. Rospond, PharmD, from Manchester University; Veronica Vernon, PharmD, of Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences; and Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

In the 1960s, only 14.9% of pharmacy school graduates were women; however, by the 2010s, 61.5% of pharmacy school graduates were women. Several factors influenced this drastic shift, including an increase in chain and hospital pharmacies, a more hands-off climate, part-time flexibility, and substitutability, according to Soliman.

“For the past 4 decades women have graduated as the majority of pharmacists each year,” Soliman said. “So basically, starting in the 1980s, women were about half, they made up about 51%…then you can see it went up to 62, 66, 61, so we’re really right around two-thirds of women pharmacists, which is a tremendous growth.” 

Despite these gains in pharmacy school graduation rates, only 54% of full-time pharmacists are women, according to the panel. Additionally, 0% of retail chain pharmacy CEOs are women and only 36% of large national pharmacy and drug associations have women CEOs. 

Both the majority of independent pharmacy owners and the majority of managers are men, according to Soliman, a gap that exists in academia as well. In 2000, there were 82 pharmacy schools and 15 women deans. By 2019, the number of pharmacy schools climbed significantly to 143. However, despite the fact that there were 61 new pharmacy schools, the number of female deans only climbed to 25.

A pay gap also remains between men and women pharmacists. At the start of their careers, 6% of men and 9% of women are part-time; however, by mid-career, 5% of men and 36% of women are part time. This shorter work week for women helps contribute to the gender pay gap, according to the panel. Further, they noted that women with children earn less than their male counterparts.

Organizations such as Pharmacist Moms are organizing and advocating for change in order to close the gender gap that exists in pharmacy. Pharmacist Moms started out as a Facebook Group, but has grown to become the largest group of women pharmacists in the United States, with more than 35,000 members. In 2018, the group partnered with Facebook and then partnered with Pharmacy Times in 2019. In 2018, the Pharmacist Moms group established Women Pharmacist Day, which is celebrated on October 12. 

A push for change has been observed in policy initiatives and changes to institutional culture. According to Rospond, there are 5 strategies to affect a permanent culture change.

The first is to match strategy and culture, which is when inclusivity is used in discussion and planning. The next is to focus on critical shifts in behavior, change can be hard, and battles should be chosen carefully, she said. The third is to honor the strengths of the existing culture, as execution is just as important as planning. The fourth strategy is integrating formal and informal interventions, Rospond noted, as people should be reached at an emotional level and should tap into rational self-interest. Lastly, cultural evolution should be measured and monitored. 

“What I really want to emphasize here, is that cultural intervention needs to be a first resort…that it doesn’t really help to wait until the time when you need a revolution, you need immediate change, to get up with big speeches…top down speeches saying we have to change, we have to change now,” Rospond said.