The number of women in pharmacy has grown exponentially over the past decade, with women now making up the majority of new pharmacy school graduates; however, men still hold the majority of leadership positions. 

In recognition of Women Pharmacists Day on October 12, a multigenerational panel of 5 women, moderated by Pharmacists Moms founder Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, discussed how the pharmacy field has changed and is still changing for women. Soliman was joined by Brooke Griffin, PharmD, a professor and vice chair of clinical services at Midwestern University College of Pharmacy; Kate Gainer, PharmD, the CEO of the Iowa Pharmacy Association; Alexandra Broadus, PharmD, the senior director of specialty health solutions at Walgreens; and Linda MacLean, PharmD, the vice dean for the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Washington State University.

The majority of full-time pharmacists, 54%, are women, however, very few women hold leadership positions, according to Soliman. Pharmacy has only recently started to become a woman-dominated field. 

When MacLean graduated pharmacy school in 1978, she said only about 20% of pharmacy school graduates where women. During college, she interviewed with a pharmacy for a full-time job in Spokane, Washington. She got the job, but when the owner hired her, he said, “I'm going to hire you, but I hadn’t planned on hiring a girl.”

“I thought, well, I'll just figure it out and see what he meant by this. Very early, within the first couple of weeks, I knew what he meant. He meant I've been a business owner for 40 years. I have only hired men because that's who was coming to apply for my positions. He didn't mean anything by it,” MacLean said. 

Women who are currently in the field, especially those in leadership positions, should act as mentors to younger pharmacists and students. According to the panelists, good mentorship can help propel more women into leadership positions. 

For example, Griffin once mentored a student who was nervous about an upcoming job interview. According to Griffin, not all students know how to pitch themselves to employers. During a role-play interview with the student, Griffin noticed that the student did not bring up her military background. 

“Something changes when you graduate, and then all of a sudden you seem to be like this jobseeker. I’m not saying it's not possible. You should also still be reaching out to people and networking, but the fact that you can say you’re a student or a trainee somewhere just adds another layer to it,” Griffin said. “I think another skill that's lacking right now is just the ability to self-advocate for yourself.”

According to the panelists, another way to get more women into pharmacy leadership positions is by including the planning of birthday parties and other office events in performance reviews. Often, it is women who are planning these events that bring an organization together and usually, they are not acknowledged or rewarded for it. 

“Why is it that women are predominantly the ones who plan the birthday parties, who plan the baby showers, who are planning all the events at work, but that's not part of their performance evaluation? They're helping to change and bring everyone together at the workplace, but nobody's really giving credit per se for that,” Soliman said. 

In order for women to gain more pharmacy leadership positions, there needs to be a larger policy and cultural change, according to the panelists. However, according to Griffin, that change needs to come from the ground up and not from waiting on large corporations to make the shift. 

“What kind of leader do we wish we had and how can we exclude those characteristics today? How can I mentor others the way that I wished I was mentored? I think recognizing that you can lead from where you are,” Griffin said. “You don't necessarily need the title, or position, or wait for a big new strategic plan, or a big culture change, or new mission statement. We can start where we are, and eventually when more and more females get to the top and that culture starts from within, then we will start to see some more larger changes.”

Women also shouldn’t limit their job options because of their kids or because they don’t meet all of the job requirements, the panelists said. Women should work with their partners to ensure that they have a work-life balance and don’t have to hold themselves back from opportunities. For example, a male mentor encouraged Broadus to apply for a new job 7 months pregnant, despite being unsure of herself. 

“When an opportunity comes, I think it sort of has to be factored into what's happening in totality in your life, but there will never be a perfect time to apply for a new job, to train for a marathon, you can't time having a baby, or just anything you can fill in the blank,” Gainer said. “There'll never be a perfect time, so don't wait for perfect. Look for opportunities.”