Due to a serious lack of women at the helms of health care and pharmacy organizations, it is now important to discuss actual methods for getting more women at the heads of organizations.
In an article published in the fall 2018 issue of Pharmacy Careers®, we explored perceptions of women in pharmacy and their leadership opportunities.
After more than 30 interviews with women in pharmacy at a variety of career points, we found that women early in their careers had mixed feelings and perceptions about leadership roles within the profession, midcareer women generally felt more disparity between genders and leadership opportunities, and women later in their careers felt most optimistic about options for women leaders.
Due to a serious lack of women at the helms of health care and pharmacy organizations, it is now important to discuss actual methods for getting more women at the heads of organizations. Based on research and strategies that have worked for other industries, here are some suggestions for how we might gain more women in leadership in health care and pharmacy.
1. Create continuous discussions on career trajectory. Retired pharmacist Marianne F. Ivey, PharmD, suggests that collegial conversations about career options need to occur in all stages of one’s career. Dr. Ivey noted that although these conversations were not as prevalent when she started her own career, they are now more frequent.
This falls on managers, as well: Dare to have collegial conversations with your direct reports. Great managers and leaders are always assessing the positions and responsibilities of employees and whether all parties would benefit from changes.
2. Buy from businesses owned and managed by women. If women are making the majority of purchase decisions in the United States, they can support other women with their wallets.
3. Provide more flexible work arrangements and paid time off. The more flexibility and paid time off that employees have, the more likely they are to remain engaged and loyal to the pharmacy or health care organization. We should be aware that stress in the workplace can lead to a lot of detrimental issues for women, including burnout, career dissatisfaction, and fewer opportunities for leadership.
4. Mentor and sponsor women. We need managers and executives to step up and not only mentor women but sponsor them as well. Sponsorship happens when a senior member of a leadership team fights for a junior employee’s growth. In particular, women in senior positions need to mentor other women.
I have witnessed women who pull each other down rather than supporting, mentoring, and sponsoring one another; this must stop if we want more women at the helms of organizations. Women in junior-level positions also need to be given opportunities to “grow” into positions rather than being thrust into managerial positions without experience.
5. Promote quotas and diversity on boards and in senior leadership. California appears to be the first state to require gender balances or gender quotas on boards for companies. This may be controversial to some, but it has been documented repeatedly, including in a 2017 report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, that boards with more diversity and women are more profitable. Therefore, capitalists should be on board with this idea, and savvy corporations should put quotas in place long before states or jurisdictions require them.
6. Initiate more pharmacy leadership postgraduate training programs. Although pharmacy schools are increasingly providing students with leadership opportunities, there remains a need for more postgraduate leadership programs. Such programs are provided by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, but they tend to require significant investments in time and money, and extensive applications and sponsorship from organizations and executives, as well as take only a handful of applicants each year. Every school of pharmacy should consider providing some type of postgraduate leadership program for their alumni. We, as a profession, do a good job of requiring continuing education in areas such as pharmacotherapy, so why do we not do the same for leadership training?
Employers can also develop their own internal leadership programs for pharmacists and other health care professionals. Companies who identify their own senior women leaders and put them in front of the next generation of leaders can also benefit, as early-career professionals “can be what they can see.”
7. Provide equity and creativity in company family care policies. Men and women need equal access to family leave for children and elderly parental care. If we continue to punish women who choose to have children or take care of their families, they will continue to be held back from career development opportunities. As care tends to fall on women in families, we have to level the playing field and create opportunities for them to remain in the workforce part-time, whether this be through job sharing or creative and flexible workforce options so they are not penalized for caring for or raising a family. Companies can also provide day care for children or senior care for older adult parents so that the sandwich generations can better help their families.
We have a long way to go to achieve gender parity in C-suites of health care and pharmacy organizations. However, employing the strategies above may help all of us attain a path forward and see more women become leaders over time. Like anything in pharmacy, change is evolutionary, not revolutionary. And of course, to all the women who have gone before us and led in pharmacy: Thank you for your contributions!
Erin Albert, PharmD, JD, MBA, PAHM, is a writer, pharmacist, attorney, and former professor. Follow her on Twitter (@ErinLAlbert) or at her website, www.erinalbert.com.