Expert: Although Women Are the Majority of Pharmacy Graduates, the ‘Leadership Numbers Have Remained the Same for the Past 40 Years’

Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS, and Sally Arif, PharmD, BCPS, BCCP, discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted women in the pharmacy field.

In a Pharmacy Times discussion, Suzanne Soliman, PharmD, BCMAS, and Sally Arif, PharmD, BCPS, BCCP, address how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted women in the pharmacy field.

Sally Arif: I know women make up 60% of our workforce. Another issue that I think often comes up in our profession is that women only make up 35% of leadership positions in pharmacy and that's even pre-pandemic been something that's been a limit for women.

Often, women are kind of straddling the taking care of children as they advance in their careers. They're still taking care of kids, but now even the additional responsibility of maybe caring for elderly parents, causing them to be overlooked for C-suite positions as leaders.

Do you have some advice for women with regards to how to get that support so they can move up in the profession as well?

Suzanne Soliman: I think that you hit the nail on the head. When I've presented on this, I've seen that for the past 40 years, women have been the majority of graduates in our profession, yet there hasn't been any change in leadership. The leadership numbers have remained the same for the past 40 years.

The other interesting fact is that mid-career-wise, about 36% of pharmacists are working part-time who are female between the ages of 30 and 45. This shows really what they're doing between the ages of 30 and 45 is probably having their children and raising their families. That particular study showed that these women were all working less than 40 hours a week.

So, I think that this has been an issue, for me at least personally, and for a lot of other women, is when you're raising your family, how do you manage and what do you do? I think you can get creative, and there are opportunities where you can job share. I've done that before as well, where I'm sharing a position, an academic position, with a colleague who is also a mom, and we both kind of work part-time and build in a full-time role.

There are other ways to get very creative. I think having mentors and people who can guide you, for me that's always been important. Some of my greatest mentors were also women who had similar personal paths to mine as well and helped guide me along the way, and I think that having a mentor or a sponsor is very important as well.

I think knowing that it's okay to take a step back for a while, if that's what you choose to do, and it's okay not to as well. There are many women who decide to go a different route, and they decide to jump into leadership early on in their career, stay in leadership, and continue that path. So, I think knowing that it's okay to do either one is fine. But I think we really need to support one another a little bit more, to help one another in those positions.

Sally Arif: Yeah, thank you so much. I think everything you just said is so important. It's this idea of rising up but also lifting up as women. I didn't even know the difference between mentors and sponsors until mid into my career where I've had mentors that have helped me with my career choices or decisions, but having a sponsor, I think especially for women of color or minority status that often don't have someone advocating for them, and that could be a man or someone that looks very different than you that is in a leadership position and is intentionally using their privilege and power to help advance women in the profession into positions that they are very well suited for but often overlooked for because of the presenteeism not being there, although productivity and being present are very different things, and we struggle with that in pharmacy.

Suzanne Soliman: I think women get hesitant. I know personally speaking, I went to a job interview when I was 7 months pregnant and my stomach was like out there, and you could tell, and I was so scared.

I remember thinking I'm going to be overlooked for this position—it was a full dean position, and I said I'm going to be overlooked because of the size of my stomach, but I'm going to put my suit on, and I'm going to go and take that chance, and I think that sometimes we have to still take the chance.

But I love the idea of a sponsor. I've seen it become very successful, and I think that it's extremely important if you can have a sponsor, that's a great way to help improve the status of women in pharmacy.

Sally Arif: Yeah, and I think for women everywhere to just ask as we find things that we might need, or resources or people to help support us in our careers is to ask and see. Often, I've said hesitancy is something we're socialized to kind of do because we don't want to rock the boat or seem like we're too needy, but I think we as women definitely have to get to a place where we can empower each other to say it's okay to ask for what your needs are. Often, I've been surprised who's come out at different points in my career to help kind of support me.

So, all women out there in the pharmacy profession—not to say that we don't have struggles and things that we deal with day to day—but if you need some time off for your mental health, or you need a proper break because you’re a mom that just came back and is nursing and needs a lactation room at your facility, you should be asking for these things, and policies in organizations should be very present in their inclusive language around supporting women in the workplace.

Suzanne Soliman: Definitely, and I think that women are also not represented in different areas of pharmacy. So, independent pharmacies, they're primarily owned by men. So, there are different areas—even managers, so pharmacy managers at chains are typically male.

So, I think that establishing ground rules and maybe even talking about some of these numbers and letting women become more aware of it, that it is possible, and talking more about it I think can just help open the path as well.

It's really important I think even myself owning a pharmacy, it never came into my head as a pharmacy student because I was like there's so many hours and now I've seen women who own their pharmacy, they're bringing their babies to the back, they're nursing their babies there, and they're living these great lives. I think that there are so many opportunities for women in various areas of pharmacy and sometimes they're overlooked because we have an assumption.

So, the other thing that I wanted to mention too when you're talking about the burnout and stress is, right now, it's higher than ever. I know that a lot of people are feeling a little bit better, and that COVID-19 is getting better with the vaccines. But there's a lot of concerns still related to fertility, related to breastfeeding, related to not vaccinating your children for COVId-19, so I think that we're still not out of the woods yet. So, I think there are still a lot more topics that we need to discuss and bring to the forefront.

Sally Arif: I agree I think we're always learning, and I think as women we can leverage some of our empathy because we can understand these concerns that our female patients specifically are having out there around some of the topics you just mentioned, and bringing our whole selves into conversations when we're counseling, explaining as a mom, I totally understand your concerns as someone who is trying to get pregnant, I've been there as well.

So, these types of things, I think we talk about empathy a lot, and I think as women we do have that ability to connect with so many of our patients because of our lived experiences.

So, I'm excited to continue talking with you about a lot of these issues as we kind of think about solutions and think about ways to navigate them. There is no easy answer, but I think just knowing, like what we've said today, that we are here for each other and that no one's really alone in their struggle, but that there's optimism, as we've said, as we're kind of getting hopefully out of the pandemic and more people are getting vaccinated.

Suzanne Soliman: Yeah, definitely. I think we have to remain optimistic. I think that that's critical.

I don't know if you saw there was a study—and if anyone listening does research, please contact me, you can use the Pharmacist Moms Group as the number—but there was a study showing women physicians had more empathy, and they displayed more empathy. They spent more time with their patients. I would love to see anything related to pharmacy in that area as well. I'm not sure if there is anything but there's definitely some information out there in medicine on that.

Sally Arif: Absolutely, I think you just touched on a great point with scholarship. I think that granted, our time is limited often, but getting some scholarship work around gender differences in the workplace and how that impacts patient care and health outcomes is really important for us because we can learn from that. I think as evidence-based individuals, we often want to see some of that data to kind of support what we anecdotally kind of feel might be happening in our practice.

Suzanne Soliman: Yeah, definitely. Well, thanks Sally for all of this. It was great discussion, and I think we can talk for hours about this topic.

Sally Arif: I always enjoy talking with you, Suzie.

Suzanne Soliman: Thanks.

Sally Arif: Take care.