Expert Panel Discusses Paradigm Shift in Retail Pharmacies to Retain Women in the Workforce


A panel at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Total Store Expo discusses the importance of expanding parental leave policies for new parents as well as mentorship for women pursuing leadership positions.

A lot of women have left the workforce throughout the COVID-19 pandemic due to a variety of factors, explained Lauren Wittenberg, director, Global eCommerce and Omnichannel, i-Health Inc, a Division of DSM, during a panel discussion at the 2022 National Association of Chain Drug Stores Total Store Expo. With retention of women in the field of retail pharmacy top of mind, Wittenberg noted that mentorship of women, and particularly of those in pursuit of leadership positions, is key.

Session panelist Summer Kerley, vice president, Clinical Services and Business Development at Rite Aid Corporation, explained that when working with 2 of her female mentees, she helped them clarify some of their professional goals. When asked, both mentees explained that their goals were to build confidence and develop their professional networks.

Kerley noted that she explained to her mentees that the expansion of their professional networks was a task Kerley herself could help them to accomplish in their work together, but that building confidence was something they were capable of achieving in small steps every day.

“You build confidence every day. That’s not something you wake up and [say], ‘I’m a confident person today,’” Kerley said. “We’ve been going through these exercises and they’re actually fun because I’ve been trying to make myself do them as well. So, I asked them, ‘What do you mean when you say build confidence?’ For both of them, they said, ‘I’ll be in a meeting or on a call, and I know the answer or I have a really great idea, but I don’t say anything, and then 2 minutes later someone else says that idea.”

Kerley noted that upon hearing of this limitation, she set the goal for her mentees to face it head-on by being the first person to speak up with ideas in at least 2 meetings before the next time Kerley meets with them.

“It’s actually been working for them,” Kerley said.

Kerley noted that after setting this goal for her mentees, she also realized that she could benefit from accomplishing the same goal in her meetings as well. Therefore, she began sharing her ideas sooner in meetings with upper executives than she might normally have done in the past. In this way, both the mentee and the mentor can gain insight into some areas of growth potential in their professional lives.

Session panelist Lisa Paley, president, North America at Haleon noted that she has found it is also important for women to understand their own role in changing the way the table is set, especially when in roles of leadership. Paley explained that to address this issue within the company, Haleon developed a new parental leave policy that provides a 6-month leave to new parents, regardless of their gender and how their child was brought into the world, whether adoption, surrogacy, or natural birth.

“That is a game changer. That is really thinking about how we get this [system] to be a better place for us all as we are transitioning into who we want to be. So that was a big statement,” Paley said. “We’re starting that in 2023 because it takes a minute to get all of those things in place, but we’re super excited about that.”

Paley noted that Haleon also is investing in programs to accelerate those with diverse backgrounds.

“That includes women and other minority groups because we want everyone to continue to come up this curve,” Paley said. “So, we invest specifically, and we make sure that when we’re doing that that they have a sponsor and a mentor, and they do get the right programming and education so that they can continue to increase their odds of success.”


Desai J, Gaskins D, Paley L, Wolf M, Kerley S, Wittenberg L. Why it’s Critical to Lead with your Authentic Self in this New World. Boston, MA: 2022 National Association of Chain Drug Stores Total Store Expo; August 27, 2022.

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