I’ve been a pharmacy journalist for fifteen years, but it’s only been in the last couple that I’ve shaken off my ‘imposter syndrome’.

Most other pharmacy journalists you’ll meet are pharmacists too, but I’m not. I somehow snuck in under the radar, and although I write about business and people issues rather than clinical topics, for ages I kept thinking I’d be ‘found out’ as some kind of charlatan and never allowed to put pen to paper for any of the sector’s learned and esteemed journals ever again.

Thankfully, my lack of self-confidence took a u-turn a couple of years ago, for two reasons. Firstly, I’m freelance, and it dawned on me that the editors who were commissioning wouldn’t carry on if they didn’t think I was any good. The other nudge came when I introduced myself to a well-known and senior member of the profession at a conference, who said “I always look out for your articles in the journals and really enjoy reading what you write”.

If that sounds like I’m blowing my own trumpet then let me blow. Because as it turns out, I, like many women, am not that great at recognising, let alone talking about, my strengths and talents. And in a world where the squeaky wheels often get the most oil, reticence when it comes to self-promotion is definitely a career handicap that so many of us need to overcome.

Unsurprisingly, as 2018 is The Year Of The Woman, and companies with over 250 employees are required to publish their gender pay gap figures, I’ve already written quite a few features looking at how women are faring in the pharmacy professions, why they don’t seem to be represented equally at senior levels, and what the barriers to their progress are – perceived and real.

It will come as no shock to hear that blatant sexism and gender inequality in the workplace is still an issue. Disappointingly, pretty much every woman I have spoken to had a story to tell. Passed over for promotion here, made a pass at there, or having to pass up an opportunity to progress because the meagre pay rise made it untenable.

Other common hurdles that kept being mentioned by the women I interviewed were their own lack of confidence, as well as organisations that don’t look favourably on flexible working – which makes it difficult for women who are parents to juggle childcare commitments (or choices) with staying ‘visible’ enough at work to remain candidates for traditional linear promotion.

The more I heard, the more I felt I wanted to go further than just writing about what was happening. So when I interviewed RPS Deputy Chief Scientist Dr Claire Thompson for this feature for the PJ on the sector’s ‘glass ceiling’ and she invited me along to the inaugural meeting of a new Women In Leadership working group, I knew better than to let myself doubt my legitimacy to be there and jumped at the chance.

Time for a chat

That meeting was the start of a wider conversation about the experiences of, barriers to, and support for women in pharmacy, which has since seen the creation of a Women In Pharmacy group on Facebook by Deborah Evans, and a Women in Leadership event to be hosted at the RPS on 27 June 2018, where women in senior roles across the sector will be talking about how they survive and thrive across the pharmacy profession.

In the meantime, I was delighted to be asked to join a panel including pharmacist academics, executives, scientists, a pharmacy technician, and a pharmacy historian to take part in a one-hour Twitter chat on gender inequality in pharmacy, which took place on April 10th. Using the hashtag #PJMindTheGap we delved into the issue of gender inequality within the profession, and the impact it has on the careers of female pharmacy professionals.

Common themes

I won’t summarise the responses because you can read all about them in this round-up by the PJ. However, there were a few points that really struck me, which I think are worth repeating here.

A common theme was that women need to be braver when it comes to asking for more from their employers – whether that’s pay, promotion or flexibility – as well as reaching out to their own network for help and support.

Lots of tweets mentioned the importance of mentors and career coaches, with a number of participants at senior level in pharmacy offering their services to anyone who wanted to get in touch.

We also heard stories of blatant gender bias when it comes to assumptions being made about women’s ambition, with one commenter relating being told that a vacant management position wouldn’t be right for her because she had a young child. On the other hand, a number of women tweeted that the only bias they’d ever experienced was from other women in senior positions.

Another posed the question that because many women live their non-working lives in a male-led culture, how does this affect their working lives? In fact, this is something that I’ve heard from women I have interviewed in the past, who said that if you are not used to equality at home then you’re probably not going to push for it at work.

Thankfully, lots of male tweeters were happy to step forward in support, with one saying “I’d like more women to be open about any issues they are facing with to us too. There are good male pharmacists ready to support you – don’t stay silent”.

We must be the change

Whether we are talking about the #genderpaygap, #metoo, #timesup or any of the other equality movements that have sprung up in response to publicly shared examples of gender bias – and worse – in recent months, we all have a part to play in making the necessary changes.

Certainly change has to be championed from the top down. Senior leaders have to set the tone and walk the talk, as well as actively creating a culture where open and honest discussions can take place.

However, unless we all change, nothing will happen. It’s corny, perhaps, but we all need to be the change we want to see. That means being bold enough to call out inequality and unacceptable behaviour whenever and wherever we see it. Unfortunately, while we still live in an environment where it is easy to call ‘banter’ as an excuse for casual bigotry in everyday life, this means being brave enough to also bear the personal and professional consequences that may go with that boldness – like maybe not getting that promotion, or moving on from the job you have if there simply isn’t going to be a resolution to an ongoing inequality issue.

In the meantime, may I be so bold as to suggest you take strength from this: it’s funny how when you ‘make room’ in your life (or in your head space) for new possibilities then things do seem to come along to fill it. Don’t be afraid to stand up and say “no”, but also to say “yes”.