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Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Women Pharmacy Leaders Changing Practice

Apr 15, 2016
Women in Pharmacy

ASHP created a Women in Pharmacy Leadership Steering Committee to help guide ASHP’s efforts in providing services and support for women pharmacists as they seek leadership positions.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a four-part series examining the growing number of women in pharmacy leadership and ASHP’s work to support them.

AS ONE OF THE MOST egalitarian careers available today, pharmacy is an attractive choice for many women. Professional opportunities to conduct direct patient care combined with flexible scheduling and six-figure salaries have drawn more and more women into the profession. In 2014, more than 60 percent of pharmacy students were female, and according to the 2014 National Pharmacist Workforce Study, there are now more licensed female pharmacists than male.

Recognizing the growing number of women in the profession, ASHP is preparing for the future of the pharmacy workforce by identifying and addressing barriers to female leadership.

“Clearly, we have a wonderful opportunity to tap existing and future talent in the field and help nurture our members into positions of leadership,” said Hannah Vanderpool, Pharm.D., M.A., ASHP’s vice president of member relations. “ASHP is committed to finding ways to bolster the career and professional aspirations of women pharmacists.”

The Leadership Gender Gap

The demographics of change are striking, and it’s not just in pharmacy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than three-quarters of the healthcare workforce are women. While they are well represented in mid-level healthcare management positions, women are extremely underrepresented in senior management and CEO-level positions. Although few studies have yet quantified the full scope of the under-representation of women in pharmacy leadership, one 2014 study of women in academic pharmacy found gender disparities in tenure, leadership positions, salary, and even awards.

Women often cite several factors that can block career advancement, including the need for better guidance and training to help them advance. To help step in that gap, ASHP held an online roundtable discussion in March 2015 called “Fostering Women Leaders in a Knowledge Café.”

Sharon Murphy Enright, B.S.Pharm., M.B.A.

Sharon Murphy Enright, B.S.Pharm., M.B.A.

Six well-known pharmacy leaders guided the conversation, addressing the nature and implications of the demographic and leadership shifts in pharmacy, the need to develop emerging leaders, and differences in gender leadership styles. The conversation was enlightening.

“Men and women lead very differently. Women tend to be more nurturing and better multi-taskers, but women also tend to disparage themselves more,” noted roundtable moderator Sharon Murphy Enright, B.S.Pharm, M.B.A., president of EnvisonChange, LLC, adding that men often seek advancement with full confidence that they are qualified or will quickly gain the skills and experience needed. According to Enright, women often underestimate their qualifications and hesitate before pursuing advancement opportunities because they may not feel 100 percent qualified and ready.

“Men have a different perspective about career evolution,” Enright continued. “We have some serious skill-building to do and attitude adjustments to make to ensure that women have the confidence to step up.”

Panel member and ASHP Past-President Sara White, M.S., FASHP, agrees. “We [women] are often our own worst enemies. We apologize ahead of time, we worry about our experience. Compared to men, we lack confidence. We need to make sure that women have the skill sets they need to be leaders.”

To jumpstart the process of building a new generation of female pharmacy leaders, ASHP held several live networking events at both its 2015 Conference for Pharmacy Leaders in Chicago and its 2015 Midyear Clinical Meeting & Exhibition in New Orleans. The moderators at each conference—women pharmacy leaders—shared their own professional experiences and provided insights into ways to grow into leadership. The events served to connect younger women in the early stages of their careers with positive role models.

White_Sara perferred picture

ASHP Past-President Sara White, M.S., FASHP

In September 2015, ASHP convened a Women in Pharmacy Leadership Steering Committee, chaired by White, to examine opportunities for ASHP to address the professional and leadership development needs of women pharmacists.

“ASHP launched this committee because gender shifts and generational changes have a real potential to change the profession,” White said. “We need to cultivate a new generation of leaders at every level—clinical, administrative, academic pharmacy, and more. And to do that, we need a candid and thorough assessment of the needs that women pharmacists have and the opportunities for advancement.”

The Benefits of Sponsorship

One key issue that arose during committee discussions was the ongoing deficit of professional sponsors for women.

“Mentors are life planners. Coaches help with specific skills,” said White. “But sponsoring is when someone takes you under their wing, opens professional doors for you, and provides opportunities. Men are good at sponsoring each other. Women are excellent at mentoring, but we need more sponsors for women.”

Vanderpool concurs: “Sponsorship is a step above mentoring. You specifically recommend the person for leadership positions. You are their advocate. We need to encourage women to seek sponsors and to be sponsors.”

What are the next steps? ASHP has developed a new online Women in Pharmacy Leadership resource center and ASHP Connect Community and is guiding the steering committee’s continuing work. Formal recommendations from the committee will be forthcoming. In addition, special networking sessions for women leaders will be held at upcoming ASHP meetings.

“ASHP can be a catalyst for change in this new world of pharmacy,” said Vanderpool. “We must build awareness that, although women have different communication and leadership styles, they can add a lot to the profession. We need to support leadership in all forms, and ASHP is in a great position to help do just that.”

–By Ann W. Latner, JD

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