On women in pharmacy leadership
Dr. Danielle Paes, Chief Pharmacist Officer at the Canadian Pharmacists Association
The messages I received from women around the world came as a surprise. There was one from Jordan, another from Zimbabwe and even one from the village in Goa where my grandmother was raised. Strangers from different corners of the globe taking time to express their excitement and celebrate that I had accepted the position of Chief Pharmacy Officer (CPO) at CPhA. These notes were touching and thoughtful, but they were also humbling. They are a clear reminder of how far women have come, and how far we still have to go. It shouldn’t be a big deal—a young woman in an executive role—but it is. Because it’s still all too uncommon.
I often think of the bright, bold and potential-filled women that came before me who were not given the same schooling or opportunities that I was. It was their vision, sacrifices and courage that helped get me here. I am acutely aware that education is a privilege that many women are still not afforded, so I am determined to put mine to good use.
International Women’s Day (IWD)
These are just some of the reasons why it’s so important that we mark a day for the world to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, political and scientific achievements of women around the world. IWD is a time for us to raise awareness about gender bias and to encourage collective action towards equality. This year’s IWD theme was #BreaktheBias and our progress towards this mission requires that we acknowledge our shared ownership for its success, regardless of gender—we need allies onboard too.
This year IWD felt different. The day has taken on new meaning for me. I feel a new sense of pride, responsibility and purpose. I’ve always thought it was fitting that this special day to honour women falls during Pharmacy Appreciation Month, since more than 60% of our profession is female. Yet, women in pharmacy continue to be underrepresented in leadership and decision-making roles. We know this pattern is not unique to pharmacy and that it mirrors general inequities seen in society, which is why it’s so important to address them.
A few years ago, CPhA kickstarted an important conversation about the landscape of women in pharmacy and published a revealing report about the inadequate presence of women in management roles and business ownership. Since then, a number of new initiatives have been launched by many pharmacy organizations and schools, giving me hope that we’ll continue to see progress in this area.
Over the last several months, I’ve come to appreciate what being the CPO at CPhA truly means, not just to me, but to the community of women I represent. The significance of being in this leadership role and the symbolism it holds for women in pharmacy is undeniable.
My career decision
When I accepted the opportunity to join CPhA’s senior management team, I knew it was going to be difficult, and I understood what I was committing to. I knew I was going to be challenged each day to find balance—to be a wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend alongside my career.
I remember weighing all the pros and cons with my partner and trying to figure out whether this was the “right” decision for our family. With a then 6-month-old daughter in my arms, I felt like I had to make the choice between caring for my child or advancing my career. And as I debated, I felt guilt, wondering which I would regret more. However, a trusted mentor helped me see things another way. She asked me to imagine what it would be like for my daughter to grow up with a mother who was an influential leader in her field. In the end, the deciding factor to take on this role came down to the fact that I want my daughter to know that her mother took advantage of the opportunities presented to her. I want her to have big dreams for herself and never doubt what she is capable of and I want to show her that you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
The impact of the pandemic
I could not mention the accomplishments of women without acknowledging the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on us. So many women to this day are the primary care providers for their children and their aging parents. They are leaders in their homes and are responsible for keeping their households running. Many have had to sacrifice their jobs and careers to manage during the pandemic, and I suspect that the true impact of the “she-session” is something that will not be fully understood for years to come. As a working mother, I understand the incredible amount of pressure we often feel to be everything to everyone. It’s a constant struggle. If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch our Women in Pharmacy Leadership empowerment panels, please make the time to hear what it’s been like for some of our female colleagues in the industry.
Despite the challenges that the pandemic has put before us, it’s evident that technology has helped eliminate barriers for women. It’s brought opportunities right into our homes. We no longer have to leave our children or loved ones to attend meetings or conferences—we can participate virtually from the comfort of our living rooms, sweatpants and all.
Technology has also provided accessibility to non-traditional pharmacy leadership roles, which historically have been held by men. The feasibility of virtual roles has opened more career prospects across the country. Women can consider taking highly sought-after positions outside of major cities and not necessarily have to uproot their families to advance their careers. My position is a perfect example of this. CPhA provided me with the option to gradually (and virtually) onboard from maternity leave and has continued to support me to operate remotely from across the province. The pandemic has forced us to embrace a new level of flexibility in our workday. The hybrid workforce model has encouraged a culture where women have options to balance their days and work around other commitments. That’s a win!
I continue to be in awe of the female pharmacy leaders I connect with each day from pharmacist owners and managers to registrars, deans, executive directors and everyone in-between. All around me I see evidence of a positive shift in the advancement of women in this sector—it’s very encouraging.
I want to end with an inspiring quote that speaks to the complexities of what it means to be a woman and how we’ve largely fought to just be able to be ourselves.
"We need women who are so strong they can be gentle, so educated they can be humble, so fierce they can be compassionate, so passionate they can be rational and so disciplined they can be free." —Kavita N. Ramdas