On diversity, inclusion, allyship and unlearning
Since starting my role at CPhA, I’ve had the privilege of connecting individually with pharmacists all over Canada. Each one has candidly shared their experiences with me—good, bad and sometimes quite ugly. This month I had the opportunity to meet pharmacists who represent some of the diverse backgrounds that make up our pharmacy workforce. I’ve spoken to Black pharmacists, international pharmacy graduates, members of the LGBTQ2S+ community and pharmacists with disabilities. It’s been truly eye-opening in many ways. Through my conversations I’ve learned how much I still don’t know. No matter how much diversity, equity and inclusion training you do, nothing fully prepares you to hear the compelling lived experiences of your colleagues. The reality is that discrimination, racism and injustice is a part of our everyday world whether we choose to see it or not.
Just last week I spoke to a pharmacist who is hearing impaired. She shared a heartbreaking account of her experiences as a student and now as a pharmacist trying to practice in a world that isn’t built to support or include her. She’s actively working to help change that for others. I spoke to an international pharmacy graduate who has used her interest in technology to build her own company, which now empowers her peers with access to online resources to help advance their careers in Canada. I also connected with a pharmacist who is sharing his own experiences and vulnerabilities to inspire his students with varied sexual identities to be their authentic selves as they develop into well-rounded health-care providers.
In doing this work and reflecting on these connections, I’ve been thinking a lot about my own privilege and how I can use it to benefit others. What does true allyship look like? As a Canadian trained, English-speaking cisgender woman whose name you can pronounce, I know that I am starting at a different place than many others. I also know that I am committed to promoting equity in pharmacy, not in words or tokenism, but in belief and action. It’s going to take courage and humility and a willingness to have tough conversations and I’m here for it.
With this in mind, and in acknowledgment of Black History Month I want to share wisdom and advice from our Black pharmacist colleagues in Canada about how we can be allies to the Black community:
- To be an ally to Black pharmacists, you must first recognize how the systems we work, live and exist in are engrained with racism.
- Racism is often subtle. Sometimes we say things or do things that we think are innocent, but they have racist undertones. Self-awareness is important. Microaggressions can create hostile environments that are not safe or comfortable for Black people. We are all going to make mistakes. This is all part of the journey to unlearning.
- It is not enough to “not be racist”—you must actively work towards being antiracist. An analogy would be watching someone getting robbed and seeking credit for not being the robber versus actively trying to help the person being robbed. Stop and think about this.
- Cultural competence is not the end goal. It is only a small piece of what it means to be an ally. This learning is a constant continuum—we are always learning and unlearning. To be an ally is to understand that this type of learning is life long.
- A true ally takes the initiative to do their own research and educate themselves on the events and experiences of the Black community. By doing this they remove the burden of educating from those who face injustice and take ownership of their own ability to remedy any ignorance they may possess.
- It’s not enough to merely say “I am an ally” and place a black square and a hashtag on social media when it is trending, while otherwise remaining completely silent on these platforms. We live in an age where access to news and information is readily available as social media keeps everyone highly connected to issues many groups face. So, if there is one thing a true ally embodies, it is the ability to seek out and think critically about information they discover and to strive for long-term commitment rather than using a seemingly inspirational quote of support that rarely gets a second thought.
As an association, CPhA also has a role to play as an ally. We know that the lack of diversity in health information and medical references is a significant issue that can lead to inequities in patient care and how patients are treated. We are working to change that and have been conducting a thorough review and update of the content, imagery and language used in our published reference materials to ensure the images and text are inclusive and represent the diversity of our patients. This is one small but important step in our ongoing commitment to supporting not only the pharmacists we represent but also every patient they serve.
I said in my open letter to the profession last November that I would work to ensure that your voices were sought, heard and amplified. Over the next few months, you will see more and more stories about the pharmacists I’ve spoken to, so that you too can learn, and in some cases, recognize the need to unlearn along with me. There is nothing comfortable about this subject—and quite frankly that’s the way it should be.
It’s in this discomfort that we grow and develop as individuals. I invite each of you to step into the discomfort and embrace the opportunity to confront this very sensitive topic head on. When we unpack issues like privilege, unconscious bias, intersectionality, sexism, ageism, etc., we move closer to promoting safe and inclusive work environments—and that’s the reality we all deserve. The more we commit to opening our minds and increasing our awareness of existing disparities, the better prepared we’ll be to support each other as colleagues, and to reduce the barriers that limit us from caring for Canada’s diverse patient populations to the best of our abilities.