In a world where fairness and justice doesn’t feature as strongly in society as it should, and where discrimination in its many forms remains a daily occurrence, we need to stand up and challenge inequalities. As a male leader in our profession and someone who has the privilege of occupying a seat at a senior level within our leadership body, I feel an obligation to use what influence I have to champion the rights of my female colleagues to grow in their careers and advance to positions of leadership should they want to. So, I thought I would use the opportunity of this blog, in the month that RPS is raising the profile of women in leadership, to say something about how important I believe allyship is and what great leadership by women I have been fortunate enough to experience in my own career and why we need more.
It’s a sad fact that too often women have been oppressed or marginalised in the workplace and across broader society, as history so vividly demonstrates. We still see and hear of situations in the news that should alarm all of us. From the extreme violence of FGM, slavery and incarceration of women in various parts of the world, to the sexual harassment of women at work, which to some men is inexplicably thought to be acceptable practice (anyone remember the FT report on the conduct of senior figures at the Presidents Club gala charity dinner in 2017?) to the more readily recognised unfairness of pay discrimination for doing work of equal value to a male counterpart (Samira Ahmed’s case against the BBC in 2020 springs to mind). Since the 1970’s the law in Britain has stated that men and women must be paid the same for equal work but too many tribunal cases continue to arise that suggests employers have still not done enough to level the playing field. That is why I am so committed to RPS reporting on its pay gaps, working to eradicate them and making a difference.
But pay differentials is only one aspect of discrimination that exists in society that women are confronted with. Discrimination of opportunity is equally as unacceptable. In 2019 Deloitte published its 6th edition of a report called Data-driven change (Women in the boardroom, A global perspective) in which it cites data from 8,648 companies in 49 countries and across 136 thousand directorships that shows that only 16.9% of Board Seats are held by women and just 5.3% of Board Chairs are female. An analysis by country is interesting to observe. It shows Norway has the highest percentage of board seats being held by women (41%) and the UK just in the upper quartile at 22.7%. The lowest quartile includes Russia (8.5%), Japan (5.2%) and UAE (3.8%). Clearly there is still a very long way to go before we see more women occupying the highest leadership positions more often.
It is not just about seats on executive boards. We know that women tend to occupy more of the lower paid positions in organisations and are more frequently working part time and often holding down more than one part time position. Organisations that don’t recognise this and do something about it are missing out themselves and continuing to perpetuate this inequality. McKinsey, the consultancy firm, shines a light in its report (Diversity wins: How inclusion matters, May 2020) on the benefit that embracing diversity in executive teams can bring to financial outperformance. Companies with more that 30 percent women executives are more likely to outperform those where it is lower or zero.
So, not only is there a moral obligation on leaders to promote equality of gender but there is also a proven business case for organisations to encourage and facilitate more women to take on leadership roles. As I look around the leadership teams at RPS I see we have still more work to do to further improve our inclusion and diversity in many aspects. While it is good that we have six women out of the fourteen at Executive and Director level (42%) I am not satisfied with this imbalance. We need to do better at levelling the situation and this is something that as CEO I am committed to addressing.
At Assembly (our highest governance body) it is a little better with eight out of fourteen members (57%) being women, while across our three national pharmacy boards there are nineteen women occupying one of the 35 seats (54%), with some variation by country. However, our profession is predominantly female (GPhC data from 2019 shows this to be 62% for pharmacists and 88% of technicians) and I would like to see more women on our National Pharmacy Boards and around our Assembly table and hope we do see more women feeling able and confident to stand in the forthcoming elections in April.
I mentioned allyship earlier in this blog and just wanted to briefly circle back to that and why it’s so important generally and to me personally. There was an excellent article published by the Association for Women in Science in 2016 in by Aspen Russell in which what being an ally is all about is described. It focusses on those in privileged positions taking action to address injustice, advocating for change, recognising that they don’t have shared experience but being able to empathise and being prepared to constantly learn. I would like to think of myself as an ally, using my position to advocate for change and continuing to learn at every opportunity. On that particular point I would highly recommend the book Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez which exposes data bias ‘in a world designed for men’. It’s a powerful read and if you are a white male like me it makes you again stop and think that your life is lived from a point of privilege that at least half the population do not enjoy.
The phrase ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’ strongly resonates with me. As a fan of F1 racing I think it’s great that black young children can now look at seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton or at Dina Asher-Smith, the fastest British woman athlete in history, and think ‘that could be me’. The same is true for women in leadership and that’s why I’m so proud of the work our own Pharmaceutical Journal has done on Women to Watch. We should also recognise that inequalities can be compounded and that the experiences of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women will encompass both race inequality and gender inequality, so different women will face different forms of inequality.
In my own career I have had the pleasure of working with a number of great women. I won’t embarrass those I currently work with here at RPS but instead would just pick out two people from my time before joining the Society.
The first was my boss at Safeway. She was the first female store manager and first district manager for the organisation and later became a member of the CEO’s immediate team and subsequently my direct line manager as Director of Central Operations with responsibility for all central supporting functions that interfaced directly with stores. She was a somewhat formidable person to work for and its true to say we probably didn’t ‘gel’ at first, that is not until one day we both sat down and talked about what motivated us and what our values were as people. I started to understand her better and visa-versa and I think we probably both started to be more of our true selves at work when with each other rather than trying to be what each other thought we should be! She was an inspiring person, but I often wondered if she had an unfairly hard time having been the ‘first’ and paving the way for many more women to follow as store managers and senior leaders in what had typically been roles occupied by men. That’s a lot to carry on your shoulders and I don’t know if she had very many allies at senior level around her in support.
The second ‘stand out’ woman leader for me is still in the pharmacy industry. As MD of the company I joined, she had progressed her way up the leadership ladder from working first as a store pharmacist and then through the ethical procurement team in head office all while having demonstrated aptitude and an ability to drive performance in an almost entirely male dominated environment. She still occupies a very senior position today in what is now a global business with international responsibilities and has certainly carved out a path for others to be able follow. I often talk about the ‘shadow of the leader’ and women in high position can cast a very big positive shadow across their organisation.
In drawing this blog to close, I wanted to put out a challenge to all the leaders in our own organisation and the pharmacy organisations across the UK to ask them to assess if there is more we can be doing to enable women to develop in their careers, to secure positions of leadership and in doing so provide encouragement for others to follow.
In my view it’s an obligation on all male leaders to do so.
We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group