By Jaspreet Sohal, Chief Pharmacist, Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust
I was 33 when I was invited to act up in the role of Chief Pharmacist at my Trust because my boss became seriously ill.
The comments started almost immediately. “Do you think you’re ready for this?” “Are you sure you want it?” I’m now 37, but recently at Clinical Pharmacy Congress I was chatting to a delegate who looked at me in disbelief and said “You’re far too young to be a Chief Pharmacist!”
Over time I know I’ve proved myself, but I feel I have to go that extra mile all the time to demonstrate that I’m competent in the role, compared to others who have had a different career path and happen to be older when they become a Chief Pharmacist.
We often think ageism affects older people, but it can strike at any stage in your career. It makes you feel like everyone doubts you, as if you don’t deserve to be in post. When we knew my boss was not going to return to work, I had already shown I could do the job before I was interviewed for the Chief Pharmacist vacancy, yet for some, that still wasn’t enough.
I’m one of the few South Asian women Chief Pharmacists, so I often feel there are other issues at play along with my age. The typical Chief Pharmacist is still a white man, and when people make remarks about me I think some of their surprise comes not just from my age, but my gender and ethnicity too. Just because someone looks a certain way we shouldn’t make assumptions about what they can do. I believe we should judge people on their skills and knowledge, and how they treat others.
I have received positive support too, of course. When I first became a Chief, many older women in the Trust and beyond in other organisations were very kind, gave me brilliant advice and were super supportive. In my ICS because I’m younger I know I add a different perspective and bring something new to discussions, and colleagues appreciate that. People in other professions have been great too, and of course my family is very proud.
I’m now more inclined to challenge things I hear which I think are unfair. In meetings I’ll pick up on throwaway remarks such as ‘millennials are all workshy’ – I’m a millennial! I’ll also challenge remarks by younger colleagues who say older people ‘are no good at technology’. By addressing generalisations about groups with protected characteristics, we act as allies and stand up for each other.
I think ageism is common at all levels of the profession but isn’t confronted enough. It’s almost like the last ‘acceptable’ prejudice. We need to treat each other with empathy and compassion, whatever our age and background. I’m optimistic for the future if we can have some open and honest conversations about what people of all ages are capable of in the workplace.
If ageism is an issue for you, take a look our resource on age microaggressions and download free posters for your workplace.
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.