Women in pharmacy: Leadership roles grow through self-advocacy, mentorship, and support


For women building pharmacy careers, going it alone is not the most likely recipe for success.

Women in pharmacy careers need to advocate for themselves as well as receive support and mentorship, in order to obtain leadership positions in the field.  

Sharon EnrightThe challenges faced by women in pharmacy - and the healthcare workforce as a whole - were examined during a webinar titled “Fostering Women Leaders in a Knowledge Cafe” presented by the American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists (ASHP) on March 4.

“Fewer women in pharmacy continue along the career continuum, and there are many factors that may allow us to consider less of a career path than is in our capability,” said moderator Sharon Murphy Enright, BS Pharm, president of EnvisonChange LLC in Atlanta, Ga.

See also: Rising stars: Three women entrepreneurs share their paths to pharmacy success


Enright and the panelists identified some of the major obstacles to career progress for women pharmacists, including their own reluctance to pursue advancement as well as resistance from others.

Despina Kotis“As women, we are often our own worst enemies. We will tend to discount [our abilities] or hedge and verbalize those things. We apologize ahead of time,” said Sara White, MS, FASHP, a pharmacy leadership coach and faculty for the Pharmacy Leadership Academy. “When have you heard a man worry about whether he has enough experience or whether he can get things done?”

“There is a true confidence gap between men and women,” agreed Despina Kotis, PharmD, FASHP, director of pharmacy at Northwestern Medicine. “Take the action and it grows your confidence. A lot of times, the fear of failure is bigger than overcoming those hurdles."

See also: Women move on pharmacy ownership


Michael PowellWomen need to champion themselves, be proactive, and seize opportunities, White added. “Volunteer, provide solutions in your pharmacy, and stretch out of your comfort zone.”

To develop as leaders, women also need encouragement that comes from mentorship and sponsorship by others, the panelists agreed. “Just being a good pharmacist is not enough … to guarantee success, unless you have other people supporting you and helping you,” White said.

“You need to actively seek out individuals in your company and train and develop them to become leaders. We see women refusing or not accepting the opportunity to develop as leaders, but we actively encourage them to pursue leadership opportunities,” said Michael Powell, MS, FASHP, executive director of Pharmaceutical and Nutrition Care at The Nebraska Medical Center and associate dean of Hospital Affairs at the UNMC College of Pharmacy.



Christopher FortierAll pharmacy staff at The Nebraska Medical Center, from the time they are hired, are encouraged to progress in their careers and seek leadership positions, said Powell. And, because approximately 70% of the pharmacy workforce is women, it is “purely logical that they represent a large pool of talent … from which we can draw to work towards development.”  

“It really is about mentorship,” agreed Christopher Fortier, PharmD, FASHP, chief pharmacy officer at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “This is a call to action. Mentees need to reach out, and the mentors need to really seek out these people and nudge them and push them a little bit more, based on their potential and the need within the profession.”

While 76% of the webinar attendees said they have experienced gender bias in their jobs, some panelists believe those biases can be overcome. “I look at male, female, whoever could do a good job and who has the skill set. I am gender-neutral when encouraging future leadership,” Fortier said.

White said that when she started her pharmacy career, her mentor advised her not to make gender an issue. “He said, ‘If you do a good job, all of that melts away.’”

Nonetheless, Kotis believes, the pharmacy profession needs to focus much more on developing under-represented minorities. “We look at pharmacy candidates and how to get them more interested in pharmacy, whether it is before high school or in high school, in those communities that really need pharmacy services,” Kotis said. “We really need to work on that.”

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