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If organisations are unsure of how to best support and empower women, they just need to ask and listen!

Vivien Yu

Vivien Yu is currently in her final year at Robert Gordon University. She also works two part time pharmacy jobs, leads two university societies and regularly contributes to the Pharmacist Support wellbeing hub. It’s no wonder that Vivien was named as one of the RPS Women to Watch 2020!

This International Women’s Day, we caught up with Vivien to get her thoughts on the challenges and opportunities for women in pharmacy. 

Congratulations on being listed as one of the RPS Women to Watch! How important is it to recognise women’s achievements in pharmacy?

It is important to recognise women’s achievements across all sectors and levels. Whether she is part of the pharmacy team, a student pharmacist, pre-registration trainee or fully qualified pharmacist. Women in science careers tend to be judged based on their perceived characteristics rather than their actual ability and we simply don’t have enough women in the spotlight. It is really difficult to see yourself in decision-making level positions if you don’t see people that are like yourself. I believe it is even harder to fathom being in one of these positions as a woman of colour.

Being able to shine a light on women who are achieving wonderful things across the country allows for some of their hard work to be recognised and celebrated. This ripple effect may project onto all women across pharmacy and perhaps inspire them to take a leap of confidence, to start that project they may have put on the backburner or to go for the job change. Having both local and national recognition for women’s achievements is important in inspiring both the current and next generation of female colleagues in pharmacy.

Are there any specific challenges women face studying pharmacy?

Our profession is often recognised as one which has flexible roles in some of the sectors. However, for student pharmacists more can be done to even the playing field. The option of having part time STEM and pharmacy degrees could open so many more doors for women balancing motherhood or care responsibilities and for women who have health issues.

It would open up the possibility of working part time/full time jobs to support themselves and other care responsibilities. In addition, some female students may not have the privilege to undertake volunteer work, extra-curricular activities or simply look after their wellbeing due to childcare and/or working jobs outside of the degree. The life experience and transferable skills of those working in part time jobs and caring for children must be recognised and admired. The idea that women may need to choose between career progression, relationships and family life is outdated.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #ChooseToChallenge. How can the sector better support and empower female pharmacists to overcome these challenges?

As a profession, which is well spread across sectors, we are in a position to influence and action change. There should be a guarantee that taking time out for motherhood will not hinder chances of promotions or create more challenges. More work needs to be done in allowing all parents more flexible job positions and not placing all of the childcare responsibility onto the mother.

Looking to a wider, gender-equal world, we must lead by example in pharmacy and raise more awareness of women’s healthcare and health conditions. All sectors of our profession should be actively supporting female pharmacy peers and colleagues by listening and understanding female health and wellbeing issues, and actively looking to do all we can to alleviate these challenges. It is everyone’s responsibility to break down all of the barriers and build bridges to make sure that these challenges are actively taken away.

According to the Women in Pharmacy Facebook group, women represent over 60% of the profession but men are in the majority when it comes to policy and decision-making level within organisations. What steps do you think the sector needs to take to give women more of a voice in pharmacy?

Give us more networking opportunities! From my own experience, I found it empowering reading about fellow Women to Watch finalists and the amazing things they have achieved in their career. I also find it incredibly inspiring to read about women leading initiatives especially during the pandemic.

We are also lucky to have The PDA’s  National Association of Women Pharmacists (NAWP) bringing more awareness to the challenge’s women face. We have an inspiring group of women who are well educated and with so much experience. The sector should utilise and ask for advice from NAWP. If organisations are unsure of how to best support and empower women, they just need to ask and listen!

I think we as women need to take more recognition for all of our achievements and have the confidence in ourselves to recognise and speak about them. Not having the confidence adds yet another barrier to achieving things such as equality in policy and decision-making level positions within organisations. As someone who often describes themselves with ‘imposter syndrome’ due to both personal, societal and professional stereotypes, I recognise that finding and acting on this confidence may be uncomfortable. However, it is a necessity.

Instead of being the ‘norm’, women in ‘top table’ roles are seen as achieving a milestone. Hopefully and eventually the future of pharmacy cohorts will see women across all sectors in all positions across all organisations.

Are there any women you’d like to give a shout out this International Women’s Day?

Charles Michie and my Boots colleagues I work alongside with, my best friends and our university lecturers all working incredibly hard in university and at work. I am lucky that the women around me continue to help me grow and have more confidence in my abilities whilst I’m in the early stages of my career.

Get involved in International Women’s Day 2021 by joining the online chat using #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021 and tag us @PharmaSupport.
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