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Black Representation In Pharmacy Leadership

Leadership at any point in time forms the foundation for the future. The perceptions, beliefs, stance, and actions of leadership in any space, platform or organization directly impact output (outcomes of today, near tomorrow and the future). Increasing the diversity of people in senior pharmacy roles is a gaping need that requires not just a sprint of actions but a marathon mindset for innovative, consistent, and sustainable solutions.

The saying “I can be what I see” and the impact of having role models rings true, however, my reality at the start of my career was far from this. This took on a new meaning for me professionally when I became a member of the Scottish Board of Royal Pharmaceutical Society. After my election, colleagues in and out of the pharmacy world, students, and acquaintances commented on the positive impact of seeing someone who looked like them on the Board. A senior colleague said, “Now that I see you there, I think it’s possible, I will also make the effort to put myself forward for leadership”. I was so glad. I hadn't seen any black person in that leadership space before but as I was passionate to help, knew I had ideas that could help, and knew the future was based on getting it right now...I put myself forward.

I served as the local champion for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) in Grampian in 2017. At the interview for that role, I explained how the jobs I saw on the back pages of The PJ was a lifeline of encouragement for me when I first arrived in the UK. This spurred me on to complete my conversion course and exams despite how young my family was. I studied from home, was unable to work and had to travel from London to Sunderland University, the only centre for OSPAP (Overseas Pharmacist Assessment Programme) in the UK at that time. Friends helped look after my baby for the duration of my exam.

I had high aspirations but limited knowledge of Pharmacy world in the UK at that time. I must mention again, The PJ was my only real link to what was the “pharmacy world”. Aside from the articles, notices, adverts I read therein, my only other link to Pharmacy were colleagues who were doing conversion exams just like me - bound in limited knowledge too? The importance of diversity in leadership in general and specifically senior pharmacy leadership cannot be overemphasised.

Diversity in senior pharmacy leadership will help break the barriers of limited knowledge and the dire state of an undiversified society. A variety of perspectives, birthed from different cultures and personalities would bring to any table what I call a beautiful concoction – to breathe freshness to decision-making, actioning and chaperoning a consolidated future of excellence. Diversity in senior leadership would bestow the benefits of a 360 view on organizations that have it. A 360 view would help overcome the blind spots that are inevitable in an undiversified leadership platform. When you have lived a story, you more readily empathize with it and will be able to coach and or mentor others for positive …more positive outcomes than perhaps you had. The existence of miscellany, and specifically black leaders in Pharmacy leadership would ensure those coming up would be included in the now and the future.

Black leaders can empathetically and emphatically help others settle into the UK. A person that has not experienced the rigors that are associated with settling into a new country may despite best intentions not be able to effectively help and guide. Perhaps the ugly head of bounded knowledge plagues all in a variety of ways.

Recently I had a discussion with a Caucasian colleague and explained the different issues black pharmacists face as they try to integrate into the system. I described that at the point of studying for and sitting the pre-registration exam, black trainees are under significantly more pressure than their non-black colleagues. From the start, it already was not a level playing field for them. Hence, the need to raise awareness and help ease the additional stress points. Increased representation of blacks in Pharmacy Leadership would be a positive action to help proffer a level or near-level playing field for all.

If possible, means-tested bursaries could be awarded to relieve the extra strain of finances - this is just a thought that I hope becomes a reality. I can just see how easing that burden would free black trainees to perform better in the exams!

The United Kingdom Black Pharmacists Association (UKBPA) was set up to:

  • Create practical solutions to the current inequalities faced by black pharmacists, trainee pharmacists, and students in the UK. This is because we strongly believe that patients and indeed society at large are best served if all pharmacists are allowed to reach their full potential, independent of colour, nationality, or ethnicity.

  • Function by listening, sharing, building & influencing

  • Contribute to the education and support of members in a variety of ways including supporting them into leadership roles and suitable roles in different sectors of pharmacy.

Our Board members have taken an active role in the education of society on issues such as Microaggression, the meaning of belonging, and the look, and stance & value of allyship. The comradeship from allies has made a significant impact on our operations and passing on of our message. For more information, please see

Way forward?

Consistent, sustained education with a marathon mindset is essential since we are

dealing with the long run, not a quick fix.

What would this look like?

  • A commitment by every organization to ingrain the fulfilment of roles with black representation. If the “Ts” and the “Is” have been written, we must meticulously ensure that they are crossed, dotted, and actioned.

  • Actioning such commitment in transparent recruitment drives is paramount. If truly no black person is found qualified for a post, then it is essential detailed feedback is given to the black applicant and a commitment made to coaching or mentoring into that position or similar.

- Company cultures should imbibe recruiting leaders from black colleagues

- Targeting black groups/organizations to advertise roles to.

I view the future with heightened enthusiasm. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve as I continue to engage in the delivery of many positive changes that are happening in Pharmacy. As more and more black pharmacists occupy leadership positions, we will truly be on our way to a beautifully diverse and fit for purpose pharmacy world.

Written by Lola Dabiri

Pharmacist Independent Prescriber, Superintendent Pharmacist/Clinical Director Alpha Pharmacy & Clinic, Scottish RPS board member, UKBPA board member, British Lifestyle Medicine Practitioner, Sustainability Champion (NHS Grampian)

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