Women in Leadership: My Success Story

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In the second year of my Bachelor of Pharmacy degree I was elected on the committee of the Victorian Pharmacy Students’ Association (VPSA). I loved being on VPSA because it was a step out of my comfort zone and I built both my social and professional circle, as being a committee member opens you up to a lot of networking opportunities. To expand my involvement, I ran for and was successful in getting the position of National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association (NAPSA) liaison on VPSA which meant I got to attend the NAPSA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in 2015 in Sydney. Sydney was like a game changer for me as I learnt more about what NAPSA is in terms of not only what it does for its members but also the crucial part it plays in the future of our profession. Spending time with like-minded people really inspired me to do more for and with NAPSA.

I believe NAPSA to be an association that not only provides excellent education sessions and events like congress for its members, but also in doing so brings pharmacy students together from all over Australia. NAPSA is like a unity umbrella, it allows us to have intelligent conversations about the profession because at the end of the day we are the future of pharmacy and so the power is with us to make it what we want it to be.

NAPSA presented itself as a chance for me to shine and develop my leadership skills and to do what I love best which is working with people. At the end of 2015 I was elected as Director of Professional  Development on the NAPSA Board, the first of its kind at the time. Of the 8 Executive Directors on the Board, half were female. As an Executive Director, my skills and abilities were challenged as well as my thinking around the pharmacy profession. NAPSA is constantly growing and improving alongside our industry so having a leadership role within NAPSA allowed me to be part of change and make my mark in the industry.

I was then elected as President of NAPSA at the 2016 AGM. 4 students including me applied for the position and 3 of us were female. In July 2017, I stepped down from that position after a 12 month term and handed it over to Sandra Minas, which makes it the 3rd consecutive term that a female has been elected as President. In the current Board, 6 out of 8 executive directors are female, which is excellent to see.

I think one of the secrets to my success in becoming President was not allowing myself be limited by low expectations. I remember when I got the position, I had a male colleague say to me, “oh, it doesn’t matter if you do a good job or not, you will always be remembered by the title of NAPSA President” - and that hurt a little because it made me feel like I wasn’t good enough biologically to follow and build upon the work of past male Presidents. So this actually made me work harder because I wanted to prove to this colleague as well as myself that a female can do an equal if not better job than a male in the same position. It was all about me investing my energy, focus and persistence in NAPSA, and not dwelling on the perceived gender differences but focusing on my strengths instead.

My advice to young females trying to get a leadership position would be to be comfortable with yourself - don’t try to change who you are to fit into what is often perceived as a man’s world. Furthermore, I don’t believe anyone can move up on their own. It’s vital to have others support you. This is especially the case for me because the only reason I made the leap to apply for NAPSA President was because I had the past president, Eleanna as a mentor to encourage me and tell me I was good enough. Then on the day of the election, I had mentors - both male and female - who supported me, and shared their faith of me and my work to everyone. I have felt supported by both men and women in my NAPSA leadership journey and I don’t doubt that this will continue into my career.

I had the pleasure of meeting Rhonda White for the first time at the 2017 NAPSA Annual dinner and I was in complete awe by her leadership journey, and then at PSA17 on the Women in Leadership panel with all the inspirational women that I am honoured to have sat next to, who I can consider mentors in one way or another because they inspire me to work hard and succeed, despite the challenges. They are living proof that women are leaders just as rightfully as men are. And the diversity in us as individuals but also our roles I think just proves more than anything that we contribute a great deal to the profession.

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Pictured from left to right:
Rhonda White, Managing Director, White Retail Group; Debbie Rigby, Advanced Practice Pharmacist; Melissa McGregor, Managing Director for Pfizer Australia and New Zealand; Victoria Rutter, Commonwealth Pharmacists Association’s Executive Director; Emma McBride, Federal Member of Parliament; Shefali Parekh, National Australian Pharmacy Students’ Association Immediate Past President

I think it’s important for students to always network and build professional relationships because you never know who could help you. And when you do climb the ladder, it’s important to reach out to other women along the way because women should be natural support systems for each other. To get more women in leadership positions and achieve great things, we need to be inspired by those we see around us.

Shefali Parekh

Marketing Consultant

Raven's Recruitment