Pharmacist Support is a charity that provides help and support to pharmacists and their families, former pharmacists and pharmacy students.
Léa Legraien talks to chief executive Diane Leicester-Hallam about her work, success and challenges.
Q How did you end up in your current role, which you took in 2009?
A I was working for Help the Aged, which merged with Age Concern and became Age UK.
A friend of mine sent me the [Pharmacist Support] advert in The Guardian and I ended up going for it.
When I looked at the advert my first thought was, ‘Why pharmacists? I don’t get it’.
But when I looked at the job itself, I [realised] it’s a charity [helping] people.
These people are pharmacists but also people in need and that doesn’t change – we’re all trying to get along.
Q Why do mental health issues matter to you?
A I had gone through a series of significant events myself and so felt a synergy. After a stable childhood, my parents broke up when I was thirteen. Around this time, I was being both physically and mentally bullied at school. Some years later, I became a survivor of domestic violence.
At the start of my career in charities, I did a lot of work, mainly specialist benefit claims and debt work, specifically supporting people with mental health issues.
If people have depression or anxiety they often won’t or can’t deal with [these] things because they don’t have the emotional capacity.
I advocated for many people who had serious debt issues and just didn’t know how to face them. I felt really strongly about people who needed that extra level of support, being able to get it.
Q What is the key to your success?
A Treating people [the way I] want to be treated and being genuine and authentic.
I am the same with everybody. I’m really proud of the culture we have within the charity. If you have an ability to have control over something, you’d be foolish to not make the most of that.
Q What are your biggest achievements?
A Raising the charity’s profile. It’s really important that as many people as possible understand who we are and what we do.
I’m really proud of the team, what we’ve achieved, our reputation and the feedback we get from the service users. It’s always lovely when someone says, ‘I’ve used your services’. I love that and don’t think I could ever get enough of it!
Q What challenges have you faced along the way?
A My first challenge as a woman was when I had my first daughter in 1995. I realised I would not be able to go back to my job so I went to university. As a student, I wasn’t able to access housing benefits. I had a student loan and a small grant but it was really challenging financially.
Being a single parent is a very difficult job, especially when you’re on limited income, want to aspire, do more and develop yourself.
After I had my second daughter, I was on a maternity leave and a week before I was due back in – as a senior manager in a bureau – I was told I was being made redundant. When it came to getting my next job, instead of looking for a senior manager position, I went back to being an adviser.
I thought it would be difficult to be a senior manager when you’re rusty. But you’re not, it’s perfectly acceptable to have time off to raise your children. I think a lot of women suffer from the clash of confidence.
My first problem at Pharmacist Support came was when my second daughter was four. I came into work and, as she wasn’t able to go to the nursery that day, I took her to the office.
I had a couple of meetings booked and told the first person about my daughter feeling under the weather, saying, ‘You know how it is’. He looked at me blankly and said, ‘No’.
[I asked him] if he had any kids and he said, ‘Yes, three’. So I said, ‘You’ve got three kids and you’ve never had a day off or had to take one to the office?’ He replied, ‘No, my wife [deals] with that’.
It was one of those smack-in-the-face moments.
Q What most valuable lesson have you learnt?
A Be true to yourself and hang on to integrity when you can.
Q What are the key qualities of a good leader?
A Be compassionate and open to people, treat them the way you want to be treated, don’t be afraid to make a decision and encourage people to challenge you.
I always want to lead by example. I would never have anyone do something I wouldn’t do myself. I don’t think anybody is too good to do something – together we can make a difference.
Q What advice would you give to women who want to be leaders?
A As a woman, if you’re assertive, you’re told you’re aggressive. It’s such a tough time because some people expect us to be feminine but we need to be divisive and passionate.
Women should support other women – I’d advocate for people to look for mentors. Leadership is a lonely place because everybody looks to you but who do you look to? It’s no different to the scenario of the pharmacist in the shop who is that one responsible person.
As a leader, it’s often thought that you don’t show weakness but you’re dealing with a number of things we all have to deal with: grief, loss or stress. To not have someone to talk to is the most difficult thing.
Q What makes you happy at work?
A The people I work with and the people we support. I like hearing from the volunteers and love engaging with people on social media platforms.
Even if I don’t directly deal with the individuals myself, I know that what I do every day helps support someone somewhere and that matters to me.
Q How would you describe the current state of pharmacy?
A Bloody challenging! It’s really difficult because you never know what’s coming up next.
I’d like to see more equality on every level for the profession and more females within the sector involved in taking control of things.
The sector and society need to make changes happen for women and be more aware of the issues we face.