From the NHS to the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), healthcare organisations nationally are calling on pharmacists to be allies to underrepresented and minority colleagues in a bid to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the profession.

The exact definition of allyship varies between organisations, but NHS England says this is about ‘building relationships of trust, consistency and accountability with marginalised individuals and/or groups of people’.

‘Although you might not be a member of an underinvested or oppressed group, you can support them and make the effort to understand their struggle and use your voice alongside theirs,’ says its statement on allyship.

The recently released Joint National Plan for Inclusive Pharmacy Practice co-produced by Association of Pharmacy Technicians UK, the RPS and NHS England & NHS Improvement, specifically calls on all pharmacy professional leaders to embrace ‘authentic allyship to improve their engagement with equality, diversity and inclusion’ and to ensure the voices of colleagues of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) origin are heard and valued in decision making.

Allyship is also at the heart of the newly formed Leadership Network for Female BAME Phamacists, which has coined its owned definition, saying allyship is more than just ensuring female and or BAME colleagues are being fairly represented, it’s about championing anyone from an underrepresented group and helping them to ‘step up into the leader they are within’.

Network co-founder, pharmacist and mental wellness/self-leadership coach Harpreet Chana said there was still a lack of awareness about what allyship was, particularly among people who have never had an ally or never needed one. Yet, there were many people who felt as passionately about equality as those from minority groups, but were not quite sure how they could help tackle the problem.

‘Allies for me are those who genuinely believe in equality and want people to succeed on their own merit. And where they don’t see that happening, they will call that out and try to rectify the situation,’ she told the Pharmacist.

Ms Chana, who founded the coaching and training firm The Mental Wealth Academy, noted that you only needed to look at the gender and race pay gap in pharmacy to see the inequality in how people are treated and paid.

‘As a woman, I sometimes feel I have to work twice as hard to get half the recognition of male colleagues. As a woman of BAME origin, it’s even harder,’ she said.

'Actively listen to colleagues'

Community pharmacist Reena Barai, also a co-founder of the new leadership network, added that an ally was someone who would push you out of your comfort zone to apply for leadership roles, opposed to a mentor who instead might support you to realise what you want from your career.

‘I have been lucky enough in my career to have really influential allies, both male and female. The allies have been people who understand the system and are supportive of where I might fit into the system or may invite me to something where I could speak and create a platform to share my views,’ she said.

Staying quiet and not reporting issues of racism has been reported as a widespread problem across pharmacy. A survey conducted by the Pharmacist last year revealed 75% of pharmacy team members who experience racism do not report it to management or the police.

For PCN pharmacist and integrated urgent care pharmacist Ojali Negedu, a critical part of allyship is actively listening to colleagues’ experiences.

‘It’s listening with the intent to understand, not listening with the intent to say: “no that doesn’t exist or actually it’s just your perception”.

‘It’s listening and then saying to the person, you know what I am going to actively speak out. If someone makes a negative comment in a meeting, I’m going to challenge that.’

Ms Negedu, who first experienced racism as a child when her family migrated to the UK from Nigeria, suggested people just starting to explore allyship should start by reading books about the experience of underrepresented and minority groups.

‘If you want to be an ally, you need to be somebody who is prepared to go away and do your own research,’ she said.

It was also important for allies to reflect on the inequalities in society and their own privileges – whether that be gender, race or another factor.

‘And then thinking in and amongst the privileges I have, how can I utilise them for the benefit of someone else in the profession who might not have the same access to bodies or to leadership tables that I have,’ she said.

'Share information and experiences'

Ms Negedu, who is running in the RPS English Pharmacy Board elections, said one way to act as an ally was to share information about job opportunities.

She recalled how a senior Asian male colleague had told her about a new racial equity and diversity working party in Nottinghamshire and suggested she apply, resulting in her becoming co-lead.

For Sunderland-based hospital pharmacist Min Na Eii,allyship recently came in the form of two senior white male colleagues who she approached for advice about running for the RPS English Pharmacy Board elections.

‘Half of me thought they would say: “go back to doing what you do, this is too much for you”. But they both gave me so much guidance,’ she told the Pharmacist.

‘For a young female BAME employee speaking to two middle-aged white blokes about this was initially quite scary… for them to be so supportive, I think that gave me a confidence boost to then go ahead and apply for this.’

Former national level pharmacist turned career coach Komal George, the other driving force behind the new leadership group, said there was a spectrum of allyship, from those who were just starting to listen and trying to educate themselves to those who were super allies and were affecting change in organisations.

Ms George, who is known as the Pharmacy Career Change Coach, encouraged people to share their experiences of being championed by an ally.

‘Do talk about it because I think when you share it, others see it and it will inspire them (to be an ally),’ she said.

Meet-ups like the monthly virtual meetings held by new network were a great place to start finding allies, she suggested, but she urged people seeking an ally to simply start talking to colleagues.

‘They don’t necessarily have to be colleagues that you are working with if you don’t feel comfortable doing that. We can communicate with pharmacists all over the world, via Twitter or LinkedIn. It’s incredible the things that can happen just through conversations.’