Overcoming discrimination in the pharmacy sector

In our latest member voice article, Nav Bhogal, a pharmacist and South East Regional PDA-Union Representative, shares his story of how discrimination affected his pharmacy journey.

Mon 19th October 2020 The PDA

I grew up in a family that left Punjab in the early 1900s. Both my Great Grandfather and Grandfather left their ancestral home and travelled an arduous journey into Africa. My grandparents were both part of the British Army and after the war were conscripted into building the East African Railway. As a family we were uprooted by conscription, material gain and pilferation by British colonialism.

My parents were both born in colonial East Africa and I grew up in Post-colonial Kenya. I have been very privileged to have grown up in such a supportive family. My parents both helped me to value and celebrate my identity and they always made sure I remembered my roots and culture.

I found that there was so much respect for Sikhs in Kenya, even though we were an ethnic minority. We are humble, sincere, hardworking, non-discriminatory and believe that women are born as equals to men.

I was educated in a school run by Irish Catholics which was very inclusive. Not only did I get a chance to flourish and be taught as a Sikh, I also had the opportunity to learn with scholars about Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Rastafarianism. This gave me the knowledge and tools to understand and diversify my networks.

Growing up, my family and friends meant everything to me. There was no difference between colour, creed, or culture. As a Sikh, within my circle of family and friends, I was celebrated for my differences but in private white surroundings, I was treated as a second-class citizen. I remember one instance of being told to take my Turban off to have dinner as a guest in a private white school. I was referred to the sign on the door “No hats allowed” and was assaulted and physically evicted from the dining hall. I was just 11 years old.

This was my first experience of racism and sadly not a single white parent batted an eyelid. My Black and Asian friends all got up and left the hall as a mark of solidarity but the school received no sanctions. We were continually excluded from white-dominated environments in Kenya, but change was progressing.

I later moved to Wales for university, which was very inclusive. I felt at home amongst Welsh and other students and my differences and unique identity were celebrated. I did experience isolated cases of name-calling and one student who tried to remove my Turban. Frankly, he learnt his lesson.

My realisation of ‘not fitting in’ started at the end of my 3rd year when I had to attend selection centres and interviews. I failed to secure any job placements in the first round. This was very disheartening as I interviewed well, I was predicted to get good grades and I was fluent in English. I asked for feedback on how I could improve my opportunities and was shocked by the comment I received which I will never forget. I was specifically informed, “You look different and as such you would struggle to fit into most teams.”

My religious appearance limited my opportunities. I was one of three Sikhs in the entire university but it was a place where our differences were celebrated. I did not expect my difference to be the limiting factor in my career.

As a result of this experience, I made a tough decision to cut my hair. Two independent barbers refused to cut my hair as they told me that they did not want to be a part of me losing my values and faith and I have great respect for their values. I eventually bought a pair of clippers from Argos and cut my own hair.

At first, I did not tell my family as I could not deal with the shame and disappointment of losing my identity, but eventually my family accepted my decision.

With my hair cut, I attended and was selected at the very next interview and was offered a pre-registration placement with Boots. This was not my first choice. I had specialised in drug design, development and manufacture, but I was unable to secure a placement in industry due to my immigration status.

I began my career with Boots some 20 years ago. In the first week, I had issues with colleagues struggling to pronounce my name. I was called “Navie”, “Nav”, “Raj” and “the Pre-reg.” My preference was Nav, and that has stood the test of time. As of today, most of my colleagues still do not know my full name.

Wearing a Turban comes with great respect and responsibilities. The Turban is the insignia of a Sikh so that we stand out and are accountable for the values that we hold. We are easily identified and as such everything we do has to be within the values. This is very similar to our GPHC code of ethics as you must remain accountable and identifiable in both your personal and work life.

Joining the PDA

I joined the PDA because of the similarities between my beliefs and those of the PDA Union. We share common values such as standing together when times are tough, protecting our lives and our livelihoods and improving the pharmacy profession. As a PDA Representative, I can promote our collective values of solidarity and equality in the workplace and help members to grow the movement.

“I live for diversity, equality, fairness and support.”

I believe that change happens from within. From the identity I lost and some rogue misguided individuals, I would never want anyone to feel that they need to ever change their appearance or identity to fit in. Diversity, equality and inclusion play a key role in the success of any organisation and should be celebrated.

At the grassroots, pharmacy is an inclusive profession, though change in senior management positions is required through diversification and equality.

“We need to see more Black and Asian pharmacists in senior decision-making roles throughout our healthcare system.”

Don’t get me wrong, as BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) individuals, our characteristics should not be a substitute for ability. We must also work hard, engage in our professional development and develop our leadership skills to make organisations aware of the value we bring. We need to be put on an equal footing.

I am grateful for the awareness that the PDA Union has raised for the need for change. We are in the midst of transformational change in the pharmacy sector. It is imperative that we maintain the momentum together and that our members and students studying pharmacy believe that they have unlimited career aspirations, opportunities ahead of them, and the available support networks.

Believe in your ability and yourself. Only you can change your destiny.

By Nav Bhogal, South East Regional PDA-Union Representative

 

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