Skip to main content

Pharmacy Leader Zebrina Kassam: "We need to change the stereotypical narrative."

a woman smiling for the camera
Zebrina Kassam of Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw


- Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Shoppers Drug Mart and Loblaw

- Accountable for the leadership of HR Business Partnering functions supporting multiple teams across the business.

- A graduate of University of Toronto and a pharmacist by trade, Zebrina started her career as a pharmacist 23 years ago at a Shoppers Drug Mart location in Toronto.


When you graduated, what did you envision for your future?

When I graduated from pharmacy school, I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. It was important to me to be the best possible pharmacist I could be and ensure my patients knew that I cared not just about filling their prescription, but also about them, and about establishing a meaningful relationship. I wanted my patients to seek me out as a trusted advisor when they needed support from a pharmacy perspective, and to support their overall health and wellness.

How has your career evolved since you first started in the profession?

My drive for ongoing learning has led me to make some very different decisions about my career, challenging me and taking me on several paths in and outside of the pharmacy. When I felt like I was falling into a routine, it pushed me to break through to learn more and take on new opportunities. This has been common theme for me and helps me be more proactive to take chances and risks in my career.

What is (or has been) your greatest challenge as a leader in pharmacy?

My greatest challenge has been influencing people to change their mindset about the evolution of the profession. Many people are comfortable in the way that they practise or approach things as a pharmacist and I’ve worked at helping them to feel more comfortable in the grey, when their focus is primarily on black and white. It can be challenging to live in the grey, and I want to lead the way.

How important was mentoring in your career?

Mentorship has been crucial as I’ve developed in my career. I have appreciated and been grateful for the mentors that have helped me over the years at different stages of career. My mentors have pushed me to think outside the box, take risks and be confident in myself, my abilities and transferable skills. Mentoring is also a way for me to give back in my role. I have mentored multiple people over the years, as it is important to me to support others in their career journey as others have supported me.

Looking at your career, what are you the proudest of? What have been some of the highlights?

I think some of the biggest highlights for me have centred around helping others realize their potential. One of my proudest moments was when I took a chance to support a beauty manager in one of my stores and gave her the opportunity to excel as a front store manager. It was a high-volume store, but I had faith in her, even when people told me I was taking a big risk, I felt strongly about her capabilities. Because of that opportunity, she has become a very successful front store manager, she has been nominated multiple times for the FSM of the year award, she now trains future FSMs and currently runs one of the largest volume stores in the network.

Women are making a big name for themselves in pharmacy. What does this mean to you professionally and personally?

Professionally, it’s great to see more and more female leaders in pharmacy. We have a profession that is evolving and it’s important to have different perspectives – women bring that. Personally, I’m happy to see doors opening and glass ceilings shattering, as it paves the way for future women to be successful. I have two daughters of my own and I don’t want them to be limited in what they can do in their own lives because of their gender.

What do you think needs to happen to have more women in executive roles across various sectors in the profession?

Pharmacy is an industry that women are generally attracted to and can thrive in – in fact, women outnumber men as licensed pharmacists and new graduates in Canada. But as you look higher in pharmacy leadership ranks, you begin to see fewer women. We need to change the stereotypical narrative and ensure young women believe that they can pursue leadership positions.

We also need to take an honest look at our HR practices to make them more equitable – in other words, we need to be intentionally inclusive. Research and evidence that shows that men and women do not have equal opportunities to further their careers – and women of colour have even fewer opportunities. Women are less likely to be included in mentorship, sponsorship and networking relationships than men. Systemic pay inequities exist, and barriers come up through parental leave and caretaking commitments that are most often put on women. We need to rethink our systems and remove biases.

We need to have conversations about the value of diversity and why it matters. We need the industry to realize that we are stronger when there is diversity of thought at every table and in every decision, because it enables us to better support our diverse patients, innovate, solve problems, and achieve our financial goals. If we don’t care about equity, we are doing a disservice to our patients and our profession overall.

What advice would you give to new female pharmacy graduates?

You can impact real change in people’s lives practising your profession every day, or by choosing to do something in business related to pharmacy. The opportunities are endless. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to grow and develop and don’t limit yourself. You can make a tremendous difference for your patients. More importantly, be confident in yourself, you can do it!

How are women paving the way for changes in the pharmacy profession?

Women are being more vocal about the barriers and advocating and inspiring each other. However, change can’t happen without the allyship and advocacy of men. We need influential male leaders to listen and participate in intentional inclusivity. Leaders at the table all need to believe in having a balanced workforce at all levels. Allyship is important, and it needs to include elements that focus on the progression of women.


This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds