Walgreens Boots Alliance has a workforce that’s 68 percent female, which means there are thousands of women in 25 countries helping people across the world lead healthier and happier lives. What drives these women, and how did they get here? Each one has a unique story to tell.
They’re lawyers, pharmacists, computer scientists, warehouse workers and innovators. They’re also mothers, mentors, advocates, supporters and teachers. Meet a few of them, and learn about their paths, the battles they’ve fought and the things they’ve learned along the way.
Join us as we celebrate them – and every woman of WBA – in honor of International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8, and every day.
Director of flagship stores, Boots UK
On being a beacon of hope: I lead a team of 5,500 colleagues, and we have a real vision for our flagship format. I like to compare it to the Statue of Liberty – our hope is that our 37 Boots flagship stores act as a beacon of hope, places that invite our customers and colleagues to be their best. As an immigrant, it’s a symbol that really resonates with me. When I was 6 months old, my parents migrated from Egypt to England in search of a better life.
Her favorite female: I started at Boots 25 years ago as a pharmacy student, and one woman I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of working with over the years is Elizabeth Fagan, the former managing director for Boots UK. I first met her when she visited a flagship store I was managing. What was brilliant about Elizabeth was her knowledge of how to lead and her knowledge of the business, but more important, the time she was prepared to give to help my team and me really understand our roles. We now grab a coffee every couple of months, and she continues to offer me sound advice.
On resilience: After having my son 13 years ago, I took a year off for maternity leave, and was really passionate about coming back to a job I loved. But some people tried to convince me to choose a different path. But I was resilient. I said, “This is my job and I’m doing it.” Looking back on it, I think it made me stronger and more rounded as a leader and as a person.
Stacey J. Brown
Vice president, Labor Relations and HR Strategy & Solutions, Walgreens
On self-advocating: One of my mentors once told me, “Never accept an offer they would not give to a man.” Shortly after, I was presented an opportunity that felt less than it should be, and that’s when I learned to self-advocate. Until then, I had not learned to know my own worth and demand it.
Her biggest inspiration: My mother. She and my father married early, and she devoted her life to raising her two daughters. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned she was a freedom fighter on the front lines of the civil rights movement in the ’60s. My mind was blown. To see her now as a mother and grandmother, it makes me want to do more and be better, and have an impact on lives bigger than my own.
On challenges she’s faced: When I first went to work at a law firm, I was told they should not have hired me because I got pregnant. When I was an attorney and I would walk into a courtroom, I was often mistaken as a court reporter. When I was in my first week at a corporate role, a few colleagues asked to see my résumé because they didn’t believe I was qualified. Each time I told myself, “Don’t stop. Don’t quit. You are stronger than your circumstances.”
Her guilty pleasure: My favorite part of my day is when my kids have practice in the evening, and I sit outside in the parking lot and read for an hour. The books I love are trash – anything that doesn’t make me think too hard. It’s how I take a brain break.
Vice president, International Compliance, WBA
A day in her life: I have a 3-year-old daughter, so my day begins by getting her up and ready for nursery, which involves all sorts of tricks to get her to eat breakfast and brush her teeth, and the bribe – I shouldn’t say bribe, I’m in compliance – the incentive at the moment is letting her watch some TV before school. Then I get myself to work. I lead Compliance and Ethics for our international businesses, covering several continents and about 20 countries. In the evening, my husband and I will spend some time with our daughter before bedtime, and then I catch up on life and work if I need to or try (and mostly fail) a quick workout in the living room.
On career pivots: I’ve been with WBA for over 11 years, and I’m a lawyer by profession. When I was about to come back from maternity leave, I was looking forward to getting back to what I knew in the legal department, but then the opportunity for this role came up. It required very different skills, plus international travel, time zone differences – the whole thing didn’t seem compatible with being a new mum. After a lot of thinking, and lots of encouragement from my husband and parents, I made the decision to take the leap. I realized it was such a unique opportunity, that I could really make a difference and that things would be fine at home.
Her career advice: Nothing learned is wasted. Try not to coast for too long in a job. Once you get too comfortable, things are not stimulating anymore. To have a long, fulfilling career, try different things and be challenged. There are so many opportunities that need willing volunteers, such as leading a project or championing a cause, and doing the things outside your job remit gets you learning new skills and raises your profile. People start to see you as not just a lawyer, for example, but also a really great project manager or public speaker.
Senior records and archive manager, Boots
On career highlights: I promote the history of the Boots brand and manage and develop its heritage collection. One of my proudest moments was receiving a large-scale grant from a prestigious research funding body. Not only did it give us the resources to transform our service, it boosted my confidence to be more ambitious for our heritage collection.
Her claim to fame: I once met Winston Churchill’s daughter at an event celebrating his life – I used to work on his personal archive. I was suddenly reminded that he was so much more than a figure from history.
On Boots women throughout history: Boots has an impressive legacy in supporting women in the workplace and a number of amazing female role models over time. Our founder, Jesse Boot, was surrounded by strong women who were fundamental in the development of the business. His wife, Florence, encouraged women to enter the workforce by introducing a range of specialist roles for them. She and Jesse also created a number of welfare initiatives that supported women’s health and well-being. Women were managing departments, stores and even developing key brands such as No7 by the 1930s.
Senior vice president, global controller and chief accounting officer, WBA
On being a nomad: I was born in New Jersey, grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, and lived in the UK for 12 years – during which I became a British citizen. Then I moved back to the U.S. and lived on the East Coast for six years, and am now in Chicago as of 2019.
Her career pivot: I was a child psychology major for the first three years of college, but realized it was hard for me to emotionally disconnect from the work at the end of the day. So I decided to shift to business, specifically accounting, and now I’m responsible for validating the financial numbers that we report externally at WBA. My psychology studies benefit me immensely in the business world. You have a different perspective in conversations and meetings. You’re paying attention to the emotional intelligence in the room just as much as the numbers on the page because your brain is trained that way. It comes in very handy.
On unconscious bias: Earlier in my career, I had bosses who thought they were helping me by not inviting me to meetings because I had children. They would say, “We didn’t include you because the meeting started at 8 and we figured it would be too early with your kids.” Or, “We’re having a leadership meeting offsite, but we didn’t think you could travel with your kids.” Or, “There’s an opportunity to relocate, but we didn’t think you’d be interested because you have kids and your husband works.” Sometimes people think they’re helping, but they’re actually hurting.
Her No. 1 rule: Be absolutely authentic. If you’re not, people can sniff that out so quickly. Leaders want people they can trust, and people want to follow leaders who are authentic.
Divisional vice president, Pharmacy and Retail Technology
On sleeping with her phone: I oversee all our pharmacy, healthcare and call center technology, so I’m always on call. I leave my phone on all night, every night, at full volume. If something goes wrong, I’m responsible.
Her love for STEM: I love problem-solving, so I pursued degrees in math and computer science. My mom was a technology consultant and a role model for me, and I want to be able to show girls that being a woman in STEM is possible. I’m active with Girls Who Code, Chic Tech and Girls on the Run, which is not a STEM organization, but does help build self-confidence – something you have to have to survive in STEM. This passion must have rubbed off on my three children; they’re all in or planning on getting into STEM careers.
On unofficial mentoring: I love mentoring people, and I’ve had some really good mentors and professional coaches who took a vested interest in me and my career. Sometimes it’s official, and other times it’s not. Mentors don’t have to know they’re mentors. I’m always observing people, listening and seeing how people act. You can learn so much from people just by paying attention.
Her career advice: The most important thing is to dream big. See yourself in that top role. You will never get there if you don’t aim high. There’s nothing preventing you from becoming a chief information officer.
Warehouse operative, Newcastle Service Center, Alliance Healthcare
Her plans for retirement: I’m coming up to 55 years of service in June this year, and I still feel the same sense of pride that I felt when I joined in 1965 – we’re delivering life-saving medication and making a difference to communities. I’ve always enjoyed my job and never thought of it as tiring. I keep hearing people say they can’t wait to retire, but that thought has never crossed my mind. I want to stay here as long as I can.
On learning new skills: I’ve worked in different parts of the service center – returns, inbound, replenishment – but the biggest changes for me have been with technology. We used to process orders manually, until one day we got a new IT system. I didn’t know how to use a computer, but the team helped me and I attended evening classes to learn more about it and build my confidence. It was a huge learning curve.
Her social calendar: On Wednesdays I attend a craft class where I make all sorts of things from cakes to Fabergé jewelled eggs. And every Saturday at lunchtime I meet my sister at bingo. We never seem to win much, but it’s a good excuse to go out and go shopping.
Vice president, Commercial and Marketing, International Retail, WBA
Her cross-country career path: I grew up in Ukraine, which was still part of the Soviet Union at the time. After university, I moved away from my hometown to work at Procter & Gamble in Russia, but left five years later to go to business school in London. I didn’t really have any savings, I just had this belief that it would be really interesting. After business school, I moved to different industries – management consulting, retail. Today I’m based in London, leading WBA’s European retail business in Norway and the Netherlands, as well as commercial and marketing operations in 15 international markets from Chile to China. Looking back, I don’t know if some of these decisions were brave or rash, but what drove me each time was curiosity.
On traveling and mom guilt: My job has me traveling quite a bit, which means time away from my two kids. Do I feel guilty? Constantly. I want to do it all, but I can’t, so I’ve learned to compromise. Last year I had a really big meeting in China and had to miss my kids’ choir performance at school – it was heartbreaking. So my husband went and he sent me the video, and I cried. Everyone has their own formula, and for me it’s about letting go and doing the best I can. Nobody is perfect – good is good enough.
Her challenge and solution: Apart from when I worked in Russia, I’ve always been an outsider in the environments I’ve been in – a) I’m a woman, b) I’m a foreigner, c) I have an accent, d) I don’t play football, and all these other things. Once I was in a meeting and said something, and nobody paid any attention. Ten minutes later, a guy said exactly the same thing and everybody said, “That’s an amazing point! Fantastic!” I call it unconscious bias, but I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman, necessarily – maybe the way I communicate. In these situations, I try to find a way to be more influential or persuading in order to build relationships.
Specialty pharmacy manager, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Walgreens
On the role of the specialty pharmacist: I work at a hospital, and we see patients who are really sick with things like cancer or chronic inflammatory diseases, or who have undergone transplants. They require a lot of interactions with their healthcare team, including pharmacists. Before they ever leave the hospital, we work to make sure they’re counseled on their medication and able to afford it. A lot of their medications have a direct impact on their lives, which makes our support even more critical.
Her thoughts on women’s health: We see patients who are struggling with infertility, and I feel strongly that this is an issue women should not feel ashamed to talk about. If you’re struggling with infertility, or you’ve had a miscarriage or postpartum depression, speak up. Talk about it – there are so many resources, and so many more women struggling, than you might realize. Continuing to talk about these issues will make it less taboo to ask for help.
On becoming a mom: Before I had my daughter – she just turned 5 months old – I was concerned about taking maternity leave. I kept thinking, would taking this time off hinder me from continuing to advance in my career? Am I being fair to my patients? In hindsight, I learned that this was the best bonding time for my daughter and me. Being in the specialty field, you have to have compassion and empathy for other people. I think being a mom adds another layer on top of that, and it has made me an even better pharmacist.
Customer Advisor, Sedley Place on Oxford Street, London, Boots
The power of her smile: I’ve worked at Boots for 42 years, and have been at our Sedley flagship store since it opened 14 years ago. I look after our customers, greet them by saying “Good morning” or “Good afternoon” – with a smile, of course. I’m always smiling, I don’t know why. It’s the best welcome for our customers. My customers love me, and they miss me when I’m not working. After my day off, they’ll say, “Where were you yesterday?”
Her role model: My mum. My dad died when I was 5 years old, and my mum had to bring up five children alone. I was the youngest.
On hidden talents: My family came to the UK from Sri Lanka in 1971, and I studied design and decoration of cake and confectionary at university. Cake decorating is my passion.
Her biggest achievement: That I’m 80 years old and happy to be working. If I were at home, I’d be watching television. I just don’t like staying at home – I want to come to work. I like people. It keeps me going.
Director of Digital & E-commerce, Boots
Her remote office: I spend Monday through Thursday in and around Nottingham in meetings with clients and colleagues, but I live in Chamonix, France, on the weekends. I work from home on Fridays, and I get to wake up and look at the amazing French Alps and the incredible mountain range, which really inspires me and helps me think differently. I’ve solved more problems hiking up in those mountains than I ever have sitting in an office.
Her biggest learning moment: My first job out of college was at Reuters. I was in their management training program. At the end of the program, everyone wanted to work on Reuters news, but there weren’t enough jobs for everyone in that department. So we had to give presentations and interview for a position – it was very competitive. I worked really hard, and definitely did my best, but when I went to find out my results, they said, “You did a great job, but you didn’t get the job on news.” I was devastated. Then they said, “But we’re putting you on this project called the internet.” This was 1994, and I had no idea what the internet was, but they told me it was a new project with a great deal of potential. Now here I am, 23 years later, running Boots.com, the largest health, beauty and well-being website in the UK and the largest e-commerce business within WBA. The lesson is that you either win or you learn – you never fail. You turn adversity into triumph.
On being called "bossy": People have called me “bossy” throughout my entire life – both men and women. Men are never called bossy. Men are described as showing leadership skills, taking initiative, helping drive things forward. But women are called bossy, and that’s a really negative word that has unintended consequences beyond anything we can imagine. When little girls are called bossy, that means that by middle school, fewer girls volunteer and put themselves forward. And if fewer girls aren’t volunteering and putting themselves forward in middle school, imagine how far behind we are by the time we finish our education and enter the working world.
Managing director for Aromatherapy Associates; global business development director, Global Brands
On work-life balance: I oversee business development for Global Brands, which looks at forming strategic partnerships that can help us accelerate our growth, and I’m also the global managing director of the Aromatherapy Associates brand, which WBA acquired in 2014. My job involves a few nights of travel each week, so I try to structure the beginning of my week so that I’m home-based and can take my two children to school. I’m a huge believer in work-life balance because I think it makes you better and more focused in your job if you’re feeling that it’s without compromise.
Her morning routine: I start each morning mentally walking through my day ahead. Before the day even starts, I think through what situations I’m going to find myself in, and if there will be situations that might trigger me, where I’m not going to be at my best. I try and make some conscious choices around how I’m going to prepare myself for those situations. As a leader of a business and of people, I’m really trying to practice how I am and how I motivate and engage and lead them through different situations. It’s almost a form of exercise, but mentally, for me to be at my best to help them be at their best.
On perfection and letting go: I have very high standards. And if I let that get in the way, I can become quite anxious because I’m so eager to do a good job for the business. It used to be crippling, manifesting into sleep loss, nervousness ahead of leadership meetings, trying to control the outcome during the meeting – I felt the full burden of giving the answer to the business in its entirety. Through some great mentorship, I’ve just learned to let go. What I’ve started to appreciate is that everybody is human around that table. Senior leaders are there to also support and guide. A big moment for me was realizing that it’s not on me to have 100 percent of the answer. It’s about inviting other people in to help form a better one than I could have ever created myself.