Female Entrepreneurs Talk About Women in Cannabis Industry
According to a 2015 study conducted by Marijuana Business Daily, 36 percent of executive-level positions in the cannabis industry are held by women – compared to the U.S. average of 22 percent. The study also found the percentage of women in executive roles varied depending on which sector they worked in. Testing labs and processing/infusing companies lead the way in gender diversity, but even the most underrepresented sectors are still well above the U.S. average.
Here’s a breakdown of the different sectors:
We reached out to a several influential women that are staking their claim in the budding cannabis industry. We asked them why they think more and more women are working in cannabis, what kind of impact this increased diversity is having on the industry, and what advice they would offer to women that are interested in entering the cannabis industry. Here’s what they had to say.
“I’ve interviewed thousands of leaders and entrepreneurs in my journalism career, I’m happy to report that cannabis has the most women in leadership roles than any other major industry.
The numbers back it up – MJ Biz Daily reports that women make up about 36 percent of executives in the legal-marijuana industry, compared to about 22 percent of senior managers in other industries.
What we are seeing here is the emergence of female powerhouses fully unleashed. Despite the cannabis industry’s ever-changing regulations, and the uncertain political climate, women are flourishing. I believe many women, including myself, saw the emergence of a new cannabis market as their chance to not only get in the board room – but run it.
The new cannabis industry is an enigma; a multi-billion-dollar marketplace undermined by the plants federally illegal status. That means big chances could equal an even bigger payoff. It’s a chance women are willing to take in order to even out the playing field, and using their talents and intelligence to their full potential in a corporate environment.
My advice to women looking to start their cannabis career is to strive to know more than the next person, but admit when you don’t know something – then learn it. The cannabis industry is riddled with entrepreneurs operating on different levels of transparency due to the illegal status of the plant. Start your cannabis career off the right way, with correct information, and with the right people around you, and you’ll be on solid ground as the rest of the business, medical, and political communities enter the ‘green space’.”
-Chloe Sommers, Chloe Canna News
“It certainly is common to find woman-owned businesses in this space, and perhaps it’s just because we are more visible. Women tend to launch cannabis businesses with extremely strong branding, messaging and vision, earning early recognition in the media. Publications and blogs love to write trend stories about how many powerful women are in this industry, and that’s great, but I think it does take away attention from the issues female entrepreneurs still face. For example, many female CEOs are still having a harder time finding venture capital and getting spots on speaker rosters and panels than their male counterparts, and women of color are still disproportionately underrepresented in the space. It’s important that women in cannabis are never satisfied and always striving for that next level of leadership.
Be assertive and don’t back down. The cannabis community has always been a bit of a “man’s world;” I think a lot of society holds this stereotype in their mind, that a woman who hangs around the plant has got to be some kind of groupie or deadbeat. That’s just one of the many damaging stereotypes left over from prohibition, and in order to counter it, female entrepreneurs must put forth a confident, educated, almost cutthroat determination. Perhaps that is why we so often see the story of the “powerhouse” female cannabis entrepreneur: many of us are overcompensating for how we have been stereotyped in the past.“
Roni Stetter, Founder and Lead Strategist, Righteous Relations
“Since the industry is still being built it takes a lot of patience and nurturing. Women are naturally patient and nurturing so I think this makes us a perfect fit for the industry.
It’s a lot of work. More work than I have ever done. If you’re not willing to give up weekends, evening and holidays this may not be for you. It’s also the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Building an industry is a lot of fun but it is very hard work.”
-Ashley Heddy, West Coast Training and Support Manager, BioTrackTHC
“First, I think it’s fantastic to see so many women entrepreneurs in an industry. Perhaps it’s because it is one of the few industries in its infancy from a regulatory standpoint, which could make it easier for men and women to enter it from a more level starting point. I think it’s always a positive impact to have different perspectives on any issue or industry; it helps spark innovation, creativity, and growth within a business or industry. I would recommend that women do what a lot of successful entrepreneurs do in any other industry – value and trust yourself and skills, stay confident, and surround yourself with strong mentors and allies.”
-An-Chi Tsou, Principal, Tsou Consulting
“If you enter the cannabis market thinking you will make ‘millions’, then you have started on the wrong foot. To be in this industry you must first understand the history of cannabis and how the path was laid for you by people who shouted, defied, showed up, and were passionate about how this plant could heal. Begin your journey by learning how it was begun.”
-Ophelia Chong, Founder and COO, StockPot Images
“Well Cannabis is the future – and many women want to be a part of that. We are tired of getting shot down in the corporate world which is mainly dominated by men. So, all the power to us! Take ‘Women Grow’ for example — it is a group of women who educate women about all aspects of Cannabis. We want to learn and grow from each other.
My advice to any women who would like to start a business in the Cannabis Industry – is to join a Women Grow chapter in your area. From there you can connect with other women who can offer advice and support on every aspect of the industry. It’s a big industry – so the more knowledge you have going in the better!”
-Jo-Ann Bellanti, President, Pot Pockets
“Women have only begun to achieve a more equitable existence in society over the last century. We have achieved a more balanced playing field in the workforce only in the last two decades. Although, we are still not federally recognized for equal pay. The dot com era was still a bit before the time that a female owned and run business venture was seen as something normal. Cannabis being released from prohibition and representing one of the final true agriculture commodities with global significance, is an opportunity that comes around rarely if ever. I believe that this is the first economic opportunity that happened to be timed perfectly for women to seize. We were never less intelligent or capable, just oppressed. Of course, females see the opportunity in this. With our combined education, experiences and ability to raise capital through alternative channels, such as crowdfunding, there was never a chance we were not going to eventually dominate in the areas we focus on. Just like men. Historically, the feminine presence, in anything, represents a more balanced approach and this can never be anything less than positive. Because this industry has a strong female presence, the plant has a better chance of being respected for what its true value is versus just becoming another corporate commodity to improve the bottom line and increase the profits of its shareholders. We will find a way to make the profits and preserve the culture together.
My advice to women entering the industry is to be cautious. Find other women who are already familiar with the landscape that can be trusted to help you navigate. Do not rush into partnerships or lock into contracts without full oversight from an attorney. Find an attorney experienced in cannabis business. Never give up too much of your company. If you can bootstrap rather than raise a bunch of money, do so – it is always better to be able to make your own decisions about your vision. Investors are concerned with making money, not your dream. And go after what you want with integrity. I have watched, and experienced, women who are not used to opportunity or a moral compass step on everyone around them thinking they were getting ahead only to burn every bridge and destroy themselves. Just know we are all intelligent and observant. Once we witness unacceptable behavior, we alert the tribe as to assist others in avoiding the same drama and negative experience. I believe a true alpha female will always protect and help the women around her, not in empty words but in actions.”
-Cynthia Salarizadeh, CEO, Salar Communications Group
“Naturally, we see females taking on a caregiver role in their everyday lives. In the cannabis space, women are drawn here. Many have been here for years and it’s just now acceptable enough for them to come out of the “canna closet” I believe women make great entrepreneurs in all industries. I think that the impact women will have in the cannabis industry and community will set the stage for an all-inclusive industry. Women as the decision makers for the majority of purchases will also directly impact the products and services we see born in this new industry. There are many higher end products directed towards females who consume. I am excited to see the elevation continue and more companies identify these newer consumers and market with higher standards.
Hold on tight, the term dog years is used and for good reason. Months go by as quickly as a day and before you know it, it’s 2018.”
-Holly Alberti-Evans, Healthy Headie Lifestyle
“I think a lot of it is timing.This is an industry that’s emerging and evolving at a time when women everywhere are saying, “I want to create my own opportunities and I’m tired of answering to other people (i.e. men). Why can’t I be an entrepreneur?” There’s no entrenched hierarchy (yet) in cannabis, and we’re still making up the rules as we go. We’re playing with this dynamic creative energy and it makes sense that there would be more space for voices that are typically silenced. I think women can navigate this improvisational realm, be adaptable and flexible and responsive in a way that honors the foundation this plant has provided for us; and at the same time, pushes the industry forward. It’s our privilege to work with and for a product that lends itself beautifully to health and wellness, self-care, spirituality, and life-work balance. I think women are a large part of the reason the industry continues to embrace those ideals.
Don’t ask permission and don’t wait for anyone to notice what a great job you’re doing. You’ve got to tap into something that transcends any need for external validation – a singularly focused commitment to your vision, almost a blind determination.”
-Jenn Lauder, Founder, Pot and Parenting Newsletter Splimm
“I think there are so many women in the cannabis industry because we live in a time where, more than ever, women feel empowered. The cannabis industry is about creating positive changes in the world and I believe so many women are hungry for that. I see anyone who is entrepreneurial, driven and creative as having a positive impact on the industry, and I see nothing negative if those people happen to be women.
I would tell any woman considering a career in the cannabis industry to just go for it! Work hard, stay focused, show up and keep showing up. Put on your blinders and plow forward. It’s a great industry to be in!”
-Emily Sloat, AlpinStash
“I think that asking why women entrepreneurs are so involved in the cannabis industry is a very tough question because the answers can be so diverse. I can tell you that, at CannaSmack, we choose to create using hemp (cannabis) as our main ingredient because we strongly believe it helped us create a much better quality product. At the same time, it gave us a voice to support a cause we strongly believe in by promoting a cannabis positive image through our branding. In regards to our collective impact, I really don’t think it is fair to speculate on a positive or a negative. I think as humans we all have the potential for both, equally, regardless of gender. It is how we choose to approach our business as individuals that will decide the outcome.
Be fearless and unapologetic. Cannabis has been such a taboo in our society for so long that you are bound to be pre-judged and stereotyped eventually, so worrying about the “what ifs” is just a waste of your time and energy. Instead, channel it into your work with a positive attitude.”
Kenia Taylor, Creative Director/Marketing Manager, CannaSmack
“I believe that there are more female entrepreneurs in cannabis because we see the opportunity to advance in an industry which has yet to be defined by gender misconceptions and misogynistic corporate agendas. Women are natural caretakers and I am personally drawn to the cannabis industry because of the incredible opportunity to create and define key leadership roles within influential cannabis companies.
My advice for anyone stepping into the cannabis industry is to be authentic and honest about your passions, goals and to ask questions that will help you understand if the position you are considering is right for you!”
Jessi Cox, CannabiStaff
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