A Call to Arms: Women Claiming Space in Cannabis

Many CEOs, business owners, and entrepreneurs are breaking barriers in the cannabis industry with unprecedented foresight and drive. The potential of this industry is incredible and, accordingly, it is attracting the best and brightest talent. For such a dynamic emerging industry, there is opportunity to head off any outdated business practices or inequalities that thwart other industries. But are women professionals seizing this opportunity?

What is becoming apparent is that an inordinate number of cannabis entrepreneurs are men, despite myriad qualified and capable women. Some worry that the cannabis industry may already be showing signs of the same gender bias other industries face, including what some refer to as a “green ceiling” for women.

This issue is not due to a lack of qualified professionals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ longitudinal survey study on education, “By 27 years of age, 32% of women had received a bachelor’s degree, compared with 24% of men.” In other words, there is no shortage of educated women. Meanwhile, although women are stepping up, they are not doing so in the same numbers.

The cannabis industry would benefit greatly from increased numbers of women innovators, entrepreneurs and managers. Women are recognized as leaders in and advocates of the industry, and their influence spans everything from entertainment and technology as well as advocacy and legislation, but there is ample room for a stronger presence in the boardroom.

Recognizing the potential of the cannabis industry to set a standard for other industries, and the subsequent need to attract women of all backgrounds and expertise to this fertile industry, Women Grow was founded with the mission to “cultivate female leadership through programs and events that connect, inspire, educate, and empower the next generation of cannabis entrepreneurs.” The cannabis-centric professional network is not only filling a dire need for qualified professionals in the cannabis industry, it is aiming to set a precedent of equality.

Reports of women leaving technology fields are disturbing and indicative of a lack of women in leadership positions in the emerging industry of yesterday. This, coupled with preexisting cultures of gender bias that create toxic work environments for qualified professionals, show that not only do women feel marginalized in maturing industries, they are leaving them. Decreasing numbers of women experts in fields such as technology and massive wage gaps that endure in industries such as retail and wholesale are simply unacceptable.

Women Grow sees an opportunity in the cannabis industry to head off the stifling and archaic practices that endure in these other industries. And women professionals spanning many mature industries may be able to better leverage their skills in the cannabis industry due to its nascent stage. Since launching its first chapter in Denver in 2014, the organization has expanded to reach hundreds of professionals in 19 chapters, with further growth expected. This is exciting because it proves that women are dedicated to the industry and to professional growth within it.

Resources such as Women Grow are not founded on an idea of exclusion. The collective is not about rejecting men but rather creating a community that will act as a springboard from which women can launch lasting careers in this dynamic industry. It is about setting a new standard.

Jane West, Co-Founder and National Events Director of Women Grow, told MJINews that it is the company’s mission to empower women to not only enter the industry but also to find solid footing so that 20 years from now women are thought of as fundamental to the industry as opposed to secondary.

“Women from all backgrounds can bring their strengths to this industry,” West said. With the industry being truly unique and exceptionally fast-growing, West went on to say that Women Grow’s role is to empower women to help them to find opportunity in this rapidly changing marketplace. Given that this is a nascent space, she said, “There is no excuse for cannabis to not become [one of] the most inclusive and diverse industries around.”

Women Grow recently won Most Innovative Initiative at the 2015 CannAwards. It operates as a platform from which any woman entrepreneur may open a chapter in her hometown to cultivate a local cannabis community that ties back to a larger national effort. This proactive approach is necessary.

The idea of an emerging industry setting a new standard is encouraging, but the oneness of the industry’s success in this regard is on the businesses but also on the individuals who want to make a difference.

For women who recognize opportunity to put their skills and expertise to work within the cannabis industry, they would be wise to utilize resources available, such as Women Grow, and to take leadership positions unabashedly. Preexisting and new companies, meanwhile, must take steps to set a precedent that encourage the most robust workforce, which means one that is diverse and dynamic. Gauging professional success objectively will make this industry strong, and that means it must be inclusive.

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