Why Are There So Few Female Cannabis Leaders In The Industry?

Cannabis companies can avoid the pitfall of creating toxic "bro culture" by taking diversity seriously. That includes women.
Why Are There So Few Female Cannabis Leaders In The Industry?
Image credit: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels via The Fresh Toast

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This story originally appeared on The Fresh Toast

The marijuana industry is poised for another leap of growth with the election, an increase of use by seniors, and healthy sales during COVID-19. As companies rush to cash in on the trend, few companies are doing it in a way to ensure diversity among leadership by including more women executives.

Attorney David Feldman, a partner at Hiller PC and a leader in the marijuana industry shared his view. “The first active networking group was Women Grow, which also welcomes men to its events. Early on, it was immediately apparent life in cannabis was going to be refreshingly different from many other industries (including Wall Street) with which I have been involved, because of the important, dedicated, and leading role of women in the space.

“It was estimated 37 percent of senior-level jobs at these companies are held by women, as opposed the general 21% for all U.S. companies. Some reports are indicating a reduction in the number of women in senior positions over the last few years. Some feel that is in part due to the historical favoritism among investors toward male-led businesses, and the fact that more men from outside the industry have entered. It is unfortunate that so few CEOs of the bigger companies in the space are female, we all hope that balance can be improved.”

RELATED: Female Cannabis Entrepreneurs Are Pioneers in Science, Finance and Fashion

It pays to have women in the boardroom.

Deborah Johnson, who just joined private equity company Keneh Ventures as in Investor Relations, shared her thoughts as an experienced leader of building companies. “We’ve all heard of the horror stories coming out of the startup world — especially in Silicon Valley — where there are plenty of women entrepreneurs, but they typically get less venture capital or are overlooked when it comes to filling a seat on the board. As a result, we got this bro culture that became toxic.” (SEE: Why VCs Aren’t Funding Women-led Startups)

“Cannabis companies can avoid that pitfall by taking diversity seriously. A voice and background different than your own can only lead to smarter choices and a better connection with customers.”

While one of largest companies, iAnthus Capital Holding, just lost early founder and board member Elizbeth Stavola, others are expanding their executive team to include more female energy.

RELATED: Women Are Influencing the Cannabis Industry Both as Entrepreneurs and Consumers

While cannabis use slightly leans toward the male consumer, women offer a significant growth opportunity, especially as it moves toward full legalization. Amber Senter (CEO, Breeze Distro and Chairman of the Board, Supernova Women), Christine de la Rosa (CEO and co-founder, The People’s Dispensary), and Dr. Chanda Macias (CEO/owner, National Holistic) have taken the lead founding and growing leaders in the space with Dr. Macias having impact in Louisiana. Debra Borchardt, founder of Green Market Report, one of the most respected cannabis business journalist and a sought-after speaker for her incisive insight.

Long time cannabis journalist Anthony Noto shares, “Cannabis companies can avoid that pitfall by taking diversity seriously. A voice and background different than your own can only lead to smarter choices and a better connection with customers.”

“On Nov. 3, there will be a number of ballot initiatives for voters to consider. Voters in New Jersey, Arizona and Montana — where there are existing medical cannabis markets — will consider legalizing adult-use. Mississippi may potentially become a new market for medical cannabis, and there are two ballot initiatives in South Dakota that seek to legalize both medical and adult-use.“

With the ballot initiatives passing, along with a Biden-Harris ticket that promises decriminalization, the cannabis industry may look completely different in 2021 and beyond. When that happens, regulators need to make sure everyone gets a fair shake. In various states where pot is legal — recreationally, medically or both — licenses were typically granted to connected Caucasian men. States are working on equity rules to build the female and people of color ranks.

RELATED: Don't Ignore Women In Weed

Keneh Venture’s Johnson offers this advice for women who want to enter the industry.

  • All traditional market skills translate to the cannabis industry. It’s just a matter of lining up your skills and passion with the right company — or starting your own.
  • As a woman you can influence the market regarding the female demographic. As an economic force brands should be taking into account our preferences in messaging, platforms and products.
  • Engage with women groups — there are a number of groups in the cannabis industry — from Women Grow, WEiC, Toketivity, etc. where you can find others to be resources, mentors, affiliates and cannabis aficionados.
  • Refer other women to: fill a position, support a woman owned business, speak at forums, sit on a board, have an interview, etc.

We should all remember only female cannabis plants produce THC, so it is important they help lead the growth of the industry.

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