Opinion: 4 ways to empower women in the marijuana industry

Image depicting a diverse group of women

Image of Kyra Reed(Editor’s note: This story is part of a recurring series of commentaries from professionals connected to the cannabis industry. Today’s installment is special for International Women’s Day. Kyra Reed is the founder and CEO of Women Employed in Cannabis, an international association for women working in cannabis.)

Numbers, as they say, don’t lie. But they don’t tell a full story, either.

The number of women working in the cannabis industry is on the decline.

We see evidence of this in reports presented by MJBizDaily, the Women in Cannabis Study and Vangst in the past two years.

There are fewer women in the C-suite with fewer entrepreneurs and professionals making the transition to cannabis.

The scarce number of women among the executives of the C-suite might be the most devastating statistic.

That number has dropped from a historical high of 37% women CEOs in cannabis to an abysmal low of 8% today.

While this is on par for the national average, cannabis was supposed to do better.

To know the numbers are dropping doesn’t tell us why it’s happening or if these numbers might indicate other areas of decline:

  • What will happen to the industry culture and priorities if we continue to lose women?
  • Is the loss of women our dead canary in the coal mine indicating imminent loss of small operations and, thereby, the people and companies that, in fact, built this industry from the ground up?
  • Are the cannabis legacy operators, including disproportionately prosecuted people of color, being completely replaced by industrial operations and white-collar execs?

These are the questions women are asking as we see our numbers decline.

What will this all ultimately mean for the industry growth and sustainability?

Let’s go back to those numbers that don’t lie.

A quick web search for “success rates of women in business” shows us that, in many ways, women are better at managing companies, teams, and budgets – basically better at all things business.

Women-owned businesses have a higher rate of return on investment, lower employee turnover and higher profit margins than their man-owned counterparts. Numbers say women are very good at business.

So, if women are very good at business, why are we receiving only 3% of the funding distributed across industries by venture capitalists every year?

That’s even worse in cannabis, and for women of color, such funding figures barely register.

Yet women, especially those of color, are starting businesses in cannabis at nearly the same rate as men.

The Women in Cannabis study showed 48% of respondents were business owners. Then, why are so few of us funded?

Are women not interested in or passionate enough about cannabis to enter the industry?

Women from all walks of life have been drawn into cannabis for the past decade because they found that it saved their lives or the life of someone they love.

And it held promise to be an inclusive industry.

When Women Grow began operating out of Colorado in 2014, it spread the gospel that women and people of color had real opportunities to build the cannabis industry from the ground up.

Compelled by passion and gratitude, women left their traditional jobs in “safe” industries to join the cannabis industry and ensure its accessibility for anyone who needs it.

It isn’t a lack of passion or interest that reduced our numbers in the industry, it’s that the industry boom hasn’t been remotely intersectional in its funding investments. The industry boom has largely excluded funding for women.

When a woman can’t generate capital for her business, she cannot sustain it.

If a woman can’t advance in her career, with opportunities for more lucrative positions, she will leave cannabis for a better job in a more stable industry.

While there are numerous factors telling the story of our decline in the industry, perhaps the single most important factor is that opportunities for women have not really changed much in the past 30 years, despite all the hard work of our women pioneers and fearless leaders.

It is time for a new course of action if we are ever going to gain the equity we deserve in an industry we co-create.

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During the WEIC’s Women’s Leadership Summit in July 2021, it became apparent that interrogating the “whys” was fatally subjective, and to answer any one of them was not going to promise the change we need or aspire to as a community.

What we want are actionable measures we all can take to ensure women are thriving in the industry – actions that will make a concrete difference in the lives of working women rather than regurgitate platitudes and promises that are never realized.

Women need to unify around our cause with simple steps we can incorporate into our daily lives to empower women, both in the cannabis industry and others.

At Women Employed in Cannabis, we have identified four ways to support all women working in cannabis.

These are simple steps that will weaken the systemic and structural problems women face in seeking the support we need in our careers, and in company cultures, to create and build wealth for ourselves. And history proves that wealth begets wealth.

1. Pay women 

Pay women what they are worth. Pay women the same as men for the same job.

Pay women when their bills or paychecks are due. Pay women bonuses, and create incentives for them to earn more money when they make you more money.

Seek out women to hire, in both the personal and professional aspects of your life – from your dentist to your accountant to your mechanic (duh, women are mechanics.)

Buy products, services, art and more from women. Go out of your way to buy from women.

Use your dollars to help women build their own wealth so they can, in turn, help other women do the same.

When we pay women, we empower women and level the playing field.

2. Promote women

Advance women in your companies by promoting them. Educate, train and mentor women to become executives and leaders, and then move them up the ladder.

Share women’s stories and successes. Promote the great works and achievements of women, and promote the smaller ones, too.

We often underplay our achievements, and we miss out on the inspiration and aspiration it provides to see other women succeed. When we do it for each other, it has even more power.

3. Partner with women 

Women are excellent managers by nature. We are collaborators and community leaders.

Women bring uniquely feminine traits to business and enable others to embrace differing perspectives. The embrace of differing perspectives is the path to peace; let us never forget that.

4. Protect women 

Do not publicly shame, trash or degrade other women, regardless of what she has done to you or to others.

Defend women, stand up for women, have the backs of women you know and don’t know – and even women you don’t like.

It is imperative that we look out for each other in a way that strengthens the power of women in cannabis and beyond.

If we act as an impenetrable force, we will realize the vision for a more just and equitable cannabis industry where women don’t just survive, we thrive!

If we, as a community, can instill these values in our personal and professional worlds, we can effect real changes in our industry and provide more opportunities for all women in cannabis.

We invite you to join the crusade and take the pledge to pay, promote, partner and protect women working in cannabis in 2022.

Kyra Reed can be reached at kyra@markyr.com.

The previous installment of this series is available here.

To be considered for publication as a guest columnist, please submit your request to editorial@mjbizdaily.com with the subject line “Guest Column.”