Chart of the Week: Women Hold 36% of Executive-Level Positions in the Cannabis Industry

By Becky Olson

Wet T-shirt contests at medical marijuana events. Magazine ads featuring half-naked women posing provocatively with buds and bongs. Requests that female job candidates send in photos with their resumes.

The cannabis industry hasn’t been very welcoming to women in the past, which is perhaps one reason for the historical dearth of females working at marijuana companies.

But that appears to be changing quickly.

Case in point: Women now make up a sizable – and growing – portion of the executive ranks in the marijuana industry, including 63% of high-level positions at testing labs and nearly 50% of such roles at infused products and processing companies, according to a survey of professionals conducted by Marijuana Business Daily.

The results reveal that women are more likely to hold executive titles in every major sector of the cannabis industry than in the general workforce at large. This indicates that women have more opportunities to climb the ladder in the marijuana industry and are making quicker progress toward those goals than females in all other industries as a whole in the U.S.

It also reflects how the cannabis industry has matured and abandoned some of the practices that alienated women as both professionals and consumers.

The survey was conducted online on Oct. 6 and 7, and the findings include responses from 632 cannabis executives and professionals.

Some highlights:

  • Women hold 36% of leadership positions in the entire industry. That’s significantly higher than the 22% average for U.S. companies in general, according to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center. The national figures are pushed lower by heavy male executive representation in industries like commercial banking and the government (which includes the military), according to a 2013 study conducted by the University of Denver’s Colorado Women’s College.
  • The University of Denver study found that in newer sectors – such as technology and social media – “women are better represented in positional leadership roles.” That phenomenon certainly seems to be playing out in the cannabis industry and is supported by the results of the survey.
  • In addition to testing labs, other cannabis sectors are also truly excelling at female representation in the executive ranks, most notably processing and infused product manufacturing, where women hold 48% of key decisionmaking positions such as owner/founder, chief executive officer and president.
  • While years ago it was rare to see women in executive roles on the retail side of the industry, they now fill 38% of those positions at dispensaries and recreational stores.
  • Other sectors – most notably wholesale growing and investment – have fewer women in executive roles than the the rest of the industry but are still well above the average for all U.S. businesses.

It’s not all rosy though.

Women hold fewer than half of senior roles at two-thirds of cannabis businesses, and a surprising one out of four companies still have no women at the executive level.

Female leadership is most under-represented among cannabis investors and firms, where 36% indicate no women hold executive roles. By comparison, women always hold at least one of these positions at testing labs, and an encouraging 40% of labs indicate women fill over three-quarters of the senior decisionmaking positions.

Cannabis businesses that actively foster an environment where the contributions of both genders are equally valued will without a doubt have more success attracting and retaining the talent that will both set the company apart from competitors and position it to become a market maker and industry leader.

Becky Olson can be reached at