Chart: Portion of women executives in cannabis industry dips to 27% but still strong

(This is Part I in a series of charts regarding women and minorities in the cannabis industry. Click here to read Part II and click here to read Part III.)

By Eli McVey

The percentage of women holding executive positions at cannabis businesses has fallen substantially over the past two years, according to a survey by Marijuana Business Daily.

But there’s some good news: It remains higher than the average across the larger U.S. business landscape.

The survey found that women now hold 27% of executive-level roles in the marijuana industry, down from 36% in a previous survey Marijuana Business Daily conducted in October 2015.

That’s still a healthy edge over U.S. businesses as a whole, where women comprise 23% of executive positions.

The latest anonymous online survey, conducted Aug. 9-13, includes responses from 567 self-identified marijuana industry senior executives and owners/founders.

The results are somewhat surprising considering many cannabis businesses have made conscious efforts to appeal to women as both professionals and customers – moving away from the sexually suggestive forms of advertising and sexist hiring practices that previously characterized the industry.

But a tremendous amount of change has come to the marijuana industry in the past two years, which likely ties directly into the decline in the percentage of women holding senior-level roles.

The cannabis sector has grown quickly, with new businesses and markets opening at a rapid clip.

This expansion, combined with rising social acceptance for marijuana use, has attracted scores of entrepreneurs and investors from more mainstream businesses. Cannabis companies also are increasingly plucking executives from corporate America as they mature and the industry becomes more attractive.

Consequently, the executive structure of businesses in the traditional economy – where males occupy more than 75% of senior roles – has begun to seep into the marijuana industry.

At the same time, the costs to start a cannabis business as well as the barriers to entry have risen dramatically in the past few years. Marijuana companies also are facing increased competition, forcing many to seek additional funding to scale their businesses.

These trends tend to favor men, who often have more connections in the investment and finance worlds – which can be very valuable for a company looking to raise money.

The investment sector of the cannabis industry also is heavily dominated by men, as females hold just 10% of executive roles in this area.

Still, women hold a greater share of executive positions in the cannabis industry than all other U.S. industries as a whole.

And in certain sectors of the industry, females hold a significantly higher percentage of executive offices relative to the national average. Women comprise 42% of the executive positions at ancillary services companies, for instance, and 35% of medical dispensaries/recreational stores.

Looking forward, the portion of females in leadership roles in marijuana businesses may very well move closer to the national average as the cannabis industry expands. But given the inordinate amount of media attention and regulatory scrutiny the marijuana industry receives, it’s possible that cannabis businesses will place a greater emphasis on equality in the corner office.

Eli McVey can be reached at