Female cannabis execs discuss how to achieve gender equity

Women, minority execs show few gains in U.S. cannabis industry, according to the latest data from the MJBiz Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Report. Get your copy here.

Image depicting gender equity

Gender equity across the cannabis industry is still lacking – especially in ownership and executive positions.

And it’s a problem that appears to be getting worse.

MJBizDaily recently completed its third annual survey of female and minority participation at all levels of employment in the marijuana and hemp industries and uncovered statistics that show the cannabis sector at all levels of the THC spectrum is falling short.

We uncovered only one state – Nevada – in which the cannabis industry reported a higher ownership rate for women than the proportion of businesses in the traditional economy owned by women.

As the cannabis industry prepares to gather next week in Las Vegas at MJBizCon, we caught up with some women in the industry to get their thoughts on gender equity in an industry dominated by men and what they believe can be done to change things.

Their answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What can be done to overcome the cannabis “bro” culture that persists in many workplaces across the cannabis sector? What have you experienced, and how did you overcome it?

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Debbie Custer

Each week, at least one bearded 30- to 40-something comes into my business and proceeds to expound on what he knows.

It seems you can become an expert in the cannabis industry by understanding how to smoke weed and use a bong.

As a woman with over 40 years experience in botanicals, I am disregarded by those who have been in the industry for less than five years.  In five years, you are just coming into your own confidence.

You are not an expert in five years.

I don’t want to, nor would I encourage, anyone to learn to work in the “bro” culture.

Just wait, and they will implode.

Much like all of the tech companies who offered pool and pinball for their “associates,” work ethic and quality products will win out every time.

– Debbie Custer, CEO, Coeus Research; founder, Women in Hemp

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Shannon Moss

I have been to several events where everyone thinks I am my COO’s wife or girlfriend.

I overcome it by calmly stating who I am and making the first move with introductions and driving the conversation.

I’m proving I deserve the position I am in as well as realigning everyone’s perspective. Kill ’em with kindness (and a little bit of alpha behavior).

– Shannon Moss, chief of sales and marketing, Gemini Extraction

In the early days of cannabis legalization, no states prioritized female and minority participation. Now they all seem to. Why aren’t these programs making a difference?

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Sol Clahane

While state-level initiatives are key to starting grassroots change, the fact remains that large financial institutions and the federal government still do not recognize the benefits of a legal cannabis industry, and starting a new cannabis business comes at a high cost with application and licensing fees varying between states.

This continues to perpetuate the issues of the past – with women and people of color not only making less than their white male counterparts, but also having disproportionate access to capital networks.

For example, only a small percentage of banks and small-business loans are approved for women, and the numbers are even less for women of color.

– Sol Clahane, vice president for U.S. sales and CBD products, Canopy Growth Corp.

According to our survey, the biggest barrier to female ownership in the cannabis industry is access to capital. How can female entrepreneurs access investment capital?

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Jeanne Sullivan

There are certain smart things that women can do to overcome and succeed in raising capital.

The only entrepreneurs – men and women – who “get out” our wallets and get an investment are people who know what to do and how to do it.

The No. 1 mistake that women (and men) make: They do not know how to package themselves.

It takes clarity of thinking, a good depth of understanding about the numbers, including the amount of capital raised and an appropriate valuation.

Business leaders need reliable industry data and in-depth analysis to make smart investments and informed decisions in these uncertain economic times.

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Stay ahead of the curve and avoid costly missteps in the rapidly evolving cannabis industry.

I want to understand “the business of the business” – how to go to market, what my addressable market looks like.

Who is on my team and who might I need to hire over the next 18 months?

Combine all that and then seek the “right” type of investor – someone who wants your stage, subject matter, geography – and you have a chance to succeed.

– Jeanne Sullivan, chief investment officer, ArcView Ventures

After listening to multiple pitches in other consumer industries from both women and men, the pitches themselves are very different in tone and intent.

Women offer a solid plan, show losses and how to overcome those losses. Growth that is steady, building a base then expansion.

Men offer excitement, large growth in the market and a strategy for quick expansion, which is achieved through both commercial property purchases and hiring heavy hitters.

As the cannabis industry grows, women will always be starting from behind.

It boggles the mind that those who receive large amounts of investment funding, only to lose it, are able to get more, while a solid plan receives nothing.

– Debbie Custer

It’s no secret that the pandemic has driven women out of the workforce across all industries. Women were more likely to leave the overall workforce stemming from the closure of schools and child-care facilities during the pandemic. Our data suggests that women who worked in the cannabis industry might have left the workforce at a higher rate than in other industries. Any thoughts on why?

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Gia Morón

Some in the industry were allowed continuation by being essential business. But that only included for cultivation and retail.

You still had other businesses that declined in other ways.

So did we lose some of our talent that way? Probably.

You think about the number of companies that couldn’t sustain through the pandemic, it was because they didn’t have the support or the financial backing to keep them afloat.

So when our economy is affected that way, we oftentimes lose talent and lose businesses.

And what happens is women, as well as minorities, are often affected by that. So I’m not surprised by a decline.

– Gia Morón, president, Women Grow

From what I saw and experienced, it seemed that women were among the first to be laid off or furloughed during the pandemic situations.

This may go back to the boys-club mentality: that since the men in the industry are far more bonded to one another than with the women of the industry, they were less likely to remove them.

This boys-club concept being so ingrained in the cannabis industry, combined with societal concepts and the old-school mentality that child care is “women’s work,” may have increased the rate of women leaving the workforce at a higher rate in the cannabis industry compared to other industries.

– Moira Winder, business development, Open Book Extracts

, Female cannabis execs discuss how to achieve gender equityHear more about cannabis and gender equity at two MJBizCon networking events, Empowering Women in Cannabis and Achieving Equity in Cannabis, and read more details about the 2021 survey in this free report, Women & Minorities in the Cannabis Industry.

Kristen Nichols can be reached at kristen.nichols@hempindustrydaily.com.