The rise of the cannabis industry is shattering the glass ceiling for women
The trend of states relaxing their laws regarding medical cannabis has encouraged many female entrepreneurs to get join the new ‘Green Rush’ that is the ‘Cannabiz.’ While it’s true that the cannabis industry is male dominated, more women are getting involved in all areas of this lucrative and growing business. “Research indicates that women hold significantly more executive roles in cannabis than in mainstream American industries,” said Jane West, CEO of Jane West and co-founder of Women Grow.
Perhaps there is a lower barrier to entry and less structured corporate citadel, but one thing’s for sure: The boys club is no more and it is giving rise to a female market force in the industry.
Why is cannabis appealing to female entrepreneurs? I spoke to some influencers in the space and explored this market trend to find out.
Breaking the glass ceiling
Many female entrepreneurs flock to the cannabis industry because they can see opportunity. Perhaps it's a land grab where leadership roles abound. Some see it as the Wild West, where big wins and profits can happen quickly, and far faster than in ‘tech-bro’ Silicon Valley or traditional business environments. In the typical business model, many women find it difficult to advance to certain high-level positions by the impenetrable glass ceiling that allows only well-connected males to hold these positions. Academic qualifications and years of experience can fall by the wayside, and the limits can be frustrating.
The cannabis industry in contrast, is now coming into its corporate manifestation, yet is still considered to be in its infancy (and even slightly dangerous to dabble in if you’re a rank and file executive, male or female). WeedTech has given the industry a sheen of legitimacy, with corporations such as Tom Bollich’s Surna, Inc. bringing forward new systems of production. Even the Pax2 Vape has been spied in boutiques at Martha’s Vineyard, and tucked into the designer bags of socialites as memorialized on the hit show, Billions.
If the cannabis industry is in fact the new Gold Rush, then women are grabbing the power and cashing in: 36 percent of the executives are female, as opposed to 22 percent in traditional business. This number is slated to increase as women realize how fertile and lucrative the space is. Leadership, legitimacy, cultural acceptance, and buy-in from the American public will pave the way for dynamic growth across the industry for those that give in first and early.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve had a brand new legal industry which purportedly will be as large as the coffee industry and this one is mostly about a female plant,” remarked Susan Soares, executive director at C.A.R.E., an organization that embraces new approaches to cannabis advancements through producing elegant cannabis culture events, outreach and research. “The female plant or more specifically the flower or ‘bud’ dominates the market. The male cannabis plant’s place is limited to a very specific market, mostly for breeders and researchers."
Balancing business and family
For some women, the marijuana business is appealing because it allows for a more balanced work and home life. The corporate world can be all consuming and personal goals, time and family life can evaporate, so the flexibility to lead one’s own company, or create one’s own hours is appealing. “I’m meeting a lot of women attorneys, accountants, journalists, and other professionals who are getting into the field, as well as farmers,” observed Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML.
The cannabis industry appeals to women on other levels: Getting involved in a plant that does so much for so many is an easy proposition to get behind. “Women’s natural inclination is to be caretakers and healers,” Komp added. “Yeah, there’s money to be made, but cannabis is a cause-driven industry filled with true believers whose main aim is to help people gain access to a medicine they believe in.”
Women like Maya Elizabeth from Maya and Whoopi. Elizabeth is the founder of OmEdibles which is an all female run collective dedicated to providing the highest quality of medical cannabis products to legal patients in California. She and Whoopi Goldberg strive to give women moments of self-care and relief with cannabis. They have a line created for women finding relief during their monthly cycle with four enjoyable products like an Epsom salt soak, two types of delicious raw chocolates, a multi-herb women’s health tincture, and an effective and inviting topical rub.
Some women come to cannabis marketing from personal experience. Carolyn Gerin, strategic partnership director at cannabis PR firm, Precise Cannabis, who formerly ran a successful marketing communications firm in downtown San Francisco weighed in saying: “In 2005, I was asked to help with the marketing for a large medical cannabis clinic in Oakland. I jumped at the chance to be able to amplify the medicines health benefits, while concurrently ‘myth busting’ the social and visual ‘stoner’ stereotypes. Back then, it was dispensaries with pit bulls, and pot leaves on everything. Things have changed drastically.”
Female encouragement and guidance
There have long been local and national collectives that have been run by women since the early days of legal medical marijuana, such as Women’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana, and Berkeley Patient’s Group (now with Magnolia). Female entrepreneurs who have risen to the top in the cannabiz are encouraging and actively supporting other women who want to get into the space. Some serve as inspirational thought leaders a to showcase how women can be successful and impactful in the industry.
There are industry organizations that provide support, business advice and community to other women aspiring to succeed in cannabiz. Women Grow, for example, is the nation’s largest association of cannabis entrepreneurs.
Frances Schauwecker and Barbie Sommars are examples of women who have benefitted from Women Grow. Schauwecker and Sommars are the respective founding chair, and vice chair of the Women Grow Orange County, CA Chapter. They are co-owners of Mary Jane University, an in-home cannabis education company that offers several types of parties including Cannabis 101, CannaBliss Spa Experience, Mary Jane's Kitchen, Mary Jane's UniversiDab, Medicated Meditation, CannaSutra, Cannabis and Kids and the CannaTea Party, which is tailored to seniors.
"Mary Jane University brings the dispensary experience to the home and plays a vital role in educating and connecting patients to the medicine," Schauwecker described. "We have found that many, women in particular, do not wish to go to dispensaries. We are here to help the canna-curious to be the canna-educated because there is so much to know about the modern-day applications of this healing plant."
The environment is one that encourages participation, without the stigma. "Mary Jane University also provides the opportunity for individuals to start their own cannabis business by becoming an independent consultant," said Sommars.
New rules, new tools
The cannabis industry is still in its infancy and this means that all the rules have not been established as yet — the social structure is in flux. Women entrepreneurs are in a unique position to create new rules, innovations, and systems in the industry that will lay the foundation for generations to come. New laws and industrialization of processes have not allowed nepotism to take root. The laws are being created now, and change all the time which will certainly abolish the glass ceiling and bring advancement for women in the space.
The female perspective will bring fresh ideas for health and wellness to the space. Female entrepreneurs like Jordan Person, is the founder of Primal Therapeutics, a company that uses cannabis infused massage oils for therapy.
There’s a green rush happening and female entrepreneurs will no doubt demand their place at the table. An estimated $5.7 billion dollars was made from nation legal marijuana sales in 2015 alone. These numbers will only increase as more states relax their laws. With cannabiz being so lucrative, seeing more women succeeding and holding positions of leadership isn’t surprising.
“It’s also interesting that America is likely to be voting in the first female president this year,” Soares concludes. “It’s appropriate that women are flexing their muscles at this time in this space.” Indeed, these are exciting times for the cannabis industry and the historic role women leaders will play in the industrial revolution and widespread cultural acceptance of the space.