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Challenges of Being a Woman in the Cannabis Industry

Recently, the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said that the current COVID-19 pandemic has set back reducing the gender inequality gap by years. In 2021, this remains a priority as the lack of gender equality persists, and the women leadership gap lags behind men in terms of representation in high-level positions. 

Lately, women have made advances in the private sector towards reducing the gender wage gap and increasing the percentage of women climbing the management ranks. Yet, there are only 7 percent of top executives in the Fortune 100 companies that are women, more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies had no women of colour as board directors, and the percentage of women in management jobs has stagnated.

Recent studies reveal that women in senior-level executive positions in the cannabis industry are just under 37%. It is clear that even with a significant rise of female figures in executive positions, we are still in a male-dominated sector. Additionally, certain cliches such as the hippie white skater imagery or the Rastafari culture endure within the cannabis industry.

In this article, we will explore challenges experienced by women in the cannabis industry today. Here’s what you need to know. 

Tale as Old as Time

Deep-rooted gender inequality is a constant battle that we face as women in the cannabis industry. Whether you’re a journalist, brand or company owner, grower, PR cannabis professional, or even a legal lawyer, discrimination is one of the hurdles.

So let’s start from the beginning. Historically, before legalisation, “There were many women growers and cannabis experts. However, they were discriminated against, made fun of, and kind of cut out of the boys club,” said Jackie Bryant, freelance journalist. 

“Many didn’t take them seriously. Thus, the only place for women was to play supporting roles in the home for the growers who were out doing the work all day. There were female trimmers, of course, those stories of women needing to trim topless. Those aren’t fake. That was very real,” highlighted Bryant.

As I spoke to Bryant, a prominent and well-respected cannabis reporter, I realised that all the pre-legalisation stories are related to men. Additionally, the “macho” attitude from the legacy made it even more dangerous for women to shine. 

It is not that women did not exist within the space; they were socially alienated. This contributed to the initial invisibility. No matter how emotional or frustrating it is, making our voice heard still takes more than just our talent. 

Jennifer Chapin, the co-founder of Kikoko, recently recalled in an interview how she was “laughed out of the dispensaries” when she tried to sell her low-dose cannabis-infused teas. Like her story, many female trailblazers had to go through a similar experience to get where they are.

It’s not that women were stigmatised. It’s the previous illegal market that made us victims of stigmatisation.

The Era of Social Media and How We Started to Fit In

Whether we like it or not, social media reality opened up exposure to women in cannabis that created an impact. Social media opened a space not manipulated by men where women influencers were dabbing online or taking bold risks in their underwear on Instagram. 

Currently, this has shifted as many use the platform for promoting different brands, educating, and talking to their followers about the legal cannabis market. Business owners are now also social media influencers, and the platforms give a voice to them.

Social media’s other reality is that many female-owned cannabis companies face shadow banning and having their accounts shut down on Instagram. Sometimes, the same people who report these accounts are fellow women. 

Sexism and Being Manterrupted 

Interrupting a woman while she is talking is commonly referred to as “manterrupting.”

“One of the most difficult hurdles that women in the cannabis industry — or any industry — face is not being heard and being manterrupted,” says Sara Brittany Sommerset, a United Nations-based cannabis correspondent, global drug policy analyst, multimedia journalist, and one of Green Market Report’s 100 Most Important Women In Weed.

A study by Yale psychologist Victoria Brescoll found that male senators with more power due to seniority spoke more than their junior colleagues. Yet, for female senators, power was not linked to significantly more speaking time.

Brescoll goes deeper into the subject as she unravels that when male executives spoke more often, they would get 10% higher competence ratings. However, when female executives spoke more than their peers, both women and men judge them with a negative 14% lower rating. Additionally, Brescoll explores how based on various research, women who worry that talking “too much” will result negatively and be disliked are often right. 

Another common situation experienced by women is how sometimes men patronizingly explain things, under the assumption that women cannot understand due to their gender. It seems that as women, constant proving is needed over and over to demonstrate professional respect and worth.

Tiffany Watkins (a.k.a. LadyCanna), CEO and Founder of Vanguard Media, proves this position as she explains on the Vanguard Media website: 

“In three decades, I have witnessed a lot of changes in this industry, but one thing remains the same — not everyone gets to have a voice. I have been treated with disrespect, talked down to in situations, and made to feel as if my contributions to the cannabis community didn’t matter. “

Women Minorities in the Cannabis Industry

The contribution of women minorities is another story we can’t leave without acknowledging. While as a group, we face many hurdles, those who claim other minoritized and marginalised identities face even more significant uphill battles. In fact, cannabis criminalisation has affected people of colour and Hispanics disproportionately. 

“As a female founder of a cannabis brand, I think one of my biggest hurdles is proving my value,” says Martine Pierre, founder of Cannalution. “This is such a male-dominated industry that many times you end up feeling less worthy and voiceless. Beyond that, a lack of funding also throws a curveball known all too well among minority founders.”

The Positive Face of Reality

It is empirical to keep the conversation open regarding the myriad of concerns surrounding this subject. Unfortunately, there is no existing roadmap to fight the fact that women still battle to be heard and are underestimated in the industry. 

On the frontlines of cannabis legalisation, women have taken an active role in making great things happen. From doing double duty as loving caregivers and activists, primary breadwinners, and cannabis warriors, bravery and perseverance define these ladies.

Great examples are female figures like Mary Jane Rathburn, who used cannabis in special brownies to help patients suffering from HIV/AIDs during the 80’s, and the mother of Charlotte Figi, Paige Figi who lobbied, founded companies and nonprofits, and contributed to scientific research in the name of medicinal marijuana, as she fought to give her daughter the best quality of life that she could. 

Women are no longer behind the curtain; they are becoming the writers of their own history. Thus, to build an industry that reflects inclusivity, there is a need to speak out for those who don’t have a voice, increase the number of women leaders, and support other women to excel. 

Cultivation information, and media is given for those of our clients who live in countries where cannabis cultivation is decriminalised or legal, or to those that operate within a licensed model. We encourage all readers to be aware of their local laws and to ensure they do not break them.

This post is also available in: French

Silvia Munoz Campo