Understanding the Bigger Picture: How Leaders Can Impact Gender Inequality in Cannabis
As a leader in the cannabis hiring space, I read a lot of thought pieces from people working in the industry.
I’m the connection between the industry and the people working in it — so I need to know what’s on their minds. Lately, I’ve noticed a trend in the thought pieces I read: a lack of self-awareness. Let me explain what I mean.
I recently read a piece where its author, a young woman early in her cannabis career, laments being assumed to be a novice at industry conferences because of her sex. But here’s the thing: Looking at her credentials, she is a novice.
We were all newbies once. And that’s not to say a newbie can’t be knowledgeable or that they don’t deserve to be treated with respect. But when I read stories of young women attributing perceived industry slights to sexism, I think they’re doing a disservice to themselves and others.
Here’s why: They complain about inequality in cannabis, and the conversation ends there. No exploring solutions, no consideration that there might be more at play, no effort to push back against this kind of treatment and prevent it from happening in the future.
As a longtime woman in cannabis, it feels like this narrative isn’t fair to the strides we’re making to fix issues like these. Because of course there’s systemic inequality in our industry…there’s systemic inequality everywhere.
According to MJBizDaily’s 2022 report, Women & Minorities in the Cannabis Industry, women held 23.1 percent of executive roles in the cannabis industry in 2022. This was down from a 2019 peak of 36.8 percent. Let’s compare that with the 2020 average for all U.S. businesses: 29.8 percent.
Let’s dig a little bit deeper and compare cannabis to a few 2022 stats published by the World Economic Forum:
- Women held 47 percent of leadership positions in non-governmental and membership organizations (the highest percentage)
- Women held 16 percent of leadership positions in infrastructure (the lowest percentage)
- Women held 32 percent of leadership positions in professional services, leisure and travel, and retail and wholesale consumer goods — the median figure among the industries represented in WEC’s graph
Not a single industry represented had a majority of women in leadership roles. Or even 50/50.
What does that tell us about being a woman in the workforce?
The Rolling Stone Culture Council is an invitation-only community for Influencers, Innovators and Creatives. Do I qualify?
To work toward real progress, you need to acknowledge some uncomfortable truths.
The truth is, women are still catching up in the workforce and it’s 100% because of our culture and history. We still live with a corporate culture where female executives routinely find themselves the only woman on their team, the automatic “other” who the guys refuse to treat with the same camaraderie.
I get it. Oh, do I get it.
But another one of these uncomfortable truths is that systemic issues aren’t always to blame for individuals’ experiences. This is what I mean about self-awareness: you’ve got to look at your situation objectively and determine if it’s really accurate to blame a nebulous concept like sexism for a nuanced personal situation.
Cannabis isn’t like other industries. It’s dominated by startups, it’s subject to regulations that other industries aren’t and it’s still very much in its infancy. So the pool of qualified candidates is much smaller than the general workforce’s pool of candidates. And within that already small pool, women are underrepresented.
Is that cannabis’ fault? No. But as somebody who fills cannabis roles with the best-qualified candidates, I constantly find people holding this industry to progressive standards they don’t hold other industries to.
I think we need to acknowledge that our industry isn’t as progressive as we’d like it to be. When you’re advocating for change, you need to be self-aware. And not just self-aware, but aware of the bigger picture surrounding the issue.
Because here’s another uncomfortable truth: salaries in cannabis are just lower. There are a lot fewer roles to go around, and the companies offering them are still largely figuring things out as they go along. That’s not a sexism problem, it’s a cannabis problem that will work itself out as the industry matures.
In the meantime, what can we do to get more women into cannabis leadership so our industry can proudly wear that progressive, “do better” banner so many expect it to wear?
In my experience, here’s what’s worked:
Invest in Women’s Potential, Not Just Their Past Performance
We can’t have a pool of qualified women if we don’t invest in women. Full stop.
Because one last uncomfortable truth we need to recognize — and take responsibility to change — is the old saying that men are judged on their potential, women are judged on their past performance. Data shows this is true.
When you’re in a position to buck the trend, buck it.
Measure Real Progress (And Always Strive To Beat the Record)
We can lament our industry’s lopsided leadership breakdown all day, but as we explored above, singular stats don’t tell us the whole story.
Here are a few more stats that flesh out the narrative:
- According to the Center for American Progress, there was not a single woman among the executive ranks of the Fortune 100 companies in 1980. In 2011, 11 percent of these roles were held by women. Today, that percentage is only 12 percent. We can do better.
- Among Fortune 500 companies, 44 had female CEOs in 2022. In 2021, that number was 41 and in 2018, it was only 24.
- Between 1997 and 2009, the number of board seats in S&P 1500 companies increased 7.2 percentage points, or 94 percent. Top executive roles held by women increased 2.8 percentage points, or 86 percent.
We’re making progress, and we’re making it fast. Today’s 20-somethings are, at most, the third generation of American women to grow up with the expectation that they’d climb the career ladder the same as their male peers. Let’s not make their climb any more difficult than it already is.