I want more women in leadership roles. But the current strategies we’re using to address gender equality in cannabis are not working effectively. 

As someone that operates a cannabis search firm, I see a lot of efforts made by companies to hire more women. The cannabis industry has had impressive numbers for women in executive roles—higher than any other industry to date. 

As a woman, I’m proud of how far we’ve come. Especially when today’s elder generation lived in a time when women were subservient to men. Overall, we’ve made huge progress, but we have a ways to go. Societal norms take generations to change.

While the effort to have gender diversity and equality in the workplace exists, simply hiring a woman because she is a woman, is ineffective and a disservice to the woman being hired (and all women). 

We need more women in leadership roles

Companies ask our H+E team all the time to make finding a woman for their team a priority. Other companies say they only want a list of women to choose from for their team. While I love to support women, the problem is this: If there are no qualified women for the position, hiring a woman just because she’s a woman hurts both the woman and the company.

Having more women in leadership roles is essential. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of women. 

You’ve seen the article titles. “First Women CEO of X Company.”  What does this type of article say about the noted woman? Typically the substance of the article only touches on the title. Why is this a big deal? We should be praising people because of their hard work, determination, and grit—not because of gender. There is so much more to her than being a woman. And hiring someone just because she is a woman is like putting her into a box and defining her by that one quality.

Many times (not all times) the company puts out these “articles” for optics. They are just using this woman to be the face. The company wants more publicity for hiring a woman. And they get that publicity.

So, yes, women should be in more leadership roles. But I believe that putting a woman in a leadership role just because she’s a woman is going against what women have fought for. At Hunter + Esquire, we always stress that companies should hire the right person for the right role.

We fight for gender equality in the workplace, not a position given to us because of our gender.

I’ve seen women with no experience placed in jobs they are not qualified for. What happens next? She has nothing to contribute in meetings, does not know what decisions to make, and is essentially used for her gender to give the company a better image. How can she be taken seriously?

I want to see women succeed. I’d rather see a woman in a lower-level role and crush it than see a woman in a higher-level role and flounder.

If a woman is hired for a job because she is a woman, but she is unqualified for the position, her chances of failing are high. 

What are the barriers to female leadership in cannabis?

We need more female CEOs. And at Hunter + Esquire, we are always searching for women who are qualified and who actually want to work in the industry.

I want to bring companies a full list of potential women candidates. But frequently there simply are not enough women that are desirous of these positions in the cannabis economy.

Lack of equal representation

As of May 2020, there were only 37 of Fortune 500 companies that had a female CEO. Whether systemic or innate, there’s a lack of representation partly because women and men are often attracted to different career tracks. For example, the financial industry still remains dominated by men. 

There’s not an equal representation of men and women in college degree programs. So there is not equal representation of men and women that are applying to executive jobs. For example, in 2019, 42% of students at the Harvard Business School, were women.

If there are 10 applicants for a CEO position, and only one of them is a woman, if she is not as qualified as the other applicants, she should not get the job. Right? The person who gets the job should be the person who will help the company succeed. 

You can’t put an unqualified person in a high position simply because they check a DEI box and make the company look more diverse. Any positive impressions your company makes from this move will not outlast the negative impact.

Cannabis has a high volume of work for low compensation

The reality of working in a startup industry is that you work around the clock. There is less compensation, less benefits, and little to no flexibility when compared to mainstream industries. You have to go to the office every day. You have to get on a plane and travel to events.

Finding a work-life balance while working in cannabis is a challenge.

Collectively, women have worked so hard to get to where we are today. Women continually fight for equality in the workplace, but still want time at home with family. In reality, there’s not enough time in the day to have it all. You have to prioritize what’s important for you.

Many women work full-time, have children to care for, and a house to run. It’s a lot. So entering an industry that takes time away from other important areas of life is something many women aren’t willing to do. For most women, sacrificing family-time, which is already small enough, is not an option.

Cannabis offers lower salaries

The cannabis industry generally pays less than other industries. And when people pivot into cannabis, oftentimes they make a lateral move or go down a level. More often than not, this means a pay cut. Since cannabis is full of startup businesses, that’s just the nature of the industry right now. 

Who actually wants to take a pay cut? No one. But people who have a high level of passion for cannabis, and people who want to be in this industry bad enough, do take a pay cut. 

I’ve seen men more willing to apply to and accept a lower level title and pay cut than women. Women have worked hard and are proud of their title. But their pride, although well-deserved, can prevent them from taking a step down to get what they want. 

How important is that title? How important is not lowering your compensation? How important are your benefits? Your answers are a personal choice and play a huge role in your decision to work in cannabis. Overall, the cannabis pay cut helps weed out the people who are not passionate.

Women tend to be more averse to risk 

When you enter the cannabis space, you’re taking a risk. Cannabis is still federally illegal and no one really knows what’s going to happen next. 

What if you don’t like working in cannabis? Will you be welcomed back to your previous industry? What if I’m not accepted because of my affiliation with an illegal substance? What areas of my life will be affected by my association with cannabis?

Women tend to be more cautious than men. Young girls are often taught to find stability and to steer away from situations that could compromise that stability. From a young age, men are more encouraged to take risks.

So when you’re entering a high-risk industry, women calculate the risk and weigh it more heavily into their decisions.

How to improve equality in the workplace

Bringing it back to the lack of representation, we need to change the way society views men and women. The lack of representation stems from how boys and girls are raised, which schools and degrees they apply to, and how men and women are positioned in society. 

Putting someone in a high-level position is not how we change the lack of representation. 

To change the lack of representation, we need to look at society and how we are raising our boys and girls, the way women treat other women, and by accepting yourself as the individual woman you are.

Solutions to gender inequality in the workplace

The way to productively support gender equity in the workplace is to start with the basics.

Know, love, and accept yourself 

Equality in the workplace starts with you. Individuals need to take ownership of their decisions, motives, and choices. Look inside yourself. How can you be a better person? There is room for growth in everyone. Focus on being a good human being.

Know about yourself as a woman. What are your limitations? Even in your own home. What are your strengths and weaknesses and how does that translate to other areas of your life?

Know what you believe in and always stand for it. If there are negative conversations surrounding diversity and equality, change those conversations by expressing your thoughts. That doesn’t mean you have to convince them to think your way. But be vocal about how you feel and at least plant the seed of thought in their head. Stand up for your friends, women, men, sons, and daughters any chance you get.

When you are having negative thoughts about others, look deep down as ask yourself, why? Are you jealous because you want that job? That many kids? That house? That life? Figure out why you are having these feelings, sit with it, know it, and come out knowing yourself better so you can make better choices to positively impact humanity. 

Raising boys and girls to be good humans

As parents, teachers, and friends, we should be teaching boys and girls how to be kind humans. 

Children learn from example. You can tell them every day to do the right thing, but if they see you do the wrong thing, they will do the wrong thing too. Even if you don’t have kids, there are children watching your moves. Be a positive example they need in their life. Do you want the responsibility of knowing you helped a child treat another human disrespectfully? Or that you taught a child to talk down to a woman? 

Whether you are a parent or not, take responsibility for how your actions impact the next generation.

Always be open to learning

You can learn from anyone, and anyone can learn from you. You don’t need to have worldly experiences to be worthy of learning from. It can be just that you’re a confident person.

Be ready for learning experiences because they come when you least expect it and often from people you may not expect. Learn from your children, your partner, your friends, your coworkers, your mentors, and your mentees. 

Women supporting women, genuinely

I’ve seen too often women say they’re supporting other women, but they’re really not. So many women support groups out there are full of cliques and jealousy. There are always a few women dominating and other women sucking up. This is not the kind of support you need. This comes from a place of insecurity, lack of confidence, and not knowing your own person’s strengths and weaknesses. 

If you’re pulling another woman down so you can move up, it may be because you have a scarcity mindset. You don’t believe you both can have something you want. But there is room in the world for you both to have it.

We need women who actually want to see others succeed and do not fear someone being more successful. If she can do it, so can you. 

Celebrate each other’s wins. When you lift someone else up, they lift you up. Take other’s success as a positive inspiration for your own. There is space in this world for us all to have success.

Have diversity because it’s the right thing

There should be all kinds of diversity in a company. If your company sells products, you should have everyone you’re selling to represented. But don’t force diversity only because it looks good. Implement diversity with integrity and in a way that makes sense.

How to promote diversity in the workplace

We all want more diversity in leadership roles. But sometimes incorporating diversity in that way is hard to do. Often, companies start with a few friends who all happen to be white men. The company was their idea, they started it, so they are the founders/CEO

But the faces of the business do not have to be the driving force for the level of diversity a company has. And what a person looks like is not the only factor that adds diversity to a company. 

The focus should be on thinking diversely. Diversity can come from living in New York vs. Los Angeles, coming from an Italian family versus growing up on an Amish farm, or people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. There is so much focus on how someone looks when there is so much more to people than appearance.

When you’re considering ways to incorporate more diversity, consider:

Who do you source from? 

You can support diversity by sourcing from women-own and/or minority-owned companies. 

Who do you do business with? 

Collaborate with businesses that are women-owned and/or minority-owned.

Get involved in groups. 

Promote, support, and join groups who are supporting women and/or minority-owned businesses.

Mentors and incubator groups. 

Time is your most valuable resource. Offer your help and expertise by believing in someone and giving your time. Just being a sounding board for ideas can be a game-changer for someone. If someone who is more experienced offers their time to help, at least have a conversation with them. You could be missing out on a huge opportunity if you just write them off.

We have business opportunities for women.

I want women to thrive and succeed. 

To work in the cannabis industry, it’s essential to have realistic expectations of:

  • Who you are
  • What you want
  • What you are qualified to do
  • What you are willing to give up

Let me help you find a position in which you feel confident, strong, and you have the skills to make a positive, lasting impact on the industry, your company, and yourself.

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