Throughout the pandemic, the cannabis industry blossomed. During quarantine, cannabis consumers consumed more than ever, with sales reaching an all-time high of $17.5 billion in the U.S. in 2020, according to Forbes.
Impressively, sales continued to increase in the second year of the pandemic to $31 billion in 2021, reports BDSA Analytics.
As the industry continues to grow, leadership positions in many businesses went through changes as well. As of 2020, women only held 8% of CEO positions in cannabis businesses, down from 37% just a few years ago, according to a report done by Arcview.
According to Marijuana Business Daily, women held nearly 40% of cannabis C-suite positions in 2019. This is a 29% decrease in female leadership rates in just two years. In this time, leadership rates went from being higher to lower than national averages.
To compare, women hold just 10% of top management positions at S&P 1500 companies nationwide, reports the Center for American Progress.
Seeing as women account for 52% of the educated workforce, and 83% of all consumer purchases in the U.S., there is a severe lack of representation in corporate cannabis offices, Arcview’s report also reveals. So why are women CEO’s disappearing from the cannabis industry?
The Future of Cannabis Consumerism is Female
The stereotype of cannabis being a male-dominated product is changing. In fact, female cannabis consumers are now younger and heavier users than male consumers, according to a Forbes report.
Furthermore, Gen Z women are using cannabis at the fastest rate, up 151%, according to NBC News.
Women are also more experimental with cannabis products. They are more likely to try capsules, creams, sprays, and other different types of cannabis, according to data from Headset.
As a result, NBC also found that marketing strategies are shifting to focus on female consumers with more edibles, beverages, and flower products marketed to them.
Working Women in the Cannabis Industry
Women are undoubtedly increasing their use of cannabis, proving not only that they are valuable cannabis consumers, but business owners and leaders as well.
In fact, data shows that regardless of the manner of business, female-led cannabis companies are more profitable than their male-run counterparts.
Despite this, females do not feel supported for working in cannabis.
The cannabis industry rife with a loss of female leadership. But, it is not unlike every other industry in terms of harassment and bullying in the workplace.
Women in Cannabis: A Living History study created by LadyJane Branding, included over 1,500 women throughout the country who work in the industry. The report showed that women often face varying levels of sexism, harassment, bullying from coworkers, and an overall lack of support, opportunity, and benefits.
“There were more than a few (women) who said that they were pushed out of their position for usually, in general, for someone who’s less qualified and paid more,” said Jennifer Whetzel, founder of LadyJane Branding, of the preliminary study results in 2019.
According to the study, just 11% of women recognize the industry as equitable. Throughout it all, the working women in cannabis are strong, educated, and have compelling work experience.
Additional research echoes Ladyjane’s study that women feel unsupported. For example, a study done by WeedMaps showed that, on average, 53% of women in the cannabis industry have experienced workplace harassment; 46% of that group reported feeling sexually harassed. However only 9% of those respondents notified human resources.
WeedMaps also showed that only 30% received workplace training on harassment, sexual or otherwise.
A Hostile Industry
In 2019, female corporate leadership was at 37%, well above the national average. As a result, it was seen as a socially-positive industry. Now, at 8% — a stark contrast in just two years — the question needs to be asked: why did these numbers fall so quickly?
Kyra Reed, founder of Women Employed in Cannabis (WEiC), formerly Women Empowered in Cannabis, said that the cannabis industry is not friendly towards women. “The environment is so harsh on the women that they don’t want to be in the environment. They don’t want to be harassed; they don’t want to be singled out; and they don’t want to be excluded either,” she added. “So we’re not creating environments that are safe and healthy for women to work [in].”
One experience, she explained, exemplifies this dilemma. “I have a friend who sold a business to a large company. He still watches the job boards for positions in the old company,” she said. “He said there are two or three positions that are held by women. And the turnover happens every 90 days to six months [for those positions].”
Reed also noticed that more and more women-owned businesses have disappeared. “At least in California [through] our extinction events, we’ve lost a lot of women-owned businesses, and a lot of women-owned businesses are struggling to get funding,” she added.
“Every single day, I hear all of the discrimination. [I hear] the story of the woman who has busted her ass to make her business work, pouring her heart into every dime. She has gotten to the point where she needs funding to get over the hump. She goes to investors, and they basically take her out of the equation and take her business away.”
“A lot of times when investors come in, they want to choose the people that they put in place and who do they put in place? Men,” she added.
“In one way or another, I have heard that version of that story more times than I care to recall. That is also making it really difficult for women to succeed in this industry.”
Between the lack of funding or support, Reed said the industry is “just seen as this kind of hostile environment for women.”
How do we Break the Glass Ceiling Now?
Women lead cannabis consumerism. They are the buyers; the trend setters; and leaders who boost business. Despite this, leadership rates are disappearing seemingly quicker than toilet paper from shelves during the pandemic.
So, how do we repair the recoil made to female leadership positions in the cannabis industry?
Arcview points at the issue of the lack of role models and mentors in the industry, specifically for minorities.
Establishing sex and gender-based support and inclusion training is also an important step to diversifying corporate offices. When looking at the latest numbers for gender-parity, only 72 women for every 100 men were promoted and hired as managers, according to Arcview. This number continues to decrease for females who are members of minority communities.
While the numbers are not necessarily reassuring for female cannabis executives, efforts are being made to turn the industry around.
For instance, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak signed executive orders in 2019 to require government collection of sexual harassment and discrimination guidelines from cannabis businesses, according to WeedMaps.
Additionally, Reed with WEiC launched a campaign that emphasizes the importance of paying, partnering, promoting and protecting females in the industry.
“First, look for women to hire […]; look to pay women,” she said. “Number two — partner. When you are looking for somebody to work with, look for a woman. Then promote [them]. We need to promote women from within organizations into higher levels. But we also have to commit to protecting each other because in these environments where we’re being harassed, or our boundaries are being pushed — if women feel alone in those situations, […] they will not have the confidence and the esteem to stand up when it’s just you fighting,” she added. “If you’re going up against the patriarchy, you’re not doing it alone.”
By Sierra Joslin and Melissa Hutsell