More and more women are breaking into the cannabis industry, but their experiences are far different than their male counterparts.
The recently released study, Women in Cannabis: a Living History, highlights what it is like to be a woman in cannabis.
Jennifer Whetzel, founder of Ladyjane Branding, conducted the study Women in Cannabis: a Living History.
Over 1,600 women participated in the study, and their stories were compiled into the over 200 page study. The study took two and a half years to complete. It was first announced at the National Women in Cannabis Conference in 2019.
Whetzel officially launched it on March 3rd. It is now accessible to everyone for free.
Obstacles for Women in the Cannabis Industry
The study found that women face significant obstacles in the cannabis industry.
Some of the barriers and hardships include sexual harassment, microaggressions, shame, low pay, sexism and lack of opportunity, Whetzel said.
Data from Whetzel’s study shows 31% of participants experienced sexual harassment while working in cannabis. However, 69% of respondents stated they have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their career.
“All of these things stand in the way of womens’ success in cannabis. […] Imagine how much we would get done if all these barriers were not in our way,” Whetzel said.
Currently, women hold only 22.1% of executive positions in the cannabis industry. This is lower than the national average for women in executive positions, which stands at 29.8%, according to MJ Biz Daily.
However, the study cites data that shows that female-led companies are more profitable than their male counterparts. For example, they “earn more than twice the revenue per dollar invested,” according to the study.
Women’s Resilience Despite Challenges
Despite this reality, 86% of study participants consider themselves successful in the cannabis industry. Whetzel credits this to womens’ resilience and passion for cannabis.
“Women come into cannabis because of their passion for the plant and because they want to make a difference and because they want to use their skills in a new industry,” Whetzel told Emerald.
One purpose of the study is to push for more gender equity within the industry. Also, Whetzel hopes that readers will develop more empathy for women and cannabis, and in turn become better allies.
“I want people to consider how they may have contributed to this situation that we have in cannabis, and I want people to think about how they can become a better ally,” Whetzel explained. “Whether it’s just personally lifting another person up or defending them on social media or making connections or potentially even taking bigger action towards change.”
Whetzel suggests that bigger changes could include some form of disruptive capitalism or alternative methods to funding small businesses. These actions could change the structure of the industry in favor of women and minorities.
Companies founded or co-founded by men receive over double the amount of investments that female founded or co-founded companies receive. Despite the fact that female-owned businesses accumulate 10% more revenue over five years than male-owned companies. This data comes from a study published by Boston Consulting Group in 2018.
The Women Behind the Numbers
About 1,600 people participated in Whetzel’s study. About 98.5% were female, while 1.5% identify as non-binary, transgender or genderqueer.
Seventy-seven percent of participants are white, 10% are Black and 11% are Hispanic. Twenty-seven percent are also a part of the LGBTQ+ community. In terms of the participants’ ages, Whetzle said that 50% of respondents are millennials and 35% are Gen X. Another 11% were boomers, and the remaining 2% were Gen Z.
The survey included questions that highlighted participants cannabis consumption patterns, self esteem, their definition of success, and self-care rituals. They also shared their experiences at work, instances of sexual harrasment and their overall journey in the cannabis industry.
Only a few participants are in entry-level roles in the cannabis industry, and a large number are business owners.
Most women in the study said they utilize non-psychoactive forms of cannabis, like CBD or hemp-based products. These industry insiders said they use cannabis for productivity, focus, sensory enhancement, creativity and medicinal reasons, according to Whetzel.
“Industry insiders use cannabis more often and for more reasons. They use cannabis for more medicinal reasons than current and curious consumers use it for or would even consider using it for, particularly, general mental health and wellness,” Whetzel said.
However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, research suggests that women turned to cannabis more for general mental health and wellness. Whetzel suggests that cannabis insiders will play a role in educating casual consumers of the different use cases of cannabis.
With her background in market research, Whetzel decided to conduct a study to determine the severity of the problem. She discovered that there wasn’t much available data about women in cannabis.
“I am a data nerd, and I like to have the answers. So, I decided I would do this study, and then it became a lot bigger than I anticipated,” she said. More women were interested in participating than she expected.
Whetzel has personally witnessed numerous cases of harassment towards women in the cannabis industry. As a woman herself, she understands the struggles of being taken seriously and acquiring funding for cannabis related ventures.
At the National Women in Cannabis Conference in 2019, Whetzel compiled screenshots of comments that her friend’s had received on their social media posts. She included these screenshots in a Webinar presentation.
“I swear like a sailor, but I was so embarrassed that I had to cover over some of the words. It was nasty, and I didn’t appreciate that at all,” Whetzel said of the responses women received on social media.
Two and a half years later, Whetzel has compiled stories and experiences like these. The experiences of these women show that women have yet to achieve true equality within the cannabis industry.
In the future, Whetzel hopes to conduct another round of research. She also hopes to find a better sample that includes more young women and entry level employees in the industry.
“There’s been a lot of talk and there’s not been a lot of change. From what I can tell in the past two and a half years since I started this study, this industry has only gotten worse. So, I hope this report inspires others to do something big to make change,” Whetzel said.