No glass ceiling, they said! Gender equality, they said! Endless opportunity, they said! It’s this hopeful thinking that the once-emerging (now arrived) cannabis industry was met with. It’s a female plant after all, so who could understand it better than a woman? Yet the industry could not escape the problematic systems already in place throughout all other industry. Female entrepreneurs having a hard time getting support to back their big ideas? Not surprising, since two-thirds of Canada’s venture capital funds are controlled by teams with no female leaders. VC firms that count women as partners on their team are up to twice as likely to fund women-led businesses, but with female leaders few and far between in the VC world, the odds were stacked against hopeful cannabis boss ladies everywhere.
Despite these trends that favour the patriarchy, women have still had massive influence on the cannabis industry – shaping the direction brands take and reigning at the helm of some of the space’s most exciting brands. More and more, women are turning to cannabis for health and wellness reasons, with more women than men saying they have consumed in the past 3 months. Women are also more interested in innovation, with more ladies saying they’d like to try things like cannabis-infused tea or skincare. Add to that the fact that women account for 60% of households’ primary shoppers and you’ve basically found brand positioning and a consumer segment that are perfectly matched to one another. The people doing things differently in cannabis – creating excitement, truly speaking to their demographics’ needs, and meeting every challenge and celebration with no end of passion – are women. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we spoke with 7 ladies boldly leading some of the cannabis industry’s most exciting ventures, not only carving space out for themselves, but making space for the women who hope to follow and make their own path.
Melissa Rolston, CEO + Co-Founder of TeamMD
On Oprah being the ultimate role model
Her career was built on a foundation of vulnerability and humility which I will always have the utmost respect for. Her success is endless and is something I could only dream to accomplish one day. She didn’t come from privilege, she overcame adversity again, and again, and again. The amount of grit and resilience she’s demonstrated countlessly throughout her life and career is truly inspiring and I hope to cross paths with her one day.
On helping to bolster her fellow female colleagues
Due to our (current) lack of presence in leadership roles—across basically all industries—the opportunities we’re presented are limited. Some ways I personally like to champion women are:
- Open doors for them: Connecting them with a job or in some cases an entry point to the cannabis industry, a speaking opportunity, a media piece, a deal that isn’t my expertise.
- Understand that favours don’t always come with a return policy: Relationship building is crucial, especially in business. If you do something expecting a return that may not necessarily be the energy you want to put into the world.
- Education: If you notice a colleague heading down a path you’ve already been, offering even a small bit of insight may help them in a tremendous way.
- Encourage your peers: Recognition for a small achievement can go a long way. Cheer them on during their wins and offer a shoulder (or a hand) during their losses.
- Listen: Take time to really listen to your peers, you never know when a spark of inspiration may occur.
On tips for women looking to join the cannabis industry
Cannabis, even globally, is a very small industry so never burn your bridges. This industry is full of characters and it’s up to you to decide who are the ones who fit in your story. Research is your best friend — never forget that! And lastly, be a solution seeker, don’t give up—only adapt.
Jen Newton, Creator of HIGHTEA Podcasts
On her female mentors
I was lucky enough to grow up with a fiercely intelligent mama, and spent a number of school years in an all-female environment. One of my first leaders at work was a woman with an incredibly sharp mind and a potent a.f. presence (she was probably a Leo). I’ve always been drawn to the energy of powerful females – with presence, every interaction provides opportunity for us to learn by osmosis.
On supporting women
Create opportunities for others to learn from you. Connect with other business leaders you admire and see if there’s potential for collaboration, a new connection, maybe a new friend. Choose female-led businesses where you can, independent ones even better. Nurture talent you discover. Vote with your dollar. Community (instead of competition) and authenticity (instead of hyper-awareness on others) are how women will grow: together.
On combating burnout
It was important for me (spiritually) to build a life and career that allowed for flexibility and freedom especially as a creative – and I’ve learnt to respect those creative cycles versus business cycles. But paradise also has to be sourced at little slices in our every day, so for me this is about sunlight, time in nature, moving my body, meditation, phytoenergy (eating plants) and phytocannabinoids (smoking ‘em).
Jo Vos, Managing Director at Leafly
On her experience as a female leader in cannabis
The last year has been a really exciting journey with many firsts. Sure, the cannabis industry is male-dominated at the executive and board levels (most industries are). Often I’m the only woman in the room, but I look at that as a strength. It’s an opportunity to be influential, bring a different perspective to the table, and help shape our business and industry. Plus, diverse teams lead to better decisions and overall results…we need to continue to rally around that data point. (FYI Leafly is hiring if you want to join Jo in the room!)
On who she turns to for advice
I recommend creating a personal advisory board. Have a panel of friends and mentors that can fill the gaps and provide perspective and experience when you need a gut check or good counsel. This will enable you to move smarter, faster, and more efficiently.
On checking in with herself
Generally, I’m getting more ruthless about protecting my time and prioritizing work. On days off I try to be fluid, allowing time to catch up on sleep, workout, and spend time with friends and family. I think it’s also important to actually take a breather and get offline, so pre-booking vacations as a means to get connected to another part of the world is essential (plus, who doesn’t love having something to look forward to).
Alison Gordon, CEO at 48North Cannabis
On knowing your stuff
This is a very capital-intensive space, which means that banking and finance, domains typically male dominated, play huge roles in the cannabis industry. Women don’t necessarily know that language. It can be challenging to get into the room but once you understand the financial side of the industry you can have a lot more agency in your career.
On playing to your strengths
Women are great collaborators and bring a different set of values to the workplace, play to those strengths and understand what sets you apart. In many ways being a woman makes us stand out in this male dominated industry, it can be helpful to accentuate your differences rather than try to fit in.
On healing with CBD
Right now I’m loving CBD creams – they are perfect for all of the aches and pains that come with a demanding job and constant travel. Of course, a joint never hurts at the end of a long day either
Amanda Daley, VP of Medical Sales & Education at Canopy Growth + Spectrum
On women taking a seat at the table
In the 5 years I’ve worked in the cannabis sector there has been some evolution – it was incredibly male heavy when I started, but Canopy in particular has made great strides in this area – we now have a number of female Vice Presidents for example, and a woman now sits on our board of directors. I’m hopeful that other companies in the sector are evolving as well. Research has shown that gender diversity is important from a competitive standpoint in business – it’s not just a social or legal issue, it’s an imperative for success.
On carving your own space
Look for opportunities to learn from others – people in positions you aspire to, either in your company or if you’re looking to switch industries, look for opportunities to network. Offering to be involved and take on special projects is a way to demonstrate value and eagerness to learn and grow into a role as well.
On helping female colleagues grow
Helping female colleagues succeed, grow and excel can be something done through formal mentorships, or as simple as being open to having informal chats, getting to know other women in the workplace by grabbing a coffee, observing their work and offering encouragement and support. When I see others with high potential, male or female, I’m ready to be in their corner – which could mean pointing out growth opportunities, providing a letter of recommendation for a new role and so on.
Anja Charbonneau, Editor-in-Chief + Creative Director at Broccoli Magazine
On setting other women up for success
Community is vital! I love introducing people and helping to facilitate connections. I received a really warm welcome into the space, so want to pay it back wherever I can.
On finding your people
Find your people, but don’t forget to branch out and learn from others. As the industry grows, it becomes more complex, and it’s crucial to have a support system. However, you still have to feel comfortable breaking beyond your comfort zones. We’re all learning, together.
On how to practice self-care
A little weed, a hot bath and some ambient 80s music from Japan about plants.
Rosy Mondin, CEO of Quadron Cannatech
On the opportunities the space offers
It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be at the forefront of an emerging industry. I’ve been an advocate for Cannabis for a very long time. When I decided to step into this field, everyone who was in the front lines (ea. the advocates and activists) welcomed me with open arms. I’m only here because of the work I was able to do with everybody, especially the Women.
On the importance of education and collaboration
Female leaders can help bolster their fellow female colleagues by continuously educating people about this industry: that it is every day Canadians that have been in this space and are in this space. We must attract manpower from all sectors – be it legal, engineering, medicine, branding, policy…the list goes on. We are building a real national industry, which needs to be fed by all the ancillary services and sectors.
On working hard but taking time for yourself
Most people will say that they have never worked as hard in their professional career as they have in cannabis, so self-care is highly important. I have an amazing furry-friend – a rescue from the Vancouver Pound – his name is Jack and he keeps me active. I still smoke joints as I still really enjoy the effect it gives me. My go-to’s are lemon haze and super silver haze (I also had sweet cheese once, a strain out of BC which is near impossible to find – that was pretty awesome).