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Women in Weed: 5 Women Leading the Charge at Canadian Cannabis Companies

March 7, 2019
Women in Weed
Illustration by Robyn Flannigan for Leafly
Since the legalization of cannabis in Canada, people have been lining up to get involved in this budding industry.

Some are doing it for the money, some are following their passion for pot, but for many it’s an opportunity to use their skills and experience to help shape an entirely new sector from the ground up.

But what of women? Does the newly formed cannabis industry offer them an equal opportunity that is conspicuous by its absence in other sectors, or has the glass ceiling they’ve found elsewhere been replaced by a grass ceiling since legalization?

In honour of International Women’s Day, we spoke to five women who are leading the charge at Canadian cannabis companies, to find out what life is like for women in weed.

Brigitte Simons, Chief Scientific Officer, Pasha Brands

Have you experienced any challenges being a woman in the cannabis industry?
The fast assembly of cannabis industry professionals into operational teams is still not a gender-balanced mindset. But now, with time and with much-improved visibility, I have noticed it course correcting and women in organizational leadership is emerging.

What’s the most positive thing about working in the cannabis industry as a woman?
Women’s products designed by women for women will be a powerful commercial space that I am very excited to participate in. I also feel strongly about setting an example for women in science and engineering to emerge as business leaders in this industry. I feel I have been given an opportunity and hold a sense of duty of care to support other women to leap towards a career in cannabis with confidence and clarity. That is a very positive motivator for me personally.

What challenges do women face in the fledgling industry?
Cannabis cultivation and trade is highly male-dominated by virtue of the grey markets. Only 5%-6% of publicly traded cannabis companies have board seats occupied by women, which is a disproportionate view in decision-making. I believe the trend is on the rise where women in cannabis are regarded as high value to organizations. However, the movement does not yet support all women to feel comfortable to jump in and participate due to stigmas that still exist.

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Alison Gordon, CEO, 48 North Cannabis Corp

Often women cannot take the same career risks as men as they are responsible for their families. Legalization has taken away a lot of the risk.
Alison Gordon,, 48 North

Have you experienced any challenges being a woman in the cannabis industry?

In the early days of the regulated industry, I truly was one of the only women around. This helped me to stand out and differentiate myself which is key in this highly saturated and competitive market. I’ve had a lot of support and mentorship that has been invaluable to experience in the industry.

What challenges do women in general face in this fledgling industry?

The cannabis industry is a very capital intensive space, this means that banking and finance are a big part of the industry. These domains have typically been male-dominated and therefore women don’t necessarily know the language. If you want to operate at the executive level of this industry then it is critical to understand the financial side of the industry.

Do you think that legalization has impacted on the opportunities or role of women in the industry?

Legalization has made it safer for women to enter the industry. Often women cannot take the same career risks as men as they are responsible for their families. Legalization has taken away a lot of the risk.

Do you think the cannabis industry differs from other sectors in terms of equality?

Yes and no. Because cannabis is a big money game right now, the industry mirrors the public markets and banking industries. These are typically male-dominated and unfortunately, this has rubbed off on the cannabis space. But it’s changing, slowly but surely.

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Jamie Shaw, Partner at Groundwork Consulting, Advisor to Canadian Women in Cannabis, and Co-founder of Canada’s first Chapter of Women Grow

We’re holding the cannabis industry to a higher standard, and we should.
Jamie Shaw, Groundwork Consulting

What challenges do women in general face in the fledgling industry?

It’s interesting when you look at cannabis industries that evolved upwards, they are more local by necessity, but they also end up being more diverse. In Canada, with federal legalization, we see a top-down approach that has seen the involvement of more mainstream industries, like finance, and we see the same lack of diversity issues transferring over as a result.

Do you think that legalization has impacted on the opportunities or role of women in the industry?

It has absolutely. Women that used to be presidents and CEOs are lucky to become managers, or directors now. That said, there is an opportunity for newer players to come in at that level, and we’ve seen that a couple of times already. Many women who got involved in cannabis did so as topical manufacturers, often making products specifically for women. When we see edibles and topicals and cosmetics become legal, I think we will see more women running businesses.

Do you think the cannabis industry differs from other sectors in terms of equality?
No. That’s the problem, it should. I think we’re holding the cannabis industry to a higher standard, and we should.

What do you think the future looks like for women in the industry?

Good. In terms of working in the industry, this is a newly developing field, and we have a chance to consciously choose industry practices that are better than the norm, and that can show other industries how to be more compassionate and inclusive.

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Laura Doell, Director, Integrated Crop Management, Sundial Cannabis

Do you think that legalization has impacted on the opportunities or role of women in the industry?
If you excel at what you do, eventually you should see promotions; no matter if you are male, female or gender-neutral. I’ve been fortunate enough through years of hard work to be offered various opportunities and feel I’ve made some risky decisions, which I’ve either won from them or learned from them. Life experience is certainly a valuable asset in any workplace.

Do you think the cannabis industry differs from other sectors in terms of equality?
I’ve worked as a professional in both the arts and sciences. From my experience, the cannabis industry is an excellent example of an inspiring marriage between science and art. It’s common knowledge that the cannabis industry is no different from any other industry when it comes to the male/female ratios. Fortunately, awareness continues to increase.

What do you think the future looks like for women in the industry?
This is the green-rush. Anything is possible. It’s a time to be rewarded by creative skills.

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Tiffany Soper, Founder, Nine Point Agency

Women make the majority of health and wellness decisions for households, which will have a huge impact on the medicinal and recreational cannabis market.
Tiffany Soper, Nine Point Agency

What’s the most positive thing about working in the cannabis industry as a woman?
The opportunity to forge a path for others to follow, to demonstrate the value women can bring to the table, and to act as a role model for others looking to get into the industry.

Do you think that legalization has impacted on the opportunities or role of women in the industry?
Legalization was forecast to create roughly 150,000 jobs in Canada—providing huge opportunities for both men and women. However, the introduction of new product categories in October, such as topicals, should marry the cannabis industry with traditionally female-dominated industries—such as beauty and healthcare. This could result in women playing a much bigger role in cannabis going forwards and hopefully molding corporate culture to be female-friendly from the ground up.

Do you think the cannabis industry differs from other sectors in terms of equality?
As a new industry, cannabis has the chance to be different—with a greater emphasis on inclusivity, equality, and diversity. Women make the majority of health and wellness decisions for households, which will have a huge impact on the medicinal and recreational cannabis market. The industry is also rife with leadership and business opportunities for women to play key roles as it emerges.

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Daniel Bettridge

A writer, editor, and Amazon best-selling author, Daniel has written for publications including The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Independent, BBC, The Times, MSN, and Yahoo.

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