Gender Equality in Cannabis Only Makes the Industry Better

byAlanaArmstrong4 minutes

Creating and maintaining workplace equality isn't just the right thing to do, it's also strategically smart from a business perspective.

Women drive 70–80% of all consumer purchasing through a combination of buying power and influence. If brands want to enter cannabis’s health and wellness category, one where women are indisputably the gatekeepers, they'd be smart to bake gender equity into their blueprint from the beginning rather than try to establish it later.

Women in the Canadian cannabis market make up a group that’s growing fast, with plenty of female consumers, entrepreneurs and even women at the executive level. In 2015 in the United States, women in cannabis held 36% of the senior leadership roles, compared to 22% across all industries. But by about the second wave of cannabis industry investments and as recreational marijuana became legal in more states, the number dropped to 27% and is holding steady there.

Legal Cannabis Can’t Be Another Boy’s Club

Illegal cannabis in Canada is a historically male-run industry, and the legal Canadian marijuana industry has a strong chance of mimicry. Ideally, the new legal cannabis industry could serve as an example of how to approach gender parity from the grassroots, but it has to happen now as the industry is being created.

One thing stopping some women from fully embracing the cannabis industry is the stigma still surrounding the plant. Because of that stigma, they risk their reputations, family and social connections, and sometimes even their freedom.

Jane West, who runs the cannabis lifestyle brand Jane West, is a mother with six criminal charges because she hosted cannabis-friendly parties in her home city of Denver, CO before recreational marijuana became legal there. Her hard work, excellent product and being in the right place at the right time when adult-use cannabis became legal, means she's now one of the top-regarded female entrepreneurs in the cannabis space.


Jane not only runs the Jane West brand of stylish cannabis smoking tools and accessories, but also the largest network of women in cannabis, called Women Grow. More than 50 chapters of Women Grow across the U.S.—and one Canadian branch in Toronto—meet on the first Thursday of each month to discuss local issues, hear from keynote speakers and adjudicate business pitches. The aim is to keep connections strong within the community so that women can rise in the ranks and break stigmas together.

Work Should Start Now to Prevent a Glass Ceiling in the Cannabis Industry

In Canada, some women feel we're in the do-or-die moment that decides whether the future of the adult-use market is as female as it is male.

Holly Bennett, a five-year veteran of the cannabis industry, is the marketing and communications manager at Apollo Applied Research Cannabis Clinic in Toronto. Holly sees how encouraging female leadership is the key to a future where the glass ceiling is retired.

Holly admits that she wishes she was personally doing more. But she's just one of many who by their mere presence and hard work is changing the ratio. The clinic where she works has a management team comprising 95% women. Holly finds it refreshing to work with a company that supports the professional growth and empowerment of its women.

"It’s amazing to know your opinion is valued and that you are working for someone who genuinely wants you to succeed, regardless of your gender, ethnicity, religion, physical ability or sexual orientation," she says.

While Canada's legal cannabis industry is hiring workers en masse, Holly thinks that gender parity is just one thing that needs improvement.

"I think because the modern Canadian cannabis industry is so new and progressive by nature, the industry has the unique opportunity to progress in terms of not just gender equality, but equity in general.

"Although we are seeing more women represented in higher-paid, higher-power corporate positions, like VPs and directors, which is fantastic, we still have a significant lack of female representation in the executive C-level positions," notes Holly.

Rebecca Brown, coming off of launch week for her women-led cannabis industry ad agency, Crowns, says she's concerned by the lack of women in cannabis. While studying in the industry, she was excited by the prospect of a space with diverse leadership, but was disappointed to find that it wasn't quite so.

"I believe Newsweek wrote about cannabis being the first billion-dollar industry not dominated by men, and Forbes got punny and talked about women breaking the ‘grass ceiling.’ And there were inspiring stats," Rebecca says.

Women in Canadian Cannabis vs. the American Marijuana Sector

One such stat was presented by Marijuana Business Daily who reported that 63% of high-level positions in the American cannabis industry were occupied by women. But Rebecca says, "In Canada, I believe female representation at the leadership or board level is 5% versus 12% across other industries. Some of the big [licensed producers] have no women in board roles."

On the subject, a Women Grow commission found:

  • A relatively high level of gender diversity in cannabis upper management
  • Greater potential for American women to advance to leadership roles as compared to other businesses
  • Many women still facing issues of unequal pay and limited benefits

Having attended Women Grow meetings in Toronto, Rebecca is well-versed in the winds blowing against women like her. She says, "Yes, I'm concerned and disheartened, but I'm really hoping we can turn it around."

The End-Goal for Gender Equality in Cannabis

For everyone, cannabis represents a new business opportunity that’s shifting us toward equal pay, equal representation, more female founders and investors, flexible schedules and cubicle dismantlement—not to mention safer work environments that are observant of mental health policies and harassment protocols. Hopefully, marijuana industries around the world recognize that a healthy mix of men and women participating in the space will bring nothing but growth and innovation.

Photo credit: Electric Tobacconist