Cannabis: Becoming a Female-Dominated Industry
By Kate Shay, Creative Director
The cannabis industry is the Wild West, and, if you believe what the press is saying, women seem to be dominating it completely. From activism in politics, to R&D and scientific testing, to their exquisite creations in the kitchen, women are taking the industry by storm and breaking America’s ‘Boy’s Club’ mold. In fact, while female executives are grossly underrepresented everywhere else, women make up roughly 36% of the leaders in the cannabis industry, including 63% of high-level positions. (Forbes)
So why is this, and is it even ringing true among industry professionals? If so, what is it about the cannabis industry that has opened the floodgates for women to shine? And what implications, if any, does this have on cannabis branding strategy + design?
To gain a bit of perspective, I reached out to a few folks in the industry:
Dasheeda Dawson, President of Maryjane Marketing
Kaisha McMillan, Senior Marketing Copywriter
James Kaufman, Founder and Editor of the Cannabis Associates Network
Luckily, my curiosity was met with an amazing amount of passion, interest and honesty.
One quick reminder: Noise 13 is founded, led and run entirely by women, so we’ve taken a mighty strong interest in the topic at hand.
A few key takeaways from my conversations:
1. Women who are entering the industry are probably not exclusively driven by hopes of financial gain, thus their brands have a certain sense of storytelling to them.
Often relating to their own life experiences, women tend to bring a deep-rooted passion to realizing their ideas within the industry. As James put it, it’s “honest, deliberate and innate…they treat cannabis as a legitimate solution and address it professionally and seriously.” Dasheeda added, “from beauty regimens to menstrual pain relief, women are actively developing a sustainable mainstream culture for the ‘new face of Cannabis,’ and with that comes strong, relatable brands and new product innovations.
2. Women are more intentional in how they consume cannabis, so they are creating products that are more specific in effect.
As the door is just opening to legalized recreational cannabis, there are many people who are still intimidated and wary of a bad experience. Consumers, especially women, want to understand as much as possible how a certain product will affect them, and want to be more selective about when and how they use cannabis. As Kaisha put it, “behaviorally, there certainly is a segment of the population that just likes to get high, but I think women want more information on what the effect will be, and want to choose their experience outright. They ask questions like ‘How long will I be tired for?’ and ‘Will I be hungover the next day?’” Thus, education, familiarity, and transparency in packaging will be key to converting new customers as they navigate this new cannabis landscape.
3. Women know how to make people feel safe and can make cannabis approachable.
Or even more bluntly, “stereotype or not, women have a caring aspect about them, so the wellness aspect of cannabis is a perfect space for women.” I think Kaisha had an interesting point here—and while I don’t like to over-generalize personality traits, women might have an edge on men in the nurturing department. The implication here goes beyond education and transparency and directly into a brand’s identity. Female business owners are creating luxurious brands that are inviting and familiar, invoking desire. Elegant packaging, like that of The Moonman’s Mistress and Jane West, as well as upscale experiences like The Cannaisseur Series and Sous Weed, (all of which are women-owned) are helping consumers overcome the still-lingering stigma.
Additionally, as primary household shoppers, women are bringing their retail experience to the cannabis industry. By normalizing the retail experience consumers feel more at ease—think about it: if buying cannabis products feels more like buying a fine wine, all of a sudden it’s much more approachable. Retail experiences such as Harvest are doing just that, treating cannabis consumers like the adults that they are. No beefy security guard working the door, no bars on the windows. It’s open, inviting, and most importantly, familiar.
4. You can re-invent yourself in this industry, which might be one of the reasons women are so attracted to it.
Right now, within the cannabis industry at least, the world is our oyster. Women who have faced years of hurdles in their professional lives can now completely transform their careers. “You can do whatever you want,” Kaisha said, “If I want to be a marketing writer, I can. If someone else wants to refine her grow technique, she can do that.” Make a face cream. Make an ice cream. Combine any past experience or skill set with cannabis and you can probably find some white space. It’s crazy to be able to do anything in this industry, because it’s starting fresh. But, as Dasheeda brought up, “it requires active participation—you can’t just join the industry on a whim, and it requires a commitment from people who can put things in motion and make things happen.” Sure, this is universal to both men and women, but think about how motivated women are right now to change the norm.
5. We should absolutely celebrate the strides women have made within the industry, but we still have a lot of work to do.
James agreed that “women are certainly represented at every table in the space,” but does that mean they are leading the industry? Dasheeda warned me, “all this press is great, but don’t let it become a false impression of reality.” She continued, “100% real talk, we still have some of the same exact challenges in this industry as we do across many others. For example, appropriate funding will undoubtedly be the difference between whether a brand that exists today is still around 5 years from now and unfortunately, it is still an overwhelmingly male-dominated financial investment community.”
That being said, Kaisha honestly believes that women are leading the industry, “even the companies that have male figures out front—behind every great man, there’s an even greater woman.” And while that’s a step in the right direction, it does imply that women are still in the background of some cannabis companies. So yes, let’s celebrate the progress we have made, but we can’t get caught up in the celebration and forget there’s still work to be done.
BONUS takeaway: We have to honor the past as we move into the future of cannabis.
As an industry, we need to acknowledge the people and struggles that came before us. Dasheeda explains, “from a social justice perspective, I’ll never be comfortable watching people capitalize on the legalization of the plant without acknowledging the huge impact prohibition has had on millions of people of color, criminalized in alarmingly disproportionate rates.” And Kaisha added, “People went to jail in places where cannabis is now legal in some fashion. The stories I’ve heard are so vast and incredible—it’s all grassroots, advocacy and social justice based….and for that reason it attracts people who want to do something more fulfilling. The history of this industry must not be forgotten, and there needs to be room for people of color and for women.”
Yes, women have taken this industry by storm and are showing up in so many amazing ways. They are creating strong brands with authentic missions and approachable packaging with an emphasis on education. They can appeal to the timid consumer and create a sense of ease and relatability in an otherwise intimidating space. However, while women are in fact making strides as leaders in the cannabis industry, we can’t blindly accept it as victory and forget to keep pushing forward. With men still dominating every other industry, they’re still technically holding the purse strings over female entrepreneurs looking to get their businesses off the ground. They’re still in the majority in politics and control the vote. And they’re still on top of land ownership, deciding who gets to farm where. So let’s celebrate this glimmer of hope for an industry without a glass ceiling while we keep pushing forward, small victory after small victory, with women at the helm.
Dasheeda Dawson is a cannabis advocate, brand strategist and entrepreneur that has worked for some of the world’s biggest brands. She is currently running MaryJane Marketing, a digital-focused, cannabis consulting group. You can follow her @thecannabisCEO on Instagram & Twitter.
Kaisha McMillan is a freelance Senior Copywriter living in Oakland and specializing in the cannabis industry, and has worked on brands such as Bloom Farms, Green Rush Consulting, and House of Marley. She is a member of Sparkpr’s Consultant Network and attended Oaksterdam University.
James Kaufman is the founder and editor of the Cannabis Associates Network, a social networking website dedicated to the promotion, protection and growth of the Cannabis Industry and the businesses and people associated with it.