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Can Women in Cannabis Break the “Grass Ceiling?”

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: May 17, 2019   
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The cannabis industry is changing rapidly, and nowhere is that clearer than in its consumer base. In just a year, the number of women cannabis consumers in California grew by 92 percent, according to the Golden State’s leading cannabis delivery app, Eaze. After examining the sales data from over 450,000 customers and the in-depth answers of 4,000 survey participants, the company found that women occupied 38 percent of its market – a proportion set to increase to 50 percent by 2022. 

As legalization spreads, it appears this once male-dominated field is filling up with women celebrating cannabis and its role in their health, recreation, and livelihoods. Have a search for “women in cannabis”, and one can find countless ranges of femme-focused strains, oils, pipes, and accessories, as well as numerous women-led social groups advocating for change. 

But look a little closer, and the same gender imbalance found in most sectors looms its lopsided head. In Canada, perhaps the most progressive country in the world when it comes to cannabis, only 7 of the 99 marijuana companies with public information are headed up by women. Despite being described as a greenhouse industry “without a glass ceiling,” it seems the cannabis sector has the same gender barriers to the top leadership positions as most other fields.

“There are a lot of articles that say cannabis is so great for women and there are so many opportunities,” says Beth Stavola, chief strategy officer and board member of iAnthus, a financial company that owns, operates, and partners with licensed cannabis operations throughout the US. “But I would challenge anybody to look in the c-suites and tell me how many other women in the US are c-suite executives.”

Recently named number one on the 2019 Cannabis Business Executive Power Women in Cannabis list, Stavola is one of the few women working at the top tier of a multi-state cannabis company. Ahead of her presentation, Being a C-Suite Female Leader in an American Cannabis Industry, at the inaugural Women, CBD and Medical Cannabis Conference in London this weekend, Stavola spoke to Analytical Cannabis about her hopes for the industry’s future and the realities of working within it today as a woman. 

“So, while I think the jobs such as vapers and head of packaging divisions and things like that are very open to women, we're still not seeing a lot of women at the top,” she says. 

“And as a c-suite female leader in an American cannabis industry powerhouse, I feel fortunate that I have a great CEO and CFO that have a tremendous amount of respect for my opinion and my history in this business. But that said, I would like to see more women moved into c-suite positions and not just at middle management level.”

And Stavola’s passion for a gender balance at cannabis’ executive level may be needed now more than ever. Back in 2015, roughly 36 percent of all c-suite positions in the cannabis industry were occupied by women, according to Marijuana Business Daily. But in just two years, that proportion had fallen to 27 percent. And while it’s impossible to claim a cause for every executive switchover and promotion, many attribute this male migration to the growing corporate investment from more traditional, men-dominated industries.  

So, as the cannabis industry continues to grow year on year, attracting more and more male CEOs from older sectors like banking, pharma, and retail, is there any hope for a more gender balanced future? As a former senior vice president at an investment banking company herself, Stavola believes so. 

“It's something that we're taking very seriously [at iAnthus],” she enthuses. “Right now, we're running a study on making sure that our females are paid the same as males for the same job. I'm in charge of this corporate culture umbrella to really be conscious of things like that.”

“I talk a lot about socially responsible capitalism, and there are a lot of ways where we plan to give back, like giving a meal to a homeless shelter for every vape pen that we sell,” she adds. “You know, we've historically had a reputation; we're all Wall Street people. But we're also really good operators, and that's one of the things that we’ll be proving to the market. Don't just listen to what I say, watch what we do.”

The Women, CBD, and Medical Cannabis Conference will take place at the Hilton London Paddington Hotel, May 18-19, 2019. 

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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