Breaking the Grass Ceiling: What Issues Women Executives Face in Cannabis

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As the inspiration from the first female Vice President grows, women are motivated to empower themselves and do even more amazing things than ever before. In celebration of this historic event, The National Cannabis Industry Association and the Women’s Inclusion Network by Arcview jointly released a set of five cannabis-related white papers that outlines the different challenges women executives face in the cannabis industry. 

The Whitepapers

The CEO of Green Market Report, Debra Borchardt, was thrilled to co-author two of these white papers – Pathways to Equity Ownership and Pristine Companies Aren’t Good Enough for Cannabis Capital. She worked on Pathways to Equity Ownership with Christine De La Rosa of The People’s Dispensary, and Elise Serbaroli of Strimo. Gaynell Rogers of Treehouse Global Ventures co-authored Pathways to Equity Ownership with Borchardt. this with Gaynell Rogers of Treehouse Global Ventures. The three remaining white papers co-authored by women outside of Green Market Report are: 

  • Gender Parity in the C-Suite authored by Christine De La Rosa of The People’s Dispensary, Kelly Perez of kindColorado, and Elise Serbaroli of Strimo
  • Product Development and Branding by Nancy Whiteman of Wana, BDSA Market Research, and Alison Pugina of Canopy Growth Corporation
  • Pay Equity: Minding the “Gap” by Risa Lavine of CohnReznick

“The document is well-prepared by successful women that represent the perspectives of all women whether Black, Brown, or White and in different verticals within the cannabis industry. The papers will inspire women with advice about successful entry and sustainability within the industry. Every woman seeking to enter the cannabis industry will benefit from reading it and attending the virtual event,” said Khadijah Adams, Chair of NCIA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee.

Some key takeaways from the whitepaper discussing gender parity in the c-suite: 

  • Companies with more womxn in leadership roles are more profitable. A Pepperdine University study showed that twenty-five Fortune 500 firms with the best record of promoting womxn into high positions were 18 to 69 percent more profitable than the median firms in their industries.
  • Companies with more womxn in leadership roles are more competitive than their peers. One USA Today report found the stocks of 13 Fortune 500 companies led by a womxn for all of 2009 outperformed the S&P 500 (companies primarily led by men) by 25 percent.
  • • Womxn-led startups produce more than twice the revenue for every dollar invested. Womxn-led startups generate $0.78, compared to male-led startups that generate $0.31.10 They also perform better over time, generating 10 percent more cumulative revenue over a 5-year period.

Gender Parity in the C-Suite

The whitepaper explains that the step to reaching true gender parity in the workplace starts with one thing: getting to the root of the issue. The text goes on to say that recognizing systemic discrimination and oppression is the root of the issue at hand, and tackling that before anything else will produce profound results. 

“BIPOC womxn and men do not own or have significant representation in today’s cannabis C-Suite, despite the fact that the cannabis industry and market, as it exists today, was created by mostly Black and Brown people in the informal market. Racism is the reason cannabis prohibition exists, as cannabis was weaponized as a tool of state-sponsored systemic racism, filling prisons and marginalizing Black and Brown citizens and their communities. Practiced by both major political parties, voter suppression and exclusion was one of the major byproducts of supporting the prison industrial complex with these policies; it lies to us to change the cannabis narrative,” the whitepaper reads. 

The Grass Ceiling

The whitepaper discusses a concept known as the “Grass Ceiling”, which describes an invisible barrier that blocks women from advancing in the cannabis industry. 

“It is a barrier exacerbated by multiple identities (intersectionality) and applies to womxn as a group, with BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ womxn sitting at the bottom of the pyramid and the last rung on the ladder. There are numerous causes for this grass ceiling. We posit one important cause is occupational segregation. In our current labor market, outside of cannabis, we have seen executive positions segregated by gender. Womxn executives fill positions such as personnel, public relations, marketing, and some finance specialties. These are rarely pathways to the powerful top management positions and are often intentional. This is an example of tokenism22 or a way of practicing performative gender parity but not actual gender parity. The pathways that lead to those power positions, like President or CEO, are rarely offered to womxn in any significant way, thus limiting access to those positions.”

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