Gender and income equality are critical issues in industries worldwide. People of all genders deserve to be equitably compensated for their work and the value they add to a given team or product. That many industries still struggle to provide equal opportunities and compensation to all genders has been well documented. Given the novelty of the Cannabis industry, and the formerly illicit nature of Cannabis-centered work, it is interesting to see if this industry fosters gender-based wage gaps and other inequities prevalent in more established industries. Does it follow the same old trends or does it have the potential to address these issues in a unique way?
In the bright green spring of the cannabis industry, there is limited data available on gender and income equality as compared to more seasoned sectors. However, some reports suggest that the cannabis industry may be more progressive than other industries when it comes to workplace gender equity issues.
According to a widely cited survey conducted by Marijuana Business Daily in 2019, the cannabis industry had a higher percentage of female executives than other industries. The survey found that 37% of senior-level jobs in the cannabis industry are held by women, compared to the national average at the time of 21% across other industries.
Despite these positive reports, gender and income equality are not without challenges in the sometimes volatile cannabis industry. The same Marijuana Business Daily survey from 2022 revealed that the share of women executives throughout the industry fell from the 2019 high of 36.8% to just 23.1% in 2021 .
This emerging industry must recognize opportunities to ensure that gender parity issues remain at the forefront of organizational discussions and policies, especially as the sector grows. According to a report by Leafly, over 428,000 people were legally employed in the cannabis industry across America.
Compared to other industries, the cannabis industry at first appears to be more progressive in terms of gender and income equality. As mentioned earlier, a Marijuana Business Daily survey found that during certain years, the cannabis industry has had a higher percentage of women holding senior-level positions than other industries. Yet more recent data recorded a sharp decline in female leadership between 2019 and 2021.
A more recent national study across all industries by McKinsey & Company found that in 2022 women made up 26% of C-suite executives in the United States . The McKinsey report also found that women of color face more significant obstacles to advancement, with only 5% of C-suite executives being women of color. Thus it is important to note how much the proportion of female leadership in all industries is subject to fluctuation.
Furthermore, a report by the National Women’s Law Center found that women earn only 82 cents for every dollar earned by men . Compare this with women in the Cannabis Industry earning 90 cents for every dollar earned by men. Even with room for improvement within the cannabis industry, this sliver of an increase accumulates into significant purchasing power for women over time.
The cannabis industry, and all industries, must continue to prioritize strategies for closing the gender pay gap and making workspaces more inclusive.
Gender equality is an important issue in all industries, including the cannabis industry. As the industry continues to grow and evolve, it is essential to ensure that women have equal opportunities and are represented at all levels of the industry. Here we will explore the gender distribution of employees within the cannabis industry, how female-led businesses perform compared to male-led ones, the main challenges women face in the industry, successful initiatives that have promoted gender equality in the industry, and how mentorship and networking opportunities can help improve gender equality in the cannabis industry.
In 2019, cannabis staffing firm Vangst did a survey of 166 cannabis related businesses and found that 38.5% of workers identified as female . In the same survey, 43.4% of businesses surveyed say 50% or more of their workforce were female while 17.6% of that female-identifying workforce also held Director or Executive roles. While the overall workforce participation of women in the Cannabis industry is higher than in the tech or construction sector, in this particular survey the number of women in executive roles is relatively low, especially when looking for multiple women in leadership roles within the same firm.
The distribution of women employees in the cannabis industry also varies greatly between states. Texas shows the lowest participation of women in the cannabis industry at 12%, and Pennsylvania stands out by having 66% of its cannabis industry powered by women workers.
Once again, there is limited data available on how female-led cannabis businesses perform compared to male-led ones. However, a report by MJ Biz Daily found that cannabis businesses with women in executive positions had higher valuations than those without women in such positions and that publicly listed companies with more women in leadership generated a 36% higher return on equity compared to those without women in leadership roles.
A study from 2019 found that cannabis retail organizations reported greater sales when led by a female president . The same study also looked beyond the industry itself to see if more women in local and regional governance affected the success of a locale’s cannabis industry, though more research is needed to draw a conclusion.
Lack of representation in leadership roles: While women make up a significant percentage of the cannabis industry's workforce, they are still underrepresented in leadership positions.
Discrimination: Women in the cannabis industry have reported facing discrimination based on their gender, including being disregarded and unequal pay.
Limited access to funding: Female-led cannabis businesses have historically had limited access to funding, with more startup capital being funneled to male-led firms, which has made it challenging to start and grow their businesses.
Lack of mentorship and networking opportunities: Women in the cannabis industry may face challenges in finding mentorship and networking opportunities to help them advance their careers.
I was, and still am, inspired by the idea of being a part of the first multi-billionaire dollar industry with women at the helm. But as the amount of capital poured into the industry increased over the past few years, the percentage of women in leadership positions decreased. The capital market, and its corresponding white-male dominated culture, seeped in.
Several initiatives have been launched to promote gender equality in the cannabis industry. Some successful initiatives include:
Women Grow: Women Grow is a professional networking organization that focuses on empowering women in the cannabis industry. The organization hosts events and provides educational resources to help women advance their careers in the industry.
The Initiative: The Initiative is a venture capital fund that invests in female-led cannabis businesses. The fund focuses on providing funding, mentorship, and support to help female entrepreneurs succeed in the industry.
The Emerge Cannabis Conference: The Emerge Cannabis Conference is an annual event that brings together women in the cannabis industry. The conference features keynote speakers, workshops, and networking opportunities to help women advance their careers in the industry.
Cannabis Training Academy: Another promising initiative has been developed in New Jersey by the New Jersey Business Action Center. The proposed 10-week training program will seek to provide potential entrepreneurs from historically marginalized backgrounds, including women, to equip themselves to succeed in the cannabis industry
Mentorship and networking opportunities can play a crucial role in improving gender equality in any industry. By cultivating mentorship and networking opportunities, women in the cannabis industry can connect with other professionals, learn from their experiences, and gain valuable insights into how to advance their careers. Here are some ways mentorship and networking opportunities can help improve gender equality in the cannabis industry:
State-level and regional incentives, like the one in New Jersey mentioned above, can help show curious women how to navigate the ins and outs of the cannabis industry, connect with women more established in their cannabis careers, and ensure a greater rate of business survival once they enter the industry.
Mentorship and networking opportunities can provide women with the skills, knowledge, and connections they need to advance their careers in the cannabis industry. Mentorship helps women early along in their careers develop a better understanding of what it takes to succeed in the industry.
Beyond issuing DEI statements, with a greater diversity of cannabis businesses in the industry, women have the opportunity to lend their talents to firms with an established track record of addressing gender bias and discrimination in the workplace. When conferences and workshops feature panels on diversity and gender equity, women just entering the industry have a chance to learn about which firms are doing the work.
Any progress made within the cannabis industry has been tenuous and there is still much work to be done to ensure that women have equal opportunities and are represented at all levels of the industry. By providing mentorship and networking opportunities, supporting female-led businesses, and addressing gender bias and discrimination, the industry can continue to make progress towards achieving gender equality.
As the cannabis industry continues to grow and evolve, it is important to address the issue of wage inequality within the industry. In this article, we will explore the current state of the wage gap between different gender and racial groups in the cannabis industry, compare it to the national average, identify contributing factors, highlight successful initiatives that have promoted income equality, and discuss the role of transparent compensation structures and policies in reducing the wage gap.
As stated above, women across the cannabis industry only earn 90 cents for every dollar earned by their male colleagues. This is slightly higher than the national average wage gap of 82 cents on the dollar, but it has not achieved pay parity. Importantly, the cannabis industry has the opportunity to address these issues before they become deeply ingrained due to its being so close to its inception.
At the national level, across all industries, a Black male worker earns 87 cents for every dollar earned by a white male worker. Hispanic workers also earn only 91 cents on average compared to white workers. Only Asian male workers can expect to earn more than white workers, typically pulling in $1.15 for every dollar earned by white workers .
In terms of earning by racial groups within the cannabis industry, the data is less clear. As of 2017, only 4.3% of marijuana business owners were Black 5.7% were Hispanic, and 2.4% were Asian .
This suggests that there may be disparities in wages for these groups as well. Further industry research is needed to fully understand the wage gap between different racial groups within the cannabis industry specifically.
There are several factors that contribute to the wage gap in the cannabis industry. These include:
Bias and discrimination: Like many industries, the cannabis industry is not immune to bias and discrimination. This can result in lower wages and fewer opportunities for women and people of color.
Lack of diversity in leadership: Both the Vangst report and reports by Marijuana Business Daily found that women and people of color are underrepresented in executive roles in the cannabis industry. This lack of diversity at the top can contribute to a culture that perpetuates the wage gap.
Lack of transparency: Without transparent compensation structures and policies, it is difficult to identify and address wage inequality.
Despite the challenges, there are several successful initiatives that have promoted income equality in the cannabis industry. These include:
As in other industries, transparent hiring practices and compensation structures are key to reducing the wage gap. According to a recent report by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the cannabis industry’s wage gap is significant and can be attributed to a lack of transparency in compensation structures and policies. Here we will unpack the question: “How can transparent compensation structures and policies help reduce the wage gap in the cannabis industry?”.
Transparent compensation policies ensure that all employees are paid fairly, based on their job responsibilities and performance. When compensation policies are clear and concise, there is less room for race and gender based discrepancies.
When employees understand how their compensation is determined, it creates a sense of trust between them and their employers. This trust leads to better employee engagement, job satisfaction, and retention.
When employees believe they are paid fairly, they are more likely to remain loyal to their employers. This reduces the high cost of employee turnover that can occur when employees leave due to unfair pay practices.
When a company is known for treating its employees fairly, it can attract top talent and customers. Hence transparent compensation structures and policies can enhance a company's reputation, particularly in a growing and competitive industry like cannabis.
How Transparent Compensation Structures and Policies Can Help Reduce the Wage Gap in the Cannabis Industry:
When companies have a clear understanding of their pay practices against clearly defined industry standards, they can take action to correct any disparities in how they are compensating people at various pay grades.
Transparency in compensation policies can foster an air of openness, reducing the stigma of discussing pay and making it easier for employees to identify and address wage inequality.
In an equitable business, promotions and advancement are based on clear criteria, such as job performance, education, and experience, rather than on subjective factors, like race or gender. This is yet another area of business management that benefits from transparency.
Regular compensation reviews can help ensure that employees are being paid fairly and consistently, based on their job responsibilities and performance.
A key to transparent operations and ensuring that employees are paid fairly based on their job responsibilities and experience is setting clear salary ranges for different positions. This can help prevent pay disparities between employees in similar roles.
Transparent compensation structures and policies can provide flexibility for employees to negotiate their compensation packages, providing a level of transparency that can be empowering and motivating for employees.
Ensure that people with decision making power at all levels of the organization are trained on pay practices. This promotes transparency by reducing the risk of subjective and discriminatory practices in hiring, promotions, and compensation decisions.
From concerns about the unequal burden that drug policies had on Black and Latinx people to the representation to the role of minority-owned businesses, there is much to consider when looking at inclusivity in the cannabis industry. In this article, we’ll explore these issues and provide resources for readers interested in learning more.
Despite facing the greatest burden from punitive policies during cannabis’ illicit era, marginalized communities have often been underrepresented in those reaping a benefit from the legal cannabis industry. This is something that industry leaders, advocates, and other stakeholders are seeking to address. While the industry is still relatively new, it does spring from decades of campaigning by progressive swathes of society and there are already initiatives in place to promote greater diversity and inclusivity.
I've never felt a disadvantage in cannabis because I'm a woman . . . If you're going into cannabis, you're progressive, and people are inclusive.
One example is the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA), a nonprofit organization founded in 2015 to support minority-owned businesses in the cannabis industry. The MCBA provides resources and advocacy for businesses owned by people of color, including legal support, networking opportunities, and educational resources.
Another organization working to promote greater inclusivity in the cannabis industry is the Cannabis Cultural Association (CCA), which aims to promote diversity and empower people of color in the industry. The CCA offers a range of resources, including job training, networking opportunities, and legal support for minority-owned businesses.
Despite these initiatives, there is still work to be done to ensure that marginalized communities are adequately represented in the cannabis industry. While national data is lacking, data from the Nevada Cannabis Compliance Board gives us a snapshot of minority representation among employees and owners at a state-wide level. At the top, only 17% of the board of directors identify as women and 80% of all board members identify as white .
If this distribution is in any way indicative of the numbers at the national scale, then we can see that there’s a lot of work to be done to increase the number of women and other minorities in decision making roles throughout the cannabis industry.
Minority-owned businesses play a critical role in promoting greater diversity and inclusivity in the cannabis industry. These businesses face unique challenges, including limited access to capital and legal barriers, but they also have the potential to create positive change.
One example of a successful minority-owned business in the cannabis industry is Simply Pure, a Denver-based dispensary owned by Wanda James, a Black woman. Simply Pure is one of the few Black-owned dispensaries in Colorado and is known for its focus on education and advocacy around issues related to cannabis and social justice.
Another example is Viola, a cannabis company founded by NBA veteran Al Harrington, which focuses on providing high-quality cannabis products and promoting social equity in the industry. Viola has partnered with organizations like the MCBA to support minority-owned businesses and promote diversity in the cannabis industry.
By creating a business culture that embraces diversity and providing opportunities for entrepreneurs from marginalized communities, these businesses are helping to shape the future of the cannabis industry. Additionally, when Black and Latinx owned businesses are able to approach cannabis from a social justice lens, they are contributing to communal healing in the post-War on Drugs era.
There are many ways that the cannabis industry can promote greater inclusivity and representation. Some strategies include:
Another way that the cannabis industry can promote greater inclusivity and representation is by providing support and resources for underrepresented communities. This includes offering mentorship programs, educational opportunities, and access to funding and networking events. Some examples of organizations that provide such resources include:
These organizations are just a few examples of the many groups that are working to promote greater inclusivity and representation in the cannabis industry. By providing resources and support for underrepresented communities, these organizations are helping to create a more diverse and equitable industry.
As with any industry, government policies and regulations play a significant role in shaping the landscape of the rapidly growing cannabis industry and its potential for promoting equality. To get a more complete picture of wage gaps and inequity in the cannabis industry, we must examine how current government policies and regulations impact gender and income equality, potential policy changes that could promote greater equality, and how the cannabis industry can collaborate with policymakers to address these issues.
The cannabis industry has historically been dominated by white male ownership and leadership. This lack of diversity is due in part to the federal government's previous prohibition on cannabis. Even though cannabis is now legal in many states, there are still significant barriers to entry for minorities and women.
One of the biggest barriers is access to capital, which is necessary for starting a cannabis business. Federal regulations continue to make it difficult for cannabis businesses to access traditional banking services, which means that many minority and women-owned businesses are forced to rely on high-interest loans or personal savings, which are also likely to be lower due to lifetimes of being underpaid.
Women and minorities in the cannabis industry are often paid less than their white male counterparts. This is due in part to the majority of high-paying ownership and leadership roles being occupied by white males, as well as the fact that many of the lowest-paid jobs in the industry, such as trimming and packaging, are predominantly held by women.
The legal status of cannabis at the federal level creates inconsistencies in state and local regulations, which can impact equality in the industry. For example, federal regulations prohibit cannabis businesses from deducting expenses related to the sale of cannabis on their tax returns, increasing the overall cost of doing business. This can make it difficult for these businesses to compete with other industries in terms of employee compensation and benefits.
Women Grow is a networking organization for women in the cannabis industry. They offer events, resources, and connections to help women succeed in the industry.
Minorities for Medical Marijuana is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the inclusion of minorities in the cannabis industry. They offer resources and support for people of color who are interested in entering the industry.
Marijuana Business Daily is a news outlet that covers the cannabis industry. They offer resources and information for people who are interested in starting or growing a cannabis business.
The National Cannabis Industry Association is a trade organization that represents the cannabis industry. They offer resources and advocacy for people who work in the industry.
The Cannabis Business Association is a trade organization that represents the cannabis industry. They offer resources, networking opportunities, and advocacy for people who work in the industry.
The Marijuana Policy Project is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the legalization of marijuana. They offer resources and advocacy for people who are interested in the industry.
The Cannabis Nurses Network is a networking organization for nurses who work with cannabis. They offer education and resources for nurses who are interested in working with cannabis.
The Minority Cannabis Business Association is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the inclusion of minorities in the cannabis industry. They offer resources, advocacy, and networking opportunities for people of color who are interested in the industry.
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The Cannabis Women's Alliance is a networking organization for women in the cannabis industry. They offer resources, events, and connections to help women succeed in the industry.
As the cannabis industry continues to grow and become more mainstream, it is important to address the issue of gender and income equality within the industry. Research on this topic has produced several key takeaways, and there are actionable steps that industry stakeholders can take to promote greater equality.
As mentioned earlier, transparent compensation policies and structures can help to reduce the wage gap in the cannabis industry. Industry stakeholders can ensure pay equity by setting clear salary ranges based on experience and job responsibilities, and eliminating any gender bias in the hiring process.
This includes hiring more women and people of color in top-level positions, promoting from within, and establishing mentorship programs to support professional development and career advancement for underrepresented groups.
The cannabis industry has the potential to be a more inclusive and equitable space by offering flexible work arrangements such as remote work, flexible hours, and job-sharing opportunities. These accommodations can help to level the playing field for women and caregivers who may have more responsibilities outside of work.
Industry stakeholders can support their employees' career growth and promote equality by investing in training and professional development programs. Providing these opportunities can help to increase job satisfaction, reduce turnover, and create a more skilled and diverse workforce.
Creating a culture of inclusion and equity requires an intentional effort from all industry stakeholders. This can be achieved by implementing policies that address harassment and discrimination, providing resources for mental health and wellness, and encouraging open communication and feedback channel.
The cannabis industry can benefit from collaborating with organizations that focus on promoting equity and inclusion. These partnerships can provide valuable resources, networks, and insights on best practices to help the industry make progress towards greater gender and income equality.
People in positions of relative power within the industry can use their influence and resources to advocate for policy change that promotes greater equity in the cannabis industry. This includes supporting legislation that addresses issues such as access to capital, licensure, and regulation.
The key takeaways from research indicate that women and minority groups struggle to secure equal compensation and opportunity to advance in the cannabis industry. The industry made impressive strides towards offering equal pay for women, though in the post-pandemic landscape it seems to have lost those gains. This underscores the need for continual care towards promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion within the industry.
Since the cannabis industry has just begun to define itself on the national stage, it has the potential to be a leader in promoting inclusion and closing the wage gap. It’s imperative that industry stakeholders work towards achieving this goal by implementing actionable steps like the ones outlined in this article, such as promoting diversity in leadership roles and advocating for policy change.
By working together, the cannabis industry can make strides towards becoming more inclusive and reaping the benefits of diverse perspectives at the helm and throughout the workforce.
Together, we are more powerful. Together, we will create not another industry but a better industry.