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Women are having a moment in the cannabis industry. With networking groups like Women Grow and MJBA Women’s Alliance paving the way for female leaders, and popular publications counting down the most prominent women in marijuana, it’s clear that the era of a male-dominated industry will soon be going the way of prohibition.
While much has been said about why the marijuana industry would benefit with more women in charge, it’s harder to find guidance for those companies looking to seriously follow that advice and hire more women. I’ve lost count of the number of times that business owners in the marijuana industry have told me that they’ve distributed a job opening and received 95% or more male applicants. “How can we hire women if they don’t apply?’ is the question I hear most often.
There are several steps you can take, but the first and most important step is to make your business a place where women want to work. Here’s how you can do it:
- Refuse to tolerate sexism and sexual harassment. Put it in writing and stick to it.
Those of us who have worked for marijuana law reform for ten years or more can attest to the dramatic improvement that has recently taken place as the industry has become more professionalized. But you don’t want to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to the worst examples. Don’t give yourself a high-five for not using women in green leaf shaped bikinis and assume you’re done, for example.
To start, make sure to have a written anti-harassment policy. You can use a sample online as a starting point, but take some time to put it into plain English and customize it to fit your needs. At a minimum, it should have clear examples of behavior that is not allowed, a concrete process outlining how to submit a complaint, and what to expect after submitting a complaint. It should also include an alternate person who can receive complaints, in case the complaint is about the person who typically receives them.
If you don’t have a formal HR department — most marijuana businesses don’t – then take this process seriously. You must have a safe and established way for violations to be reported. You may also want to include or create a separate policy related to events, since harassment often occurs at events (ask any woman in the marijuana industry who has attended a conference). The Geek Feminism Wiki has a good example. Make sure your staff understands that the policy is still in place at night or in new cities.
Sometimes smaller, less hierarchical businesses think that they don’t need formal policies because they know their employees well. If that’s the case, you can reinforce your small and hip culture by putting a small and hip anti-harassment policy in place. Doing so can only help you.
In a future blog, we’ll discuss how marijuana business policies can tackle difficult topics, like work relationships.
- Focus on the quality of the work, not how it gets done.
This is an area where smaller marijuana businesses who can’t afford the biggest salaries or benefit packages can stand out by innovating. Bigger companies in more established industries can be the worst at this. Look at Google’s ex-CEO Eric Schmidt promoting what he calls his “new style of managing” by suggesting moms put their kids to bed and then start working again at 11pm. Or Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer, who infamously banned employees from working from home. When people get sick of that industrial-era culture, they look for companies that respect staff members’ ability to do their work.
When you build flexibility for families into your culture, applicants will be able to tell, and you will attract and retain top talent. When I started looking for a job soon after my son was born, I couldn’t even consider companies which didn’t offer at least partial work-from-home options. Of those that did, I turned down any opportunity where I would be the only one calling into a meeting, awkwardly speaking while everyone in the conference room squinted at the phone. Instead, I went with a company that had 50% female staff and several parents on staff, with management who went out of their way to allow flexible schedules and remote working when possible.
I asked Brooke Gilbert, Events & Education Director at the National Cannabis Industry Association, what she thought was the most important thing a marijuana business could do to attract women employees. She agreed: “Allow flexibility in employees’ schedules!” She added on a personal note, ”As someone wishing to have kids down the road, having the ability to be largely in control of my schedule and therefore able to make time around the responsibilities of parenthood will be crucial to being happy in my place of work.”
- Commit to professional development and have a transparent policy for advancement.
Running a marijuana business can be overwhelming, to put it lightly, so don’t save professional development for a slow time that will never come. Instead, build it into your company by scheduling quarterly check-ins with employees. Jane West of Women Grow advised, “Companies need to have professional development plans, including a predetermined amount to spend, for all employees. Whether it’s a class learning Excel or having Myers-Briggs assessments done for the team, this type of investment is necessary for your most important asset, human resources.” Let your employees know that you care about them and their progress.
Being open about how advancement works in your company is the best way to ensure that you treat men and women fairly. Don’t be like Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, who recently apologized for advising women to “have faith” that the system would give them a raise, calling it good karma to not ask for more money. Especially in the marijuana industry where talent is scarce and women are scarcer, you will quickly lose if you don’t pay and promote women the same way that you do men. “The two best things (of equal importance) a company can do to create a welcoming work environment for women is to put them in leadership positions, and have a fair, transparent policy for company or organizational advancement.,” Sabrina Fendrick of NORML told me.
- Fight against drug policies that harm mothers and children.
Perhaps most importantly, women understand that marijuana businesses have a responsibility to protect children from unfair laws. “If marijuana companies want to recruit the top women in the industry, they should be involved in the activism aimed at eliminating gender and caretaker based punishments,” says Amanda Reiman of the Drug Policy Alliance. Mothers are forced to give up their children for marijuana use even in states where adult or medical use is legal. And all over the country, moms of special-needs children are facing the devastating choice of either helping their child and risking arrest or not helping their child at all.
For previous Ladybud Magazine coverage of women in weed, click here.
Photo Credit: geralt under public domain via Pixabay