In Canada, women are grossly underrepresented when it comes to leadership positions in publicly traded companies. In fact, our highly qualified females only fill 12% of board seats at 677 Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) companies. The numbers are, sadly, even lower when it comes to the Canadian cannabis industry.
Currently, 5% of board seats at publicly traded licensed producers are held by women, according to data obtained by The Canadian Press. It’s a reality that has not gone unnoticed by the women in our industry.
Lisa Campbell is a cannabis entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word. She has worked with different dispensaries, started a cannabis PR firm, and even co-founded the wildly popular Green Market. Lisa is all too familiar with the challenges that come with being a woman in a burgeoning industry; she is doing what she can to change the game.
“In the traditional, grassroots cannabis industry women have always been leaders, but as big business is taking over cannabis [in Canada] it’s becoming more corporate,” Campbell said in an interview with Marijuana.com. “A lot of these women aren’t being included in companies in leadership roles.”
Lisa added that women in the Canadian marijuana landscape typically have come from the unlicensed marketplace such as dispensaries, vape lounges, and farmers markets. Basically, what the industry used to be before the corporate world came calling. “This is not a cannabis specific issue, but it’s worse in [our] industry,” she said.
One of the reasons for the lack of women in the Canadian corporate cannabis sector is that people who have been openly working in the gray market are generally not considered for jobs in corporate cannabis, minus a few exceptions. “In the current cannabis act, anyone suspected of being involved in gray market activities, even if you haven’t been charged, you’re technically not allowed to be a licensed producer (LP).”
Campbell knows this experience first-hand. She was in the process of joining an LP application this year but had to bow out in the end because of her involvement within the unlicensed community.
Campbell to date has never been arrested or charged with anything but has been openly vocal about her gray market activities. “Because I run Green Market, and I’m in the media doing gray market activities, that alone means I’m a risk to being on a board of directors for someone who doesn’t have their cultivation license yet.”
As for women in other sectors considering getting into the cannabis industry, Campbell believes that trepidation exists on their part because pot, even in Canada, still has a dark cloud over it to some extent due to past prohibition. “If you’re coming from another industry there is a stigma in being involved with a cannabis company. You might have women executives from the alcohol industry, for example, who have transferable skills but the stigma working for a cannabis company exists.”
Although gender diversity in corporate cannabis is clearly an issue in Canada, the United States is more of a level playing field for both sexes. Campbell accounts this to a difference in politics with our American neighbors. Canada is traditionally a more socialist country with heavy government involvement, and the U.S. is capitalistic in nature, with less regulation and a freer marketplace.
“There are a higher percentage of women executives in the [U.S.] cannabis industry. I think that’s because the United States has less of a protectionist economy. For example, the way we handle liquor sales is very controlled with a lot of government bureaucracy. By contrast in the U.S., it’s more of a microbrewery model.”
To her credit, Campbell is not just sitting around and lamenting about inequality, she is doing something about it. She was the founder of the Women Grow Toronto chapter and she has now started a whole new venture specifically designed to give women a leg up in the industry, called Elle Collective.
“Elle Collective is a group of women who were involved in founding Women Grow in Canada. After over a year of doing Women Grow, we felt like we needed to do something more to support women, and we also wanted to build equity.” The company serves as an incubator for women-run ventures in the Canadian cannabis industry. They negotiate deals, develop products and bring them to market, and a whole host of other services that navigate the waters of big business.
“Elle Collective is just beginning to form and we have women from all sides of the industry involved. The licensed producer side to women who are involved in the gray market as well. The idea is we will be incubating brands that will survive legalization.”
Although the percentage of women in the Canadian corporate marijuana industry currently seems bleak, Campbell and her fellow entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future and doing everything they can to ensure their rightful place within it.