The national average of women with executive level business positions is just shy of 30%, but in the cannabis industry that statistic stands at only 22%, according to a 2021 MJBizDaily report.
Unfortunately, that number only represents the executive level. When you look at the rank and file, it is pretty clear the industry’s reputation as a bro-fest is embarrassingly well deserved.
Now consider being a woman in cannabis working outside the C-suite in a technology role. The odds of encountering another woman on the job are dramatically low.
Women comprise only about 28% of the entire science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce across all industries. Consequently, women working in cannabis tech often face a double whammy: our chosen field and our chosen industry are both notorious for lacking gender diversity. As a result, we are likely to be the lone female voice no matter where we work.
Does this mean the industry isn’t for women? Absolutely not! However, it does pose the challenge of learning how to adeptly sidestep some antiquated attitudes.
Pioneering the Field
Working as a team as a sales consultant and field service technician, our job is to help customers install their new Green Mill Supercritical extraction system, as well as train the team that will be overseeing and managing the extraction process.
There’s almost always a look of surprise when two women show up to perform the installation and training. It sometimes feels like people are waiting for “the guys” to follow behind us, carrying the heavy equipment and machinery needed for the installation. Then there is often another look of surprise when they see us hauling the machinery ourselves.
So what’s a woman to do in the cannabis tech space? It’s helpful to connect with other women in cannabis if you can. The two of us were lucky in that we found each other right away, and recognized immediately how unique it was to have women in these roles in cannabis.
We have both worked a lot in male-dominated occupations, so we’re used to feeling a bit isolated. However, working with other women and gaining the trust of our customers has been an incredible experience. It does feel a bit like we are pioneers in a way, and it’s always a pleasant surprise when we find other pioneers out there.
On a recent job working with Alaska’s Herban Extracts, we were delighted to discover an entire team of female cannabis entrepreneurs.
Lisa Coates, who co-owns this CO2 extraction company in Kenai with her husband, Buddy Crowder, has created a cannabis team composed entirely of women. We knew their extraction technician was a woman, and that their operator was also a woman. So when we discovered everyone else was also female, we were very excited to make the trip.
Coates said she did not create Herban Extracts’ all-female team by design. It just sort of evolved over time. But she admits she loves working with women in the cannabis industry, who she says “just have their act together.”
With an impressive and growing list of awards and accolades for their products, the team is proof that women, technology, and cannabis do indeed make a winning combination.
The usual one-day installation and training became three days of collaboration and community. We had never met the team, but there was a quick connection, and the camaraderie we felt made for a really great, comfortable experience. In time, we believe these encounters will become more and more commonplace, as women continue to enter the industry and more young women seek out a STEM education path.
Changing the Statistics
It won’t happen overnight, or without a great deal of persistence.
As an example, take a look at how quickly things can change. In 2019, an MJBizDaily survey showed that a whopping 37% of executive-level cannabis positions were held by women. At the time, this was the highest percentage of any industry. But as noted earlier, that number dropped considerably to just 22% by 2021.
According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, young girls are systematically steered away from science and math education, which helps explain the absence of women in the workforce of STEM industries. This gender gap occurs at increasing rates in the fastest-growing industries of the future, including the cannabis sector.
Until we bridge the gender gap, women in cannabis tech must find each other, support each other, learn from each other and encourage other young women to enter the space.
In the meantime, when you’re doing your job like a boss, and someone asks to see the “dude in charge,” do your best to answer politely. As we work together to expand roles for women in cannabis tech, eventually those questions will stop. The opportunities are there for those ladies with the brains and boldness to take the reins.