Canada’s Cannabis Industry Has To Do Better On Gender Equity

International Women’s Day is March 8th and with six months to go until recreational cannabis becomes legal, the cannabis industry and those working alongside it urgently need to do better on creating gender equity in the industry. And, it is incumbent upon those of us in the industry to push for better on this front - because it is both the right and strategically smart thing to do.

Canada’s cannabis industry is at a pivotal and exciting moment: the power structure of the sector is literally being created each day. Boards are being appointed, senior roles are being filled and funding decisions are being made. This gives the cannabis industry the opportunity to build itself as representative of the future but to do this, it needs to take a far more deliberate and proactive approach on gender.

The launch of the legal cannabis sector came in with the hopeful promise that an emerging industry, without a legacy framework, could evolve in a way that would be more equitable and balanced. After all, this is industry where there should be more than enough to go around; Canadians spent an impressive $5.7 billion on cannabis last year and all parts of the industry are rife with leadership and business opportunities, raising hopes that women would play a key role in the legal cannabis industry.

However, the reality has been quite different. Despite leadership on a number of fronts - technological, environmental and compliance - and possibly as a result of larger systemic, financing and network issues, instead of leading on the issue of gender, the cannabis sector is lagging.

Women remain largely underrepresented in the boardrooms of corporate Canada, but the disparity is even more pronounced in the cannabis sector. One theory is that although cannabis itself is a new industry, many of the industry leaders come from traditionally male-dominated industries such as venture capital, investment banking and mining, each of which is struggling with their own gender issues.

As of last summer, an analysis by the Canadian Press found that only five per cent of the board seats at publicly-traded cannabis producers were occupied by women, compared with 12 per cent on the nearly 700 TSX-listed companies.

Let us also note that 12 per cent is an already an unacceptable number.

The “Tier 1” publicly traded, Canadian cannabis companies, as identified by New Cannabis Ventures, have a 13 per cent representation rate of women. Here is what 13 percent looks like. Beside each company below, the number of female Board members is shown, out of the total board composition:

That’s 5 female Board members out of 36 at the top 6 companies. That’s 13.8 per cent overall - and zero at two of the most respected companies in the sector - CannTrust and Canopy.

It would be a mistake to suggest that there aren’t incredible women in the sector. There are. Scores of dynamic, visionary and successful women are driving every aspect of sector: from law to finance to product development to branding to growing, including: Jeannette VanderMarel/The Green Organic Dutchmen, April Pride/Van der Pop, Alison Gordon/48 North, Rosy Mondin/Quadron Cannatech, Trina Fraser/Brazeau Seller, Myrna Gillis/Aqualitas, Alison McMahon/Cannabis at Work and Abi Roach to name a few. But the fact that they exist and set the bar high is not enough. They need to be given opportunities to be in decision-making roles with the biggest players with the largest market capitalization.

There are several reasons for leaders in the industry to look to immediately tackle this issue.

The first is that it is the right thing to do. Our industry should do better because, seriously, if the Canadian Cannabis Sector isn’t forward thinking enough to recognize that everything is better on every front when there are more women at every table, then who is?

The second is that it is much easier to build equality earlier rather than later. A recent article in the Toronto Star discussed how both advocates and industry executives cite gender equity as one of the growing pain issues that corporate cannabis will have to tackle as it matures from an emerging industry into an established one. Building this into the sector’s DNA will be easier than trying to resequence it years down the road.

The third is this: We just spent the past decade or so making the business case on the direct benefits of having women in the C-suite and on boards, and the direct impact it has on the success of the organization. For a sector not to try and aspire to those standards of equity, would just be self sabotage.

The final reason is that the sector needs to work with women in order to effectively reach them as consumers - and trends suggest that women consumers will be the customer base that will define the longevity and success of brands. Research shows women are the world’s most powerful consumers, and their impact on the economy is growing every year. Moreover, our research shows greater openness and acceptance of cannabis consumption by women across the board. Women are already poised to be the larger adoptees of the sector -- ignore or discount them at your own peril.

Women drive 70-80 per cent of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence - since even when a woman isn’t paying for something herself she is often the influencer or has veto power over someone else’s purchase. Female consumers will be essential to brands looking to gain market share in the medical and wellness market segments, since women buy on behalf of all the people who live in their households, as well as for extended family (such as older parents and in-laws) and friends.

We look forward to another article one year from today with numbers that show a different snapshot. So, to the current Boards of Directors, the gauntlet has been thrown down and we’re here to support - 66 per cent of our leadership team are women.

About Business of Cannabis:
Business of Cannabis is the authoritative platform for news, analysis and insights into the business of Canada’s cannabis sector. We produce original multi-platform content and cross-sector coverage, to serve those working in and alongside the industry. We believe that expert information empowers professionals to leverage opportunities and navigate obstacles.

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