Why Diversity Makes Cannabis Companies Stronger
Within this article, I will be sharing details about my conversation with Shannon Klick, the Global Sales Manager at Boveda Inc. I met Shannon at Seattle’s 2019 CannaCon and upon meeting, we connected over the fact that both of us are enthusiastic about the notable role that women are playing within the cannabis industry. After CannaCon, Shannon agreed to chat with me about her views on women in the industry; the below is a summary of our conversation from February 15, 2019. We opened by discussing Boveda’s services offerings and then talked about what sets the cannabis industry apart from other industries. Afterward, Shannon shared her insights about just why it is imperative that companies, cannabis-related and otherwise, build diverse teams of people; her comments highlight why diversity within organizations is advantageous for the health of businesses and, more broadly, the health of our society. We also touched on the fact that women in the cannabis industry are partnering to lift one another up and promote mutual success.
I am so thankful for the opportunity to speak with Shannon because I believe her insight on why it’s important to include more women and people of color in the cannabis industry, and business in general, could spur positive change in both sectors.
Background on Shannon and Boveda Inc.
Storage Solutions for Cannabis Companies and Consumers
Before I dive into the full content of our interview, I want to provide some brief context on Boveda Inc. as well as Shannon’s background.
Boveda Inc. has provided unique storage solutions for partner industries since 1997. Now that recreational cannabis use is legal in many regions within North America, Boveda has expanded their customer base to include cannabis companies as well as cannabis end-consumers. Boveda provides products that regulate storage humidity, allowing customers to keep their cannabis flower as fresh as possible without the risk of drying or growing mold. In fact, Boveda’s website outlines how their storage solutions can help to maintain each cannabis plant’s unique terpene profile throughout storage.
Shannon’s role is to oversee sales expansion opportunities for her team’s markets across North America. She is focused on hiring and retaining the right sales representatives to support customers across the industries they serve, which include the musical instruments, premium tobacco, and cannabis markets. She focuses on bringing the right team together to win from both a sales and a cultural perspective. Despite having sales representatives across North America, Shannon and her team work to maintain interpersonal connection and foster a fun and hard-working culture.
One of the reasons the team has so much fun at work is that their services are all about protecting people’s passions. Their customers are innately dedicated to their own industries, and so the opportunity to protect other people’s passions provides a lot of energy to the Boveda team.
At CannaCon, the Boveda team offered me a sample of their product, a small desiccant packet designed to maintain the proper humidity of cannabis flower. I brought the sample home and my husband immediately put it in our weed jar; apparently, he had been on the lookout for something that could regulate the humidity of our home stash!
Shannon let me in on just what makes Boveda’s corporate culture unique. For one, the company culture has close ties to the company’s original founders. One of their founders and investors, who is 85 years old and still visits the office about 3 times a week, has a profound influence over the company culture to this day. He has always challenged Boveda employees to demonstrate unending curiosity - curiosity about the world, one’s peers, Boveda’s customers, customer industries, and generally, “why are we relevant?”. The curiosity at Boveda pushes the team to ask questions and also creates a sense of humility for the whole team.
Rather than simply maintaining a narrow focus on sales numbers, the company’s culture drives the team to develop and maintain discipline, hold each other accountable, and ask the right questions in order to win. Shannon’s biggest ask of her team is that they show up, ready to participate and be authentic every day. Shannon’s view is that when you build a team with a diverse background, and there is an open air where constructive criticism is allowed, every individual at the table can learn about themselves and together, they can achieve great things.
Unique Qualities of the Cannabis Market
An Ever-Changing Industry
With continuously changing cannabis legislation, Shannon indicated that Boveda has to stay on their toes in order to ensure that they are flexing to meet the needs of their current customers as well as prospective customers.
In order to keep up with the ever-changing cannabis market, Boveda’s strategy is to listen intently to the needs of their customers. Rather than initiate customer conversations about how Boveda can service the customer’s needs, Boveda’s strategy is to first ask questions about the customer’s operations and gain insight through real, interpersonal connection. The Boveda team attended 48 trade shows in 2018 to get in front of their customers and ask the necessary questions.
In terms of keeping up with cannabis news, the Boveda team collaborates in the office to share news, articles, and social media profiles that provide valuable, real-time information about the cannabis industry. They have a cascading information policy that allows them to share this information in real-time, and the fact that they have an outside sales force around North America allows individuals to keep up with regional legislation changes that are likely to impact their customers.
Cannabis Fosters Compassion and Empathy
Shannon has noticed that there is a lot of innate compassion and empathy within the cannabis industry. Unlike other markets, business interactions within the cannabis industry do not have that “dog eat dog” mentality that we tend to associate with most businesses that are vying to be commercially successful. Of course, this is a generalization, and there are always going to be exceptions to the rule. That said, cannabis companies typically act in alignment with the concept of mutual success and are in-tune with their responsibility to serve needs of cannabis consumers and patients.
While cannabis companies are businesses, the core reason they exist is to provide people access to a healthier and happier lifestyle. According to Shannon, “There’s so much opportunity in this business where you can stay clean and still win”.
When I asked Shannon about why she thinks the cannabis industry is more compassionate than others, she smartly pointed out that the reason as two-fold:
For one, the cannabis industry has more female executives participating than in other industries, and so this drives compassion and care in the cannabis sector.
Shannon is right to point out that there are more female executives in cannabis compared to other industries. Based on 2017 figures, it turns out that 27% of the executives in cannabis are female, compared to 23% across all other industries in the United States. And while we can certainly celebrate that more female executives are participating in cannabis than in other industries, this statistic demonstrates that there is still work to be done to increase female representation before women can claim truly equal holdings in the industry.
2. Secondly, the nature of the cannabis plant itself, with its innate healing properties, yields to a more compassionate workforce; many cannabis professionals were drawn to the industry because they have witnessed, first-hand, the healing that cannabis can provide to people struggling with chronic pain or mental illness.
Within cannabis, Shannon says, you can feel a tangible difference in the way people treat each other because most of the people working within the industry understand that it is all about collective success at the end of the day.
The Reality of Collective Success
Collective success… this is not really a concept that comes to mind when you consider how standard businesses operate. In fact, my own corporate experience showed me that business is about smashing the competitor, a race to the bottom to cut costs and increase margins more than said competitors, and carving out as much of the market share as possible. Most businesses always have an eye on the rear-view mirror, obsessed with what other companies in the space are up to next and how that might jeopardize their own success.
Shannon indicated that while you might see some of this typical business behavior within the cannabis sector, this is not the mentality of most cannabis stakeholders; rather, people within cannabis see the industry as a space that can bring financial security and fulfillment to every individual and company that wishes to participate and work hard.
“In cannabis”, she says, “we all win together. This industry right now - it’s not a pie. There are not only so many slices for us to be successful; it’s an infinite string. And if we can all keep building it as such, we can all win together. And I know that this [mentality] is difficult to maintain because business sometimes erodes this, but if we hold people in this industry to the mindset that there’s space for all of us, it’s going to be a really fun ride.”
In fact, when it comes to competitors, Shannon says that she doesn’t even like to spend time focusing on competitive businesses; rather, she has always preferred to spend her energy “watering her own grass” and focusing on the success of her team.
Shannon doesn’t just believe in collective success, but she also lives it. She is invested in promoting others’ careers within cannabis and does whatever she can to support their career development. When she can, she serves as a professional reference for individuals who have shown aptitude and are passionate about the industry.
According to Shannon, professionals in a position of power should be prepared to “pay it forward” in the form of mentorship, advice, or networking support when the opportunity arises. Most of the top professionals today benefited from guidance at some point along their career journey, so it is essential that people promote this positive cycle whenever possible.
In fact, Shannon’s decision to discuss her insights about cannabis with me, a cannabis writer just getting her start, is a demonstration of her commitment to paying it forward. May her example of compassion and support continue to serve as an inspiration to others entering the cannabis space!
Advice to Those New to the Cannabis Industry
Since Shannon demonstrates so much passion for helping others develop their careers, I asked Shannon what advice she could offer to someone who is either early in their career or who is making the career transition into the cannabis space. Here are Shannon’s 5 recommendations for those staking their claim in the cannabis industry:
Get a mentor. Connect with someone who can honestly provide you with constructive criticism (and won’t sugarcoat feedback). If you don’t have a mentor in mind, reach out to someone who you admire and want to emulate.
Be vulnerable. It’s hard to be confident without being vulnerable. If you never put yourself out there, you are never going to find success. Remember that failure can sometimes bring the greatest lessons. Also, remember that everyone has experienced failures in the past. Failure is really just a precursor to success!
Make sure that you are always providing solutions. Regardless of your role within the industry, make sure that you are contributing to consistent value. Whether you are a budtender, grower, or in cannabis marketing, be the best that you can be.
Be persistent. Just because something does not work out the first time, do not give up. Find another avenue or option and keep going.
Find other individuals in the industry to connect with. Both men and women in the industry are willing to share stories about their wins and losses to help you along your journey. Also, it can be very flattering to a seasoned professional when an up-and-coming individual seeks their expertise and advise. Sparking relationships in the industry can open your mind and provide opportunities down the road.
Women in Cannabis
Why Does The Cannabis Industry Appeal to So Many Women?
Increasingly, women are joining cannabis businesses or vocally promoting the use of cannabis. Shannon and I agreed that the innate compassionate quality of cannabis and the associated industry is one of the many reasons women are flocking to supporting the plant..
“There’s an element in women that is compassionate… and especially when you start looking at all the things women are doing… they’re sisters, mothers, wives, bosses, employers, owners, and growers. Across the board, [women] are wearing all of these different hats. And when you do that, you have a 360-degree lens to what’s going on. There’s never a time that I can sit down in a business meeting and completely take off the hat that drives me to be compassionate. I bring that to the meeting.”
“Women in cannabis”, she said, “we give a different perspective. Whether it’s by gender, by race, by background, by religion… when you bring diverse people together and everyone shares their perspective, as an organization, you become stronger because you are relating to the masses and not just one segment”.
Shannon reflected on the positive and gender-diverse culture at Boveda, saying, “I am fortunate to work with and for men who don’t look at me and see just a woman, they see a peer. They see a strength in their company. They see a collaborator. They see someone they want to bring along because of my perspective.”
Shannon explained that in any effective workplace, people within the organization should be able to collaborate and reach consensus despite differing backgrounds and viewpoints. In this environment, people are able to provide their peers with constructive feedback and encourage them to either perform and behave to a higher standard. And, she said, open dialogue and free-flowing feedback loops between men and women in the workplace provide ample value to men, particularly within the context of the #Metoo movement. When men and women have healthy rapport in the workplace, women can help men remain accountable to acceptable workplace behavior. For example, if a man unknowingly makes an off-color comment, it is going to be valuable for a trusted female colleague to highlight the behavior in real time so that it can be corrected in the future.
Shannon summed up this topic by saying, “If you’re sitting at a table, and you don’t have women sitting at that table with you, you’re losing. You’re losing a huge demographic and a huge perspective.”
Women Supporting Other Women
Shannon says that she has been embraced within the cannabis industry, particularly among the women she has met. She recognizes that most women in cannabis stand for the common goal of maintaining what is truly great about the industry. In the face of big cannabis businesses entering the marketplace, most women in the industry are focused on 1) celebrating the cannabis activists who came before us and paved the way for the current cannabis revolution possible, and 2) maintaining an inclusive space for all within the cannabis marketplace.
My brief, personal experience in the cannabis industry has been similar to Shannon’s. At cannabis networking events, I have seen women forge partnerships and real connections (professional but also personal) that are mutually beneficial. The open dialogue between women in cannabis makes me hopeful about the future of the industry (and, more broadly, the future of business). Because women are injecting their natural gifts into the workplace, such as compassion for others and heightened emotional intelligence, corporate cultures are starting to evolve. Suddenly, soft skills like driving open dialogue, supporting mutual respect, and demanding consent have real currency in the workplace.
This recent shift of women supporting other women in business is notable, Shannon says, in comparison to how women have traditionally treated one another in the workplace. Historically, women have been overly critical of one another. Society puts a lot of expectations on women, and because we internalize these expectations from a young age, we are prone to looking at other women through a disparaging lens. Regarding this former paradigm, Shannon says, “having these really high expectations of ourselves can permeate into the work environment… we assume that if we’re not able to do all these things and still look beautiful… that we’re no longer winning at being a woman”.
However, Shannon noted that the culture of judgment has started to shift. She has noticed that recently, there has been a trend where women are “lifting each other up” - within the cannabis sector and beyond. Women are becoming more vocal and open about their struggles in business and as a result, women are learning about the value of providing mutual support and understanding rather than piling on more critique or judgment. Collectively, women are coming together and finally realizing that after all this time, some of the aspects about being a woman that used to be seen as weaknesses, such as our ability to demonstrate vulnerability and leverage emotion, have actually been business strengths all along.
It’s true that women are facing extraordinary challenges in the cannabis space, so I’m happy to see so much understanding and collaboration between various groups; women are realizing that in order for any woman to succeed, we need to be able to support one another because we are cognizant of the common challenges that women face in the industry. For example, in an April 2019 Webinar entitled Trailblazing Women Changing the Face of Cannabis: Start-ups & Entrepreneurship, I was able to listen to two influential women in cannabis discuss some of the challenges that women face in the industry.
Adelia Carrillo, the founder of Direct Cannabis Network, shared that from her experience, women typically have to work “10 times harder” than men for the same amount of capital investment. Adelia may have even underestimated the challenges women face when it comes to obtaining capital from investors; according to the Green Market Report, it was reported that in 2016, $58 billion in funding was awarded to male entrepreneurs while female entrepreneurs received $1.46 billion, approximately 2.5% of what the male entrepreneurs received. Moving forward, it will be imperative for women-led groups to hold investors accountable to equal consideration for both male and female entrepreneurs; without this, female-driven startups are put at a disadvantage in a capitalistic system where money certainly talks.
In the same webinar, Lisa Snyder, one of the founders of the Tokeativity Women’s Cannabis Network, highlighted that even well-meaning business partners have downplayed her efforts due to the fact that she is a woman. She recalls that when she was a web design consultant, helping companies and individuals to achieve their business goals, many clients would simply refer to her as their “web gal”. Even without mal-intent, the language people used to describe her contributions was impacted by the fact that she is a woman, and this type of language is a subtle way of dismissing female contributions in cannabis.
These two examples provide all the more reason for women in cannabis to band together and continue to lift each other up. I am enthusiastic to follow the momentum that women can achieve through a continued commitment to supporting other women-led endeavors and further collaboration between female entrepreneurs. Because, when women collaborate, we can achieve great things.
Encouraging Broader Racial Diversity In Cannabis
Why We Need to Discuss Race in Cannabis
In our discussion, Shannon and I also spoke about the important role of people of color within the cannabis industry and the need to advocate for equal representation within cannabis companies. Recently, there has been a lot of public discussion about the need for equal racial representation within cannabis, both within the industry itself but also in government. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently shed light on the current racial disparities in cannabis by highlighting this topic in a Financial Services subcommittee in February. And AOC is right to highlight this disparity; despite that fact that white and black Americans have been reported to consume cannabis in equal volumes, black Americans are three to four more times likely to be arrested for marijuana possession and yet only own 1% of the nations legal cannabis dispensaries.
As the green rush continues to make money for those who are investing in cannabis or building cannabis businesses from the ground up, we cannot ignore that those black and latino individuals who were unfairly convicted and incarcerated due to marijuana possession are now missing the opportunity to join the cannabis industry from the bottom floor. It is also essential that we reduce financial barriers of entry to the market (such as exorbitant licensing fees) so that people of color who have suffered the financial realities associated with racial injustice can have equal opportunity in the industry compared to their white peers.
I brought this up with Shannon to see what she had to say on this matter, and she was able to provide some wisdom. Per Shannon, in order for the industry as a whole to combat the problem of unequal racial representation within businesses, advocates for change need to work to first change the individual mindsets of their peers in the industry.
Shannon has hope that this type of change is possible based on the attitudes of the up-and-coming millennial generation; she is impressed with the younger generation and how open and inclusive they are. Additionally, she says that we have to come to the understanding that while we, as individuals, may not have actively participated in racism or racial profiling, we have to acknowledge that there has been profiling in the past and this has negatively impacted people of color. As long as people within the cannabis industry can openly acknowledge this, then we will be better poised to right these wrongs and make the industry altogether inclusive in the future.
Shannon closed by saying, “It’s a beautiful thing that we are having these conversations”. And she’s absolutely right - the first step to tearing down discriminatory policies and supporting everyone’s success is to create awareness about the past inequalities that have impacted minority groups. And since the cannabis industry is still in its early stages, if we can create a permanent atmosphere of equality and understanding, the cannabis industry will be poised to serve as an example for other industries.
Diversity Promotes Strength
My conversation with Shannon outlines the importance of supporting groups who are out there fighting for fair representation for both women and people of color within cannabis. And fortunately, there are groups and associations out there doing this important work.
Over the past couple of years, a number of female-centric organizations have been established, including The Initiative, Ellementa, Women Grow, and Tokeativity. All of these groups have been established to provide mutual support to women within the cannabis industry. These groups also provide a great networking opportunity to women in the business and foster new connections that culminate in beneficial partnerships.
There are also many organizations that have been assembled to promote equal rights and reduce racial prejudice in the cannabis space, including Minority Cannabis Business Association, CannaClusive, and Colored Cannabis Collective in my native Seattle (you can access their Facebook Page here). Along with mutual support and networking opportunities, these groups provide a space for people of color and allies to collaborate and speak their truth. Many of these organizations also focus on social justice platforms such as raising awareness for those who have been wrongly convicted and incarcerated for marijuana offenses.
I am filled with inspiration and pride for my fellow women for the contributions they have made to the cannabis industry so far. And this appreciation extends to people of color, as well as all of the allies, who are fighting to promote racial diversity within cannabis.
If you are reading this right now and you are one of those people who is working hard within the industry to support other underrepresented groups, I have two things to say. Thank you, and keep doing what you are doing. Your work is valued and, collectively, we are making waves.
Many thanks to Shannon for taking the time to speak with me about this exciting time within the cannabis industry! This conversation reaffirmed my passion for writing about the cannabis revolution. Along with providing the beneficial cannabis plant to medical and recreational users, this industry also represents inclusivity, interpersonal connection, mutual understanding, and the importance of taking care of one another. I believe this is what the world needs right now!