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Gender Equality
Why Closing the Gender Gap in the Cannabis Industry is Critical to Success

A lack of equal representation by employees of all genders negatively affects every level of cannabis businesses and the cannabis industry – from products to marketing, access to capital, revenue, and the creation of generational wealth – according to new gender parity research from The Arcview Group and NCIA.

To put the limitations that the gender gap creates in business into perspective, the researchers cite multiple studies which have repeatedly proven both Fortune 500 companies and startups with women in leadership roles are more competitive and more profitable than those without women in top positions.

With the percentage of female cannabis CEOs currently at just 8%, the Arcview Group study authors note there is a significant opportunity for the cannabis industry to redefine leadership by understanding the factors that contribute to the gender gap and implementing steps to close it.

3 Key Factors Causing the Gender Gap in the Cannabis Industry

The Arcview Group study highlights several key factors that contribute to the ongoing gender gap in the cannabis industry which should be addressed to ensure the entire industry reaches its full potential for success.

First, the glass ceiling of Corporate America is alive and well in the cannabis industry, although it’s referred to by the study authors as a “grass ceiling” in the cannabis industry that creates an invisible barrier blocking women’s chances for advancement. In other words, women have less access to leadership roles because their pathways to getting those positions are blocked repeatedly along the career ladder.

Second, gender-based discrimination is inherent in American (and global) culture. It’s a problem that has been passed down through every generation for thousands of years, and it’s not unique to the cannabis industry. It is common knowledge that women are often referred to as “too aggressive” or “not aggressive enough,” “too emotional,” and the list goes on and on regardless of whether there is any merit to the claims.

Third, implicit bias is alive and well in society and the business world, including the cannabis industry. In simplest terms, implicit bias refers to biases that people have based on their upbringing, experiences, and education that they don’t realize they have. Implicit bias is what leads individuals to prefer to hire people and work with people who look like them, act like them, and think like them. According to the Arcview Group study, it’s this implicit bias that leads men in leadership roles to promote and hire individuals who look and act like themselves, thereby adding to the gender gap in the cannabis industry.

3 Steps to Close the Gender Gap in the Cannabis Industry

The Arcview Group study authors provide three steps that businesses in the cannabis industry can take to close the gender gap and ultimately, get the benefits that come with having a diverse team.

First, companies should develop anti-bias (implicit bias), diversity, equity, and inclusion training programs that all employees are required to take and work to de-bias the company’s corporate structure. This is essential in order to understand what implicit biases currently exist and how to address them and improve – both as individuals and as a company.

Second, the study authors urge cannabis businesses to become anti-racist organizations, which is essential to understanding oppression. Without this basic understanding, gender parity efforts are likely to fail. Simply being a company that promotes diversity and inclusion isn’t enough. Companies should be “explicitly anti-racist” according to the study authors.

Third, companies need to understand that the gender gap is prevalent across the hiring spectrum, not just in the C-suite, and the biggest obstacle holding women back from progressing in their careers occurs at the management level. Men are more likely to be promoted from an entry-level or non-manager position to a manager position than women with the same abilities, and men are more likely to be paid more for equal work throughout their careers. Therefore, cannabis businesses must build a pipeline of promotable women and emphasize diverse hiring and internal promotion while making a concerted effort to fix the “broken rung” at the manager level that prevents more women from progressing in their careers.

Key Takeaways about Closing the Gender Gap in the Cannabis Industry

The study authors explain that closing the gender gap requires companies to listen and engage with their workforce, establish a diversity and inclusion committee or diversity champion, review policies and consult with employees on ways to improve those policies, review recruitment practices as well as diversity and inclusion statistics, and explore ways the company can better support women.

“Gender parity will be achieved when discrimination and oppression are systematically addressed: in policies, the workplace, and in leadership,” write the authors in the Arcview Group and NCIA study, “Building New Foundations in the Cannabis Industry.” By creating gender parity through ownership, leadership, boards, equal pay, branding, and access to capital, cannabis businesses can build stronger, more successful companies and a stronger, more successful cannabis industry overall.

Susan GuneliusSusan Gunelius

Susan Gunelius

Susan Gunelius is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc. (, a marketing communications company established in 2008 offering, copywriting, content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, and SEO services. Susan has been working with clients in the cannabis industry since 2015. She spent the first half of her 30-year marketing career directing marketing programs for AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more as well as businesses of all sizes around the world. Susan has written 11 marketing-related books, including the highly popular Content Marketing for Dummies, 30-Minute Social Media Marketing, Kick-ass Copywriting in 10 Easy Steps, and The Ultimate Guide to Email Marketing. She is also a Certified Career and Business Coach and Founder and Editor in Chief of Women on Business (, an award-winning blog for business women. Susan holds a B.S. in marketing and an M.B.A in management and strategy.

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