In mid-November, I hosted a group of about 20 professional women at my house. They were all seasoned cannabis industry veterans, covering every aspect of the business, including retail, cultivation, manufacturing, political advocacy and ancillary support businesses.
And, because Washington — along with Colorado — was the first state to legalize adult-use marijuana, this group had a wealth of information about what works and doesn’t work for women in ownership and managerial positions. Some have been involved in the industry for nearly a decade, while others were relative newcomers with only a couple years of experience. My plan as the host — and only man at the event — was to be a “fly on the wall” and listen (although I was more than happy to provide wine from my cellar).
Shannon Vetto, CEO of the Evergreen Market chain of Washington cannabis stores, proposed the gathering during a meeting weeks earlier in which she mentioned she was putting together a network of industry women and friends. Her idea was to have an informal group of businesswomen who met regularly and supported each other with ideas and contacts. I’ve obviously taken part in numerous business meetings and networking events over the last 30 years, but this was the first time I’d been to one that was exclusively for women.
I was interested in seeing how women in the cannabis profession acted around each other and, more importantly, what they thought of the business and the opportunities it presented more than seven years after the first adult-use cannabis shops opened in Washington state.
One of the first things I noticed as the women started arriving was the way they warmly embraced each other. It was clear that egos were left at the door. This gathering was about good times, good conversation, good food and fine wines — and to that goal, it was a huge success.
Shannon also made it clear that no one was there to sell: It was about getting to know each other, sharing ideas and comparing notes on an industry that is still in its infancy, but growing fast.
Over the course of the evening, I heard lots of great stories and anecdotes. Most of the women were self-made or had worked their way up in organizations that were still mostly male-dominated when it came to management positions. The evening was full of great conversations, and it was gratifying to see a large group of dedicated professionals enjoying each other’s company while simultaneously sharing tips and thoughts on how to be more successful. They shared examples of their product packaging, discussed the various issues that will be addressed this winter in the state Legislature and told the usual war stories — stories of sorrow and humor, successes and failures, those of the mundane variety and those that could only happen in the wacky and fascinating business of cannabis.
It’s no secret that this industry is highly competitive and thus, breeds a certain level of hostility among rival companies, but none of this was evident among the women attending. There was an atmosphere of mentorship, more so than competition, and it was uplifting to see and be a part of.
Numerous groups like this have been formed, both formally and informally, in other legal states, but if your state doesn’t have a professional women’s cannabis group, you should think about starting one.
It’s a great way to further the cause, to exchange ideas and notes and to help other women succeed in this challenging industry. It costs nothing but a few hours of time and maybe some wine, but could go a long way toward helping this industry truly be a leader when it comes to gender equality.