When Lightshade was started in 2011, the cannabis industry in most markets was still very much in its infancy. When we opened our first location, our customers were overwhelmingly men. As our customer demographics have started to balance out, so has the interest of women in joining our young industry.
In many other business sectors, women’s inclusion has only been very recent. But the story of the legalized cannabis industry is still yet to be written. I believe this presents a huge opportunity for women looking to advance their careers, start a business or participate in something new and exciting.
Whether you’re interested in pivoting your career path or looking for a position straight out of school, here is some advice I would give to any woman that is interested in working in the cannabis industry.
Focus on your skills
Because of the persistent stigma attached to cannabis, many professionals that are 10 years or more into their careers are not interested in changing their trajectory. This has created an immediate, critical need for experienced professionals in the cannabis space. The good news is that many professional skills are transferable. If you have experience in human resources, sales, logistics, accounting or marketing, then you are in demand! Unless you’re pursuing a career in cultivation or extraction, there will not likely be any additional required education.
The cannabis industry is in a constant state of progression and development, which means there is a lot of movement. Be flexible and consider positions that might not be your exact dream job so that you can get your foot in the door. When it’s time to move forward (and ideally upward) from that first position, simply having cannabis experience on your resume will win you big bonus points with most employers.
You’re not the only person interested in a career in the world’s buzziest industry, so there may be significant competition for many positions. Be persistent! Rather than applying for the one perfect job, apply for a dozen that are in the ballpark. Do whatever it takes to stand out from the crowd, including LinkedIn introductions and phone calls — yes, old-fashioned phone calls!
Regardless of whether you personally use cannabis, if you’re looking for a position in the cannabis industry, you need to know the plant. Make yourself familiar with the industry terminology, consumption methods and product categories. Educate yourself on the history of cannabis and the various cultivation methods and processes. There are plenty of books, websites and guides available online to get you up to speed quickly.
Join the community
Here in Colorado, there are many local networking meet-ups and events, including some that cater specifically to women. Attend as many as you can. Networking events provide the opportunity to meet and interact with female business leaders in the community, some of whom may be employers. Many women that have found success in the cannabis industry are actively involved in encouraging female participation and are always on the hunt for fresh talent.
Stay updated on the big cannabis industry news. That includes the laws, major business events and mergers. The internet is filled with cannabis industry news sources. Sign up for daily or weekly email newsletters provided by reputable outlets and include at least a few minutes of industry news updates in your daily routine. You will need to know what’s happening in the industry to be able to knowledgeably participate in the conversations at industry events and even in interviews.
The legal cannabis industry doesn’t have a legacy of male domination. There is so much potential for an equitable business culture that values and encourages participation by all sexes. But it’s up to us to create and shape the industry to be that way. It won’t happen on its own.
If you are interested in the cannabis industry, I encourage you to stop hesitating and make the jump.
Shannon Brooks is the vice president of marketing and corporate social responsibility at Lightshade in Colorado. She began her career in the cannabis space in 2015 after spending 12 years in marketing for a Fortune 100 company. She joined her husband Steve, who started Lightshade in 2011 with two other partners, and took over all branding and marketing responsibilities. Lightshade has since grown to eight retail locations and more than 70,000 square feet of cultivation space.