Women face gender bias in Canada’s cannabis industry

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Women face gender bias in Canada’s cannabis industry

Women-owned cannabis companies struggle to access funding due to unconscious biases

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Women in the cannabis industry face significant challenges due to gender bias. While women are respected as knowledge contributors, they are not always seen as leaders. This issue is prevalent in every industry, and the cannabis industry is no exception. According to Audrey Wong, CEO and Founder of Zyre Brands, a Vancouver-based company that produces cannabis vapes, it is challenging for women to build a community in the male-dominated cannabis industry. Women also face challenges in financing, as investors are often more focused on male-led companies than female-led companies.

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The communication divide is another significant challenge for women-owned businesses. Men tend to listen to and address other men rather than women. For example, Kyrsten Dewinetz, Co-Founder and CEO of White Rabbit OG, a Vancouver-based company that produces cannabis-infused soft chews, experienced this communication divide during over three dozen meetings with investors, where she was the only female present. The investors directed operational questions at her male partner, even when she was the one who could answer the questions.

Karen Young, President, and Founder of Wovven Brands, a company that produces cannabis beverages, also faced similar challenges. She noticed that when she proposed an idea or an action plan, it would get picked apart, and when a male counterpart expressed the same plan, it would be believed and built upon.

Access to Capital and the Importance of Women in Leadership

Financing remains a significant hurdle for many cannabis businesses, especially women-owned companies. Ashley Athill, Co-Owner of HRVSTR, a micro cannabis producer in Ontario, notes that while raising funds is challenging, some investors are less open to funding female-owned companies than male-owned companies.

The lack of visible leadership roles for women can directly impact access to capital. The more women there are in higher positions, the more the culture will accept that women are capable of making the right business decisions. However, the cannabis industry has few female CEOs. Sarah Roberts, President at Cicatrix Labs, a Kelowna-based company that produces suppositories and topicals, notes that while there is respect for women as knowledge contributors, this does not translate into seeing them as leaders. She believes that this imbalance may skew the odds against women-led companies in an industry that has been built from investment.

The challenges facing women-owned cannabis businesses are particularly acute due to the youth of the regulated cannabis market in Canada. Most businesses can be considered start-ups, and the early funding typically comes from self, friends, family, or an angel investor. Karen Young notes that there seems to be a skepticism about whether women can lead and build a great company in such a tumultuous and competitive environment, even if they believe in their ability to do so.

Overcoming Unconscious Bias in the Cannabis Industry

Shauna Levy, Founder and CEO of Madge and Mercer, a company that produces cannabis self-care products designed exclusively for women, started her business to address a real and authentic need. Women over 40 often experience hormonally-induced symptoms, including stress and anxiety, chronic pain and inflammation, and sleep challenges. However, this niche product did not resonate with male investors, and when she first went out to raise funds, male investors responded with skepticism.

In conclusion, the challenges facing women in the cannabis industry are not unique to the industry. Women face significant challenges in every industry due to gender bias. Women are respected as knowledge contributors, but they are not always seen as leaders. Financing remains a significant hurdle for many cannabis businesses, and some investors are less open to funding female-owned companies than male-owned companies. The lack of visible leadership roles for women can directly impact access to capital. The more women there are in higher positions, the more the culture will accept that women are capable of making the right business decisions. Women-owned cannabis businesses are particularly vulnerable due to the youth of the regulated cannabis market in Canada.

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