Last Thursday I had the opportunity to attend a networking event put on by the Portland chapter of Women Grow along with my client, Mary Babitz, the CEO of Cascade Botanical, which was one of the sponsors. This particular event featured three women who played a huge role in making Measure 91 (which ended marijuana prohibition in Oregon) a reality. They had a lot of interesting things to say, some of which we touched on over at the Cascade Botanical blog.
I’ve been to a number of cannabis industry gatherings, but never anything like this. This event was packed to the rafters with women who have built impressive careers in a variety of industries and who are already taking leadership roles in this one. Every attendee I saw (women and a few gents) talked, looked, dressed and acted like the kind seasoned professional you’d typically see at any mainstream industry get together where movers and shakers move and shake.
Event co-chair, Sara Batterby, opened by explaining one of the main reasons Women Grow came to be was that a lot of women just aren’t comfortable going to some of the other major Cannabis industry gatherings. That really struck a chord with me. I didn’t get the feeling she was talking about women being uncomfortable simply because there happen to be more men than women at a lot of these gigs, which is something most professionals can quickly transcend. I got the feeling it had more to do with the vibe generated at a lot of these events, which can often feel more like a celebration of “thug life” and “bro culture” than a gathering of dedicated business people who are working to build a legitimate industry worthy of being taken seriously by the masses.
Part of the joy of working in the cannabis industry is having the ability to inject a little fun and personality and not being bound by the shackles of pusillanimous and milquetoast corporate suckitude. However, if the primary goal actually is to build a legitimate industry worthy of being taken seriously, that fun and personality should be manifested in a way that creates an environment that is not repellant to women.
The majority of my career has been spent working in PR agencies. In Silicon Valley in the early 90s where I got my start, it was very common to work in firms that were owned, managed and primarily staffed by women (as in about an 80/20 split). I’ve had some incredible experiences working with and for strong, smart, powerful women (along with some really bad ones). But at the end of the day, the best, most effective teams I’ve ever been a part of — by far — consist of a mixture of men and women in an environment where the potential for success and upward mobility was determined solely by the value individuals brought to the organization. The reality is that men and women are different, but those differences, when leveraged properly in the right environment can be tremendous assets.
The cannabis industry — like so many others — will eventually evolve to the point where there is less of a need for a women’s networking group to be created. What’s more, the current members of Women Grow will surely be among those who drive that change. In the meantime, it is in everyone’s best interest to help make that happen.