Why 2022 Will Be a Defining Year for Female Leadership in Cannabis

The cannabis industry cannot reach its full potential without women leading the charge as well.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.

Over the past two years, the U.S. has pulled ahead as one of the most valuable cannabis markets in the world, with projections estimating the U.S. market to be worth over $90 billion by 2026. However, even in this period of remarkable growth, female leadership has dwindled to all-time lows. According to MJBizDaily’s 2021 Women & Minorities in the Cannabis Industry report, female executive representation is down to 22 percent — lower than 36.8 percent in 2019, and well below the national average for mainstream businesses, which stands at roughly 30 percent.

Despite these figures, it’s important to recognize that a number of female leaders are currently at the helm of some of the most influential cannabis companies in the country. By successfully executing growth strategies in a myriad of industry sectors, this dynamic group of women is redefining what good business practices look like and ushering in a new class of female leaders to build an inclusive and sophisticated regulated industry.

Female executives are upping the ante on growth goals.

The small but powerful cannabis investment community is driving growth by providing companies throughout the supply chain with the resources to scale ahead of legalization. Since launching in 2020, Advanced Flower Capital has established itself as a leading provider of institutional loans and as one of the largest Nasdaq-listed cannabis lenders. Much of the real estate investment trust’s $9.4 billion in deals sourced has stemmed from AFC’s Partner and Head of Origination and Investor Relations, Robyn Tannenbaum. AFC’s highly selective vetting process — where a small number of potential deals have secured funding — not only shows wary institutional investors that today’s cannabis funds take a more judicious and strategic approach to deploying capital but also amplifies the wider industry’s legitimacy for future mainstream investors.

Among the top 10 multi-state operators, only Trulieve is led by a female CEO. (Full disclosure: MATTIO Communications represents Trulieve.) In October 2021, Trulieve became the largest and most profitable operator after completing its Harvest Health & Recreation acquisition under the leadership of Kim Rivers. Rivers, who is part of the company’s founding team, spearheaded Trulieve’s “hub” model, which played an instrumental role in the company’s success in scaling in new markets. While Rivers is widely recognized for her business and legal experience, she is also admired by employees for being a hands-on leader — often soliciting feedback from staff on the ground and galvanizing teams to work toward a common goal.

Female leaders are keeping DEI in the foreground.

Low rates of female and minority participation is a pervasive issue within cannabis, and female leaders are tackling these glaring disparities through their own businesses. In California, Amber Senter is creating an ecosystem that equips business owners of color to become self-sufficient industry shareholders. Through her own ventures, spanning distribution platform MAKR House, SuperNova Women and EquityWorks! Incubator, she has worked with Oakland’s lawmakers to develop the country’s first cannabis social equity program and mentored hundreds of aspiring entrepreneurs.

Additionally, Dina Rollman, Green Thumb Industries’ SVP of Government and Regulatory Affairs, played a key role in initiating the company’s proactive approach to CSR and community outreach. (Full disclosure: MATTIO Communications represents Green Thumb Industries.) After recognizing the obstacles people of color faced during the early stages of Illinois’ licensing process, she helped develop Green Thumb’s License Education Application Program, or LEAP. The program supports applicants in Illinois, where minority representation among cannabis businesses is still negligible.

The industry is beholden to female consumers.

Historically, men have been the most coveted cannabis consumer demographic, but they are quickly losing ground to younger women. In a recent report by Headset, Gen Z women are now the fastest-growing consumers of legal cannabis, increasing year-over-year sales by 151 percent. As more female consumers engage with the industry, companies must revisit their product R&D and marketing strategies to better serve the preferences of this demographic.

Consequently, established players must lean on the expertise of diverse female leaders to develop fresh ways to reach female audiences. Today’s socially conscious consumers are inclined to support businesses that align with their values and identities — including more women in decisive roles who enable companies to build authentic relationships instead of merely pandering to them.

Today’s executives have demonstrated to the wider business community that female leaders have the skills and foresight to make strategic decisions that benefit their companies and local communities. Their abilities to exceed industry expectations underscores how much farther the industry can go if more talented women enter the fold. These executives are encouraging potential female leaders to take the leap while incentivizing skeptics to invest in more women. The cannabis industry cannot reach its full potential without women leading the charge as well.

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