Cannabis Creative Interview: Women in Cannabis Study

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In this Cannabis Creative Interview, I sit down with Jennifer Whetzel, founder of Lady Jane Branding and the author of the Women in Cannabis Study. We dive into what brought her to launching this study, what she hopes women take from these results, and how changing the way we measure success in business could change how businesses are financed.

The people I like to talk to the best are the people who see a problem and decide to do something about it themselves. Jennifer Whetzel is one of those people.

Whetzel is the founder of Lady Jane Branding and the author of the Women in Cannabis Study, one of the first pieces of quantitative research detailing the experience of women in the cannabis industry. The study is dense, packed with data points and the experiences from 1,500 women.

Whetzel didn’t start out to publish a report of this size, nor did she anticipate exactly how long it would take to get to publication. Her journey toward the report started when she moved to Maine in 2017, in pursuit of a medical cannabis card. Coming from the Midwest, her options for cannabis were few and far between, but her options for pharmaceuticals were abundant. Whetzel was looking for relief from a chronic illness, searching for something pills could not deliver. Today, she manages with daily cannabis use and brain retraining to relieve all of her symptoms.

Whetzel started Lady Jane Branding in 2018, and the idea for the study was born a year later. Starting out, she didn’t expect the project to grow as quickly as it did. The report surveyed 1,500 women and took over three years to publish.

A survey of such a size is a massive undertaking, but Whetzel is a self-described “data nerd” who saw a need for comprehensive, quantitative data tracking the experience of women in the cannabis industry, and couldn’t let go.

The industry is better for it. Whetzel’s study, created in partnership with Rochelle Gordan, is a 280-page behemoth that digs deep into the experience of women in the cannabis industry. It paints a clear and compelling picture of the struggles women face to break into and work in the cannabis industry.

The report also includes insights to why so many women are flocking to the industry, despite these challenges. 72% of respondents say a passion for the plant drove them to enter the industry and 38% say they want to bring awareness to and fix social issues.  

Within the 280 pages, Whetzel asks her respondents to describe what success means to them. Her favorite response described a table big enough for everyone to eat at.

Whetzel’s hope for this report is that this data points spur conversation and help women find their voices. Data like this changes the conversation and can give women a leg to stand on when they get push back from (white male) colleagues. One report won’t solve the issues that plague this industry, but it makes it easier to have conversation about what needs to change, and how to change it.

After so many years invested in this study, what’s next? Whetzel has several projects she’s juggling, but she’s looking ahead to the next round of surveying too. Her vision is to make this a longitudinal study, one that keeps this conversation going. The past several years have showed a decrease of women In C-suite and executive positions, even as more women enter the cannabis industry.

If you want to be a part of this important shift, start with reading the report. Find your favorite (or least favorite or most interesting) data point, and share it. Start a conversation. Don’t be afraid to get uncomfortable.

What’s something you see in the industry that excites you?

JW: I do like seeing new brands in the marketplace doing new and different things. I like seeing a lot of brands that are women focused and women owned and women led, I think that’s important. I like that there are more tools for tracking cannabis use and how it works. I like that there are more groups for women. In some ways I think things are progressing.

What’s something you see in the industry that upsets you?  

JW: Well, there’s a lot of that in the report. We looked at things like sexual harassment and microaggressions, lack of opportunity, lack of pay for women. The space is not equitable and not just for women, it’s not equitable for anyone.  And that bothers me.

What I did about it was I did some research and I put it out into the world for free in the hopes that it could help change the industry for the better. I went to an event over the weekend in Boston. I went to NECANN and the ratio of men to women continues to change in favor of men. I tried to speak to as many women as I could over the weekend. And I’d say it was only 20 to 25% of the crowd and it was uncomfortable to be honest. I went to an after party and I walked in and I felt it’s a very small percentage of women. It’s not comfortable. It’s not fun.

How are you pushing for diversity and inclusion in this space?

JW: The report, that is my contribution. And I feel like the data can give us the power to use our voices a little more boldly to ask questions, to have hard conversations. I don’t typically use my voice. I never was allowed to. So it’s a thing I’m trying to overcome. I’ve got all the self-esteem issues that I asked about in my study; about not valuing my own time or having difficulty saying no know those kinds of things. But honestly this weekend, the data gave me courage. I allowed myself to be more bold and I’ll give you an example.

I was talking to three women and a guy in a booth. And I was talking about the study and the man that was there was a C level exec. He said “This is great. We have lots of women on our executive team.” And I said “that’s great. Do you pay ’em the same as you pay the men?”

And I couldn’t believe those words came outta my mouth and neither could he! He was a little shook and he’s like, I’m not sure I’m not the CFO. And that was the answer I’m like, okay, that’s fair. And the woman next to me said, I don’t think so, but I’m afraid to ask. So I felt like I did what she couldn’t do in that moment. And it scared me to be able to say those words, to put someone on the spot like that, and not in a nasty way. So I hope that this data emboldens others. Because I could say, well, my study said that only 25% of women say they’re paid the same as men. So that’s why I’m asking.

What do you see the future of the industry as?  

JW: My hope is that the industry can sustain a large number of small businesses that are not all wiped out and taken over by larger funded businesses where women and legacy market growers or minorities are pushed out because the, they don’t have the money to remain.

One of the stories I heard so frequently when I talked to women in the study was “I had this great job, this great company, or I started this company, and then I got fired or demoted or pushed out. And they brought in a man with half the experience and paid him twice as much.” Not all those stories were exactly the same, but so frequent that I have to repeat it. So how do we prevent that? How do we ensure that the, that the smaller businesses, the women who are coming into this industry can remain and succeed?

One of the questions I asked in the study was how do you define success for yourself and do you consider yourself successful? 86% said they are, they do consider themselves successful, but that definition of success is very different than what say a venture capital firm who’s funding. A business would expect a 4-10X and a lot of these small single person businesses or single woman enterprises that’s not their definition. They’re not in business to make money for someone else. They’re in business to succeed for themselves and to help.

My favorite definition [of success] was, everyone around me eats too. It’s making sure that I’m lifting myself up and everyone else around me and that’s different than 4-10X. And so when you accept money from someone, your own definition of success has to change to the person who has the money. You’re beholden to shareholders and stakeholders. And I hope there’s a way for a lot of these smaller businesses to survive and thrive or find funding that supports their definition of success.

What’s been your biggest challenge?

JW: Finding funding to pay people, to help me. I paid for it myself. I did a lot of the work myself. I did have a lot of great amazing allies helping me with it along the way, from data scientists and graphic designers. But I was really hoping to turn it over to a big team and have them just turn it back to me finished. That’s not how it went. Also the pandemic was in the way, so I think there was just took a while to get it done.

What’s something you’re proud of?  

JW: I created this study. And look, I created this tangible thing with my mind and that’s cool and people appreciate it and I feel like that’s my definition of success. I made something that is gonna be useful to people and hopefully can make a difference. If just one piece of data in here can help someone, or if one of the stories that I’ve put in here from these amazing women who donated their time and their stories to me, if that story helps them get through something, then I’ve done a good job.

What do you want people to take away from this study?  

JW: I would like for them to share screenshot and share things that you find interesting or you wanna talk about. One of the interesting data points that I have now is that the majority, the vast majority of those who have looked at the study so far online are women like almost 90%. And that’s interesting, but not surprising.

There’s a lot here. It’s a little bit intimidating, the amount of data that’s in here. So I’m hoping to force the conversation, to have a small army of people just sharing, saying oh, look at this data point, let’s talk about it and encouraging other people to go and look through the whole thing, because it doesn’t matter if no one reads it.

What’s next?

JW: A really long nap. No, I’m working with my partner, Rochelle Gordon, we’ll be doing webinars with different organizations. We’ll be doing more publications. Additional data releases. We have a little bit of data from Canada and from the UK and, we’ll be summarizing that information and putting it out. We’re hoping to do an event later in the year. So we’ll be looking for sponsorships. We’ll have the opportunity to do more ads and profiles in these publications.

And our hope is to find sponsors for the next round of research, this was meant to be the baseline. My hope was that this would be a longitudinal study and we would repeat it every few years to see how things changed. And what I’ve seen so far is that things have changed for the worse. So it’s time to collect more data. But we can’t do that without industry support and, and funding sponsors.

My partner, Rochelle will be doing a lot of that. I have another business to run here in Maine. We do these networking events for growers each month and I create an app a wholesale trade app for growers here. I have a lot to do

What’s your favorite way to consume cannabis?

JW: I smoke flower. I prefer a joint or a genius pipe. I have a number of genius pipes. I like to use those. Combusting works best for me. Edibles, tinctures, it just doesn’t work the way I need it to.

And I will say that 70 to 74% of women agree with me who work in cannabis industry. The majority of women who work in cannabis combust

What’s your favorite fun fact about cannabis?

JW: My favorite fun fact about cannabis. The thing that I like to tell people most often is to eat the bud right off the plant. My cannabis doctor recommends this every time I talk to him; take a pencil eraser size bud, and just pop it in your mouth to it under your tongue. Because that is the most pot anti-inflammatory medicine that there is in the plant and it’s highly fragile.

Published by Jessica Reilly, Writer

Writer, cannabis aficionado, and poetry lover

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