With marijuana now legal in Canada, many people are making their way into the cannabis industry, bringing their skills and training into the budding sector.
And while black market weed has typically been a male-dominated industry, female leaders in legal cannabis say there's no better time for women to get a foothold than now.
Unlike technology, finance, and science — sectors often dominated by men, especially in high-ranking positions — cannabis offers an environment that's very open to women and female perspectives. HuffPost Canada spoke to several female leaders in Canada's cannabis industry, to find out how women are being embraced and if opportunities exist to break "the grass ceiling."
Who: Bridget Hoffer
Position: Co-founder of Marigold Marketing & PR and Cannabis Communications in Ontario.
Experience: "To be honest, cannabis kind of found me," she jokes. Two years ago her PR company started to take on more cannabis clients. Recently, she's served as moderator for a Women In Cannabis panel at HempFest in Calgary. Previously, Hoffer was the executive director of CBC communications, marketing, and brand for all CBC English Services.
What excites her about Canada's cannabis industry: Because the legal cannabis industry is quite new, Hoffer said opportunities are booming.
"Every day there's a new change, a new direction, more industries developing within cannabis. As destigmatization continues, there will be more focus on health, research, production, and economic benefits. And with all these changes comes opportunity for women to lend their voice, their perspectives, and their personal and professional experience."
Observations on women in cannabis: Hoffer's noticed an uptick in the number of women entering the industry, bringing with them plenty of professional skills, but also life experience.
"Women are unofficially the chief medical officers in their families, they're making a lot of the major decisions when it comes to spending and lifestyle...and that's something cannabis companies want. They are interested in working with women."
More importantly, said Hoffer, is that "women aren't going to stand back and let this be yet another industry dominated by men."
Advice for women wanting to get in on the cannabis ground floor: "It's a very exciting time, but women need to get out there. Really break down doors and show people what you've got. Women shouldn't be afraid to speak up and highlight their skills."
Watch how one Canadian woman became the CEO of a cannabis company. Story continues below:
Who: Caroline Lavoie
Position: Director of Corporate Affairs at Neptune Wellness Solutions based in Laval, Que.
Experience: Lavoie provides leadership in the development of Neptune's public affairs strategy and communications. Most recently, Lavoie was a consultant at National Public Relations where she led the cannabis practice for the Montreal office and advised key players of the Canadian cannabis sector.
What excites her about Canada's cannabis industry: While earning her Master's degree in public policy, Lavoie said she was told to expect small, incremental changes that would take years to come into effect. Cannabis, however, is moving quickly, affording women "a tremendous amount of experience in a short period of time," she said.
Thoughts on women in cannabis: Lavoie's seen opportunities for women open up "dramatically" in the last few years.
"It's not an industry that's as entrenched in male-dominance, like some other sectors. Cannabis is very interested in getting expertise — and that's genderless. Any person who knows their stuff is going to be welcomed and embraced, regardless of their gender."
She said she's also noticed a positive reflex creeping into the industry: "I'll hear people say 'Oh, we should have a woman on this' or 'we should get a female perspective.' It's something we see in this era. People want to make sure women are fairly represented."
Advice for women wanting to get in on the cannabis ground floor: "Get out there and don't sell yourself short."
Women bring a perspective that a lot of companies are hungry for, said Lavoie. The cannabis black market was largely been run by men and catered to male consumers, but the legal industry is looking to tap into the needs and wants of female consumers — something that permeates all aspects of the business, from leadership, to growers, to scientists, and health professionals.
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The lifestyle advocate
Who: Gill Polard
Position: Chief Creative Officer, Founder, and Publisher at The Her(B)Life magazine in B.C., and instructor for Mount Royal University's Cannabis Education Program.
Experience: A lifelong fan and user of cannabis, Polard has been working in the cannabis industry since 2013, in a variety of roles. Her magazine, launched in 2015, explores the relationship women have with cannabis.
What excites her about Canada's cannabis industry: Polard feels there's a genuine interest to include women in the conversation around cannabis and to get them in positions where their input is valued.
"If you're a woman with any kind of skill set, if you are hungry to share your knowledge, I think you're going to find a receptive audience in the cannabis industry."
Thoughts on women in cannabis: "The cannabis industry in Canada is nowhere near gender parity, yet," said Polard, pointing to last year's study by the Canadian Press that found just five per cent of the board seats at publicly traded marijuana producers were occupied by women.
Despite those bleak findings, Polard's optimistic. When she took her first job in cannabis in 2014 she was the only woman working at the company. It took an additional six months to hire another woman. Since then, she said she's witnessed big improvements.
"It feels like the industry is very supportive of women. There are certainly a ton of (male) allies who work hard to support women," she said, adding she's come across men who will turn down speaking opportunities if a panel is all-male, or if they know a female candidate that can also speak on the topic.
She said women in the industry are great at propping each other up.
"Women really go out of their way to work with other women in this industry. I've definitely done that. We've got a girl gang going on, and we're all very supportive of each other."
Advice for women wanting to get in on the cannabis ground floor: Polard said women can carve out great positions for themselves, but they need to make sure their negotiating skills are up to snuff.
"Fight for the position you want, the salary and benefits you want, the role you want to play."
Canada still has work to do to hit gender parity in the cannabis industry. Story continues below:
The outsider perspective
Who: Pamela Hadfield
Position: Co-founder and Brand Evangelist of HelloMD, a U.S.-based telemedicine service for clinical cannabis that is currently expanding in Canada.
Experience: HelloMD started as a general telemedicine service in the U.S., but after using marijuana to help alleviate her own reoccurring migraines, Hadfield pivoted her website into the cannabis sphere. Today, HelloMD is the largest online community of health and wellness cannabis consumers, and recently began to offer its services in Canada.
What excites her about Canada's cannabis industry: Being a new industry, Hadfield said women are in a great place to steer the course on cannabis.
She's witnessed countless women get involved in cannabis for one of two reasons: some realize cannabis's potential to help themselves or a loved one with a medical issue, or, some women come out of the "cannabis closet" and embrace what was previously a hidden lifestyle choice.
"These women are passionate about how cannabis has affected the overall wellbeing of themselves or the people they care about, and with legalization now they are free to talk about it, and now they get to leverage that into their careers."
Thoughts on women in cannabis: Hadfield said she hasn't seen the same kind of gender "bucketing" in cannabis that tends to happen in other industries.
"There's women in business development, product development, communications, all areas of the business — it feels like women are taking on jobs in all aspects," she said, adding that women are also adapting their previous experience to fit cannabis.
"There are many female scientists formulating new products based on previous laboratory work, despite that work not being in the cannabis field. These women are creating positions for themselves."
Advice for women wanting to get in on the cannabis ground floor: "First step: become knowledgeable, understand the rules, the laws, the regulations within your province, within Canada."
"Second step: become socially active — join Facebook groups, find out who in your area is talking about cannabis, join social networking groups. Understand who the major players, producers, clinics are. Get to know who's running those businesses. Become well-read, understand what it is about cannabis that's drawing you there."