Blog by Nick Bollard ~ March 21, 2016
This year belongs to women. Women are fighting for equality. Equal treatment. Equal pay. There is a possibility that a woman will be our next President. Yes, there is a lot on the line for women this year. In Colorado, women are gathering in swarms to network with one another, support each other, and learn about opportunities in the fledgling cannabis industry. Never before has an industry been born with as much female leadership or involvement.
If you were in downtown Denver in early February, between the 3rd through the 5th, you may have run into an attendee of the Women Grow Leadership Summit. Attendees came from Mexico, Canada, Puerto Rico, the U.S.A. as well as many other places with brave, curious women. For a lot of them, association with the plant is not accepted culturally and certainly isn’t legal. The event hosted nearly 1,500 people, mostly ladies but some gentlemen, and took place in the Curtis Hotel and Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The two venues are each, individually, gorgeous. These buildings provided a unique feeling—elegant and polished while simultaneously congenial and inviting—the outcome of cannabis folks in an opera house. It was a well-planned, well-executed event.
For readers unware of the networking organization Women Grow, the purpose of this event was to create a time and space for women who are involved or want to get involved in the cannabis movement to meet and share knowledge. Part of the Summit included TED-style talks from leaders in the movement. The speakers inspired and informed their fellow members of the marijuana community about all aspects of cannabis business—the history of dispensaries in the States, advice on branding and company culture, personal and professional wisdom, what it’s like to face adversity, even discrimination, in the business world as a woman, including many more topics. Melissa Etheridge was the keynote speaker.
At the beginning of the talks on Thursday, Jazmin Hupp, one of the Women Grow Founders, welcomed everyone to the event and expressed Women Grow’s values. She spoke about how women seek to buy goods and services that benefit other women and encouraged this kind of mindful consumer action. She also said that taking the time away from work and life to be able to attend was an investment in oneself. She encouraged the entrepreneurs in the crowd to create purpose-driven businesses. She stressed that mindful consumers support responsible business owners. She emphasized the importance of welcoming women and diversity into the cannabis industry. These are the values that are going to institute an entirely new paradigm for business. And, I should say here, these are the values that I have experienced while working in the industry.
I moved to Colorado to pursue marijuana and have worked in the movement for over two years. I entered the pot business just after Colorado voters passed Amendment 64 and just before the changes in the state constitution went into effect. What this means is that I have been involved when there was only medical marijuana in Colorado and since the start of the adult use market. During this time, my employment has been with one company, The Farm. I have worked in three departments. The leaders of those three departments are all women. These women range in age from my peer to my parent’s age, and one boss in between. It should be known that these three aren’t the only female leaders in the company.
Our CEO and Founder is a woman; she is unquestionably the hardest working person I’ve ever met and cares deeply about The Farm’s role as a business with intention. We have female leaders and emerging leaders in every department of the company. Our list of dedicated, brilliant women goes on for days. These amazing women make sure that every single day we are compliant, release quality products, and offer the best customer service to our guests. Working with them has been remarkable. My skills and talents have been nurtured and finessed and I am greater for it. My communication skills have increased. I have gone to classes, summits, symposiums, trainings, and many other events. In so many ways, I have been set up for success and inspired to be better by these female leaders.
In the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on Thursday, when the theater filled with these diverse and vibrant women, I could detect an aroma of perfume, perhaps they were essential oils, on top of the aroma of freshly burned cannabis. There were ladies of all ages in attendance. They ranged from early twenties to late sixties. They dressed in pant suits or dress pants and a blouse, some wore dark jeans and a blouse, a few sort of looked like Janis Joplin to me, and then a few others like they had dropped in after a morning yoga class. The female energy was infectious. I wore a grey sport coat with jeans and loafers. It surprised me how in-depth a speech can get in a few minutes, like the tax advice to “try to mitigate 280E” which was part Sheri Orlowitz’s talk or that “tenacity, vision, and action are just as important of qualifications as knowledge and experience”—one of her realizations in the powerful self-analysis that Jane West shared. Several could have been an actual TED talk, they were that well written and presented.
One talk that deeply resonated with me was AC Braddock’s on branding and company culture. AC Braddock is the CEO of Eden Labs. She spoke about how a company’s team is their brand and that a brand represents a company’s vision. I have learned this while working for The Farm and known this on a subconscious level, but when she said it aloud it became clear to me that this is so true. As she uttered this, it was like a key turned in my brain. An epiphany! This is why we are so discerning about our team, I realized. This approach to creating a brand and building a company, an approach with the people as the brand, is exactly what our CEO, executive team, and other leaders have done for the nearly seven years we have been in business. We bring in the people that we want to work with, that care about diversity and perspectives other than their own—people that share our values of integrity and honesty and want to focus on education and community involvement.
Braddock showed a quote of the Harvard Business Review which observed company culture is what unifies an organization and is the hardest thing for competitors to replicate. It will be something, twenty years from now when this female-led industry is no longer in its infancy, when it’s healthy and developed with established best practices and these powerful women have created businesses that offer their employees livable wages, decent benefits, and paid maternity or paternity leave. It will be something when these companies are supporting community projects and other endeavors for the good of the neighborhood, when women are managing teams, nurturing skills, and fostering strong relationships. It will be something, perhaps a new paradigm for business at large.