When it comes to cannabis and technology, there are many women who are leading the way. From behind the scenes producing products that ensure stellar buds, to those providing information so you can learn more about your favorite strains, women are there. We spoke to a few of these industry leaders and pioneers to find out not only what it’s like to work in this side of the cannabis industry, but what it’s like doing so as a woman.
Samantha Miller, Founder of Pure Analytics and Chief Scientific Officer for Hmbldt (Pictured in the feature image)
An internationally recognized Biochemist and NIH scholar, Samantha Miller has been combining science and technology with cannabis since 2010, when she founded Pure Analytics, one of the first cannabis labs in the US.
What she’s working on:
“My most recent project as Chief Science Officer for Hmbldt has been an exciting one. It has really been an expression and culmination of my last 8 years of work with cannabis analytics, unique strain development and patient therapeutics. Our first product, the Hmbdlt dose pen has been disruptive in the vaporizer space with a departure from the common attributes of many vape products as a dose controlled device made from medical grade materials and designed to work with pure cannabis oil. The complete package from labels to packaging, dose-controlled device and precision formula reflect the next stage of innovation in cannabis delivery systems, while at the same time holding the promise of creating a new, expanded level of permissions for out of market people to try cannabis for the first time.”
On being a woman in the canna-tech space:
“Canna-tech is welcoming to women at the entry level and middle management levels, beyond that, at the c-level, for example, all of the hallmarks of the environment experienced in my corporate career are here in canna as well. I recently found myself coaching a young woman in how to express her point of view in a ‘man voice’ and that she needed to find her ‘man voice’ or she would continue to struggle to be heard, because they weren’t going to meet her where she was coming from at her feminine perspective. In canna-tech we are surrounded by the egos of money wielding VC’s, most often — although refreshingly not always — male. I recently spoke at ReCode, a conference of tech industry leaders in LA. I had the chance to ask Hillary Clinton a question about her advice to young women who want to reach the highest heights. My advice was that they need to shed their requirement for external validation. It’s what keeps us out of the board room in many cases. Hillary gave a thoughtful answer about supporting women, their education, their desire to step out of traditional roles and to provide an environment where it was OK to express yourself as a leader. Someday, we’ll be able to accomplish that without having to use our ‘man voice.'”
Kate Manson, Vice President Content Strategy for Wikileaf
Kate Manson’s journey to the cannabis industry has certainly been an interesting one. Before coming to Wikileaf (where she has been for almost a year), she did a little bit of everything, including growing medical cannabis, working as a sports agent and even doing marketing and events for Nordstrom. But when it came to ending up creating content and content strategy for Wikileaf, it was a no brainer for Manson, who has a cannabis legacy, so to speak. Her folks, she says, were large activists for the cannabis industry.
Manson’s canna-tech connection happens in the online space, when it comes to content creation, running metrics on what readers want, SEO work, working with brands and more. She ensures that readers of Wikileaf have content that is well researched, accurate and engaging.
On women being welcomed in the canna-tech space: “Being a woman in any industry, you always have to ride a fine line between assertive and looking like a bitch. The tech industry in cannabis is no different. You do get talked over a lot. You do have to walk into a room and be very confident and be very educated. As women, we have to work twice as hard and pay attention to trends. We’re constantly being tested on our knowledge of this space. Whereas men can walk into it and are instantly respected. But I do think the industry is very supportive of women leaders. I’ve made a lot of very close connections — women whom I respect so much for what they’ve done. This industry as a whole is trending female and we’re trending female CEOs and VP levels. And while that’s great to see, I still think we have to work harder than our male counterparts, unfortunately. I’d love to see that change, and we are shifting toward that, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Her advice for other women interested in working in this space:
“Just remain confident. Just know that you are a pioneer and you are doing something that no one else has done. And that is amazing. So pat yourself on the back and give yourself compliments, because it’s not easy. Know that if you stick with something long enough, you’ll be at the top. And in this space particularly, we have the platform to lead the way.”
(The Women of Stemless: Lisa Snyder, Koushi Sunder, Shelby Cutler)
Koushi Sunder, Founder of Stemless
Stemless is a company that helps dispensaries make it easier for you to not only order cannabis online, but have it delivered all while you track your driver. The company is truly helping bring cannabis into the 21st century with their tech and support. Stemless founder Koushi Sunder, who has a background in financial services, came up with the idea for Stemless after a trip to a dispensary in Washington left her disappointed. Connecting that experience with the ever-present delivery industry she was used to in NYC, Sunder decided to combine the two to create the tech and support dispensaries need to help their patients have the best cannabis purchasing and delivery service available.
On Stemless’ unique role in the cannabis industry:
“I think we’re pioneers for a few reasons. We don’t know of a single other tech platform that does anything with delivery. We have a delivery platform that is very specific to the cannabis industry. The other thing that we do that is innovative is payment. We found ways to allow for online payment [in a space where it can be difficult due to legalities], so we use direct bank-to-bank transfers instead of credit cards. None of our partners have to worry about their funds being seized. We spent a lot of time working on finding a solution that works. There are a lot of companies that might take payment systems from customers electronically, but I don’t think they’re doing it the right way. So I think that’s a huge competitive advantage for us.”
When it comes to being a woman in the canna tech space:
“I do think that there are certain dispensaries that are a little more male dominated. There is another provider of online ordering, but it is cash based and more like reservations. Originally, we saw some dispensaries that would look at our platform and the tech offered, and they would pass on it and say that it’s not what they’re looking for. But then we saw a few months later they’d sign with this other company with inferior technology and it made us wonder. I think the bigger thing I’ve noticed is that in tech (not just in cannabis) there are a lot of organizations that promote start ups in the tech space, and they have programs that are aimed at women. But sometimes you see these day-to-day slights. And what I think is that maybe you wouldn’t need all these programs that focus on women and minorities if you focused on these actual slights that happen (like getting passed up for opportunities). Maybe focus on the root of the problem and not the bandaid.”
Dr. Amber Wise, Scientific Director for Avitas
After leaving her position as a chemistry professor at Chicago State University and a move to the west coast, Dr. Amber Wise found the next step of her career in the cannabis industry. Working at Avitas, a cannabis company that produces products sold in WA and OR. As the Scientific Director, Wise does everything from designing experiments and analyzing data to make processing updates and improvements to being a liaison/ interpreter with the analytical labs, developing an in-house terpene preservation process, work on educating sales staff and developing education workshops for budtenders on the science behind cannabis, and so much more.
On being a woman in both academics and the cannabis industry:
I was lucky to not experience a lot of the overt discrimination that is well-documented in the science world. I do remember being very impressed that the Cannabis Science conference in Portland had at least one if not two panels of 3-4 scientists that were all women. I’ve attended lots of science conferences and gender/science presentations and conferences and it’s VERY rare to find a panel that doesn’t have at least one man. I mentioned this to the organizer of the cannabis conference and he said it wasn’t intentional — the women that were on those panels were the leaders in their fields right now. There does seem to generally be a higher percentage of women in decision-making and leadership positions in the cannabis world, but I don’t have any data to back that up. In general, people I meet in the cannabis realm are impressed that we have a Scientific Director position at our company and respect and appreciate my knowledge/experience from outside cannabis.
One small observation, but not insignificant to me: I’ve been to lots of science equipment and academic conference and Expo floors – I never saw a “booth babe” being used to sell whatever they’re selling……while there’s not a lot of this in cannabis, it’s not zero. I hope I can soon attend a cannabis-themed Expo that doesn’t need to use sex to sell drugs!
What she would say to a fellow woman starting out in this field:
“I think this is an extremely exciting time to be involved in this industry — and there are so many ways to be a part of it that doesn’t involve having a license to grow/process/sell. There will be lots of data and inventory management needs, ‘big data’ analysis, website development, marketing/branding needs, educational opportunities, advocacy work, intellectual property issues, basic scientific research, etc. etc. And while this industry has a lot of stigma built up around it, we don’t necessarily need to re-invent the wheel in terms of the normal economic aspects. It works pretty similar to other industries: there are supply/demand pressures, pricing structures, marketing/branding aspects, personnel management, etc…
I don’t necessarily have any women-specific advice that’s different than I would give for any other industry: stand up for yourself, call out sexism when it occurs, set a good example of professional behavior (for example, support other women in positive ways) and don’t stay somewhere that doesn’t respect you. And one last comment to folks who think everyone who works in this industry is getting high at work all the time and it’s one big party: it’s definitely not the case in the companies that will survive and thrive.”
Mary Babitz, President, Cascade Sciences
Mary Babitz had been CEO of Cascade TEK (a company that provides specialized lab and vacuum ovens) for 14 years when she started getting sophisticated questions from folks who wouldn’t explain why they required their special technology. Finally one customer explained they were in the cannabis industry and Babitz realized there was a whole burgeoning market interested in her products.
On what has surprised her since entering the cannabis industry:
“The many levels and layers of medicinal benefits, the sheer number of normal, everyday folks that have experience with cannabis, and the entrepreneurial energy, guts and ingenuity of our customers is not something I’ve ever experienced.”
On the women she meets in the cannabis industry:
“I tend to meet more female CEO’s, owners, scientists, extractors, etc… in cannabis than in more traditional industries. I’m used to being one of the guys, so having the opportunity to collaborate with other women has been refreshing.”