The future is female — especially in the cannabis industry.
At the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo in Las Vegas this past November, industry leaders Cynthia Salarizadeh, CEO of Salar Media Group, Debra Borchardt, CEO of Green Market Report, and Ophelia Chong, founder of StockPot Images, hosted a lightly infused mimosa brunch to kick off Industry Power Women (IPW), a network of female entrepreneurs and business leaders in the cannabis industry.
“Many of us struggled getting on our feet in this industry as we came from very different corporate and diverse backgrounds, and found certain relationships helped advance us when other ones worked against us,” says Salarizadeh. “We would like to help provide support to those worthy of advancing with our help.”
The idea is to foster community rather than competition among women in cannabis, while bridging gaps to afford female entrepreneurs access to circles that could advance them, she explains. “The focus of this organization is to propel women business owners into greater economic, social and political spheres of power within their industry through relationships and strategic partnerships,” Salarizadeh says.
The organization will hold annual awards programs and brunches around the country, as it evolves into a nonprofit with a possible for-profit private social networking site (like Facebook, but for women in business). Because the founding members are already accomplished in their fields, they’re not aiming to profit, but rather to establish a “black book of powerful industry female leaders,” Salarizadeh says. “No chapters and no profit. Just relationships.”
The organization is comprised of women who have founded startups, run corporate executive level offices, and managed game changing projects in their fields. All of the group’s members will have owned or operated an organization or corporation; they’re successful cultivators, lawyers, scientists, accountants, marketing experts, techies, and more.
Despite group members’ high ranking corporate positions, Industry Power Women is at its core a “girls club,” as Borchardt describes it, where women can seek out advice from one another without feeling judged. “As more women see examples of other women starting companies, becoming CEOs and raising capital in the cannabis industry, it makes it seem attainable and not so far fetched. It shows you can be a mom, a risk taking executive and a business leader.”
The cannabis movement has always had an overtly female vibe, especially around the Bay Area, says Amanda Reiman, vice president of community relations at Flow Kana and IPW 2017 Influencer of the Year awardee. That’s what drew her to the movement 15 years ago. “Feminists, LGBTQ activists, artists, and nurses, all led the charge to provide medical cannabis to the sick and dying in those early years,” she recalls. Compassion, healing and community were the tenets of the industry back before it was one.”
Now Reiman says she gets nostalgic for that time at instances where she sees a group of men crowding around a dab bar at a cannabis cup, or hearing the “I’m owed a financial windfall” argument supercede the “Let’s keep people out of jail” one. “I am by no means admitting defeat, but if women want to see this industry go a different way than tech, entertainment, finance and every other industry, we need to hold onto the ideals that created the industry in the first place,” Reiman says. “And we cannot be afraid or intimidated. And that, I think, is the one of the biggest benefits of an organization like IPW, strength in numbers.”