The cannabis industry is the fastest-growing industry in the U.S. job market. What does that mean for working women?
In 2019, despite increased attention on issues affecting women in the workplace, a majority of working women still face gender equity issues. The average gender pay gap in the United States leaves women working full-time, year-round jobs earning 81% as much as their male counterparts. In addition to pay inequity, many women face a lack of support in the workplace when it comes to their health — in fact, the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not have a paid maternity leave policy signed into law.
Some states are taking steps to rectify gender inequities. One way is by recognizing sanitary hygiene products as health necessities. In May 2019, California's Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a planned tax break for women's sanitary products. A Los Angeles Times report found that residents of 35 states must pay sales tax on these purchases because they are “not deemed necessities worthy of an exemption,” and these states collect upwards of $150 million a year from taxing menstrual products.
Female business owners in the cannabis industry are translating attention to these issues into action. In May 2019, to mark National Menstrual Hygiene Day, LH Manufacturing — the parent company for women-owned cannabis brands Whoopi & Maya and Om Edibles — announced a “moon day” policy for its female workers. In a press release, the company stated that it “proudly offers free sanitary products for our employees,” and that the company's handbook policy offers employees the opportunity to “take a day off, almost like a sick day. It's not paid yet, but we hope to have it [paid for] one day. Because if not us, then who?”
Om Edibles co-founder Maya Elisabeth told Weedmaps News, “We realized that there are so many women suffering silently, and we wanted to provide a space that honors peoples' cycles. The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and there are people adding moon days to their company handbooks as well, which makes us very happy.”
Supporting Women at Work
Weedmaps News checked in with other female-owned cannabis companies about their policies for women in the workplace. Katie Stem, CEO of Oregon company Peak Extracts, said that the company handbook specifically cites menstrual issues as a subset of good uses for sick time. “We encourage our employees to discuss their health issues with management if they wish to have a consistent monthly day off to deal with menstrual discomfort,” Stem said.
“Without making people feel uncomfortable, or put on the spot, we encourage our menstruating employees to communicate with us,” Stem said. “We've had several employees with endometriosis. It's important to build trust, so that they feel there's an open channel for communicating their difficulties so that we can accommodate them.”
Besides offering paid sick time, Stem added, the company allows employees to make up hours. If a staffer is salaried or part-time, they can take a day and then make it up later, rather than use sick leave.
“Being a woman-run company, we are fully aware of how difficult it can be to function while in the throes of horrible menstrual cramps,” Stem said. “We provide samples of our products to alleviate those symptoms, and we have a standing and supportive policy that they should go home and rest. It has been scientifically established that addressing the symptoms immediately has an impact on severity and duration of inflammatory processes.”
Women-owned and -operated Oregon topicals company Empower BodyCare strives to make the workplace equitable for all team members regardless of their gender. “Every member of our team has unique needs, and we do our best to support them,” CEO and founder Trista Okel said.
For example, Empower BodyCare doesn't ask team members to tell us why they need time off. “We offer paid time off instead of sick leave and vacation time,” Okel said. “We also pay 90 percent of their health insurance premiums, so that they can make the best choices, and remain autonomous in their health and wellness decision-making.”
Okel said that Empower BodyCare believes in equality in the workplace and supporting team members, whatever their gender may be, in feeling supported, respected, and appreciated.
The Future is Founding Principles
Quim manufactures a self-care line of cannabis topicals for “humans with vaginas and humans without vaginas who love vaginas.” Quim co-founders Cyo Ray Nystrom and Rachel Washtien have made a commitment to keeping health as a priority in their business. “Our mental, physical and general health is the most important thing,” Washtien said.
Quim takes a modern approach to health in the workplace for women — and for all people, Washtien said.
“We make sure to remind everyone we work with that they should do what they need to do to take care of themselves,” she said. “For many, that involves their own moon day rituals. We work with people we trust, and hope to empower them to care for themselves in a way that makes the most sense for them by being accepting and accommodating.”
The newly legal cannabis industry has the opportunity to create workplace policies that support women and women's health. A recent survey by cannabis industry recruiting platform Vangst showed that, out of 166 cannabis businesses in 17 U.S. states, 38.6% of people surveyed identified as female, and 43.3% of respondents said women constituted the majority of cannabis companies. If cannabis businesses write inclusive workplace protocol into company handbooks, the industry's playing field will be rendered much more level — and when women are treated fairly, everyone wins.
Feature image: Cannabis companies have been at the forefront of offering women-friendly work environment policies, such as offering time off during menstrual cycles or providing employees with sanitary products. (Brooke Cage/Unsplash)