Oklahoma can set the standard for women’s opportunities in the cannabis industry.
Nearly a year after Oklahoma voters approved the most business-friendly medical cannabis initiative in the country, one of the reddest states in the nation continues to astonish. But what does this mean for Oklahoma’s female consumers and entrepreneurs?
With patient count numbers already surpassing those of other medical states in their third and fourth years of operation, Oklahoma has, by all accounts, proved itself as a thriving young market primed for continued expansion. Due in part to its markedly low license fee of $2,500 and its only medical prerequisite being doctor approval, Oklahoma’s medical cannabis program numbers are rising at an unprecedented pace. The excitement surrounding enrollment numbers is driving Oklahoma entrepreneurship at an equally sizzling rate. It is important to note, though, that while cannabis companies look a lot different from other traditional businesses in most respects, their boardrooms do not. Consistent with most other industries, cannabis leadership is trending toward being a male-dominated space.
The silver lining, however, is that there are significantly more women in cannabis power positions today compared to the rest of corporate America. A 2017 survey done by Marijuana Business Daily found that women occupied 26.9 percent of leadership positions in cannabis, compared to 23 percent in other industries. While this is a win, it is unfortunately a 9.1 percent decline from two years prior and indicates that our work toward equality is far from over. It is especially important in this emerging industry to capitalize on the surge of female entrepreneurship and leadership. To ensure that a business survives in Oklahoma’s competitive market, members of its female force should be protected in meaningful ways. As cannabis becomes increasingly corporate, we must remember where we started. The glass ceilings that so often prevent women from rising into corporate leadership roles have yet to solidify their spot in cannabis; Oklahoma businesses should make sure these barriers have no place here.
The cannabis sector is attracting some of the very best and brightest women in our state who are increasingly choosing to upend traditional business models in favor of capturing their own market slice in Oklahoma’s “green rush.” If cannabis businesses in Oklahoma want to maximize growth, they will need to scale in a conscientious and inclusive way in order to garner business from female consumers and talent from female executives. In fact, dispensaries across the state have seen an influx in demand for products that appeal to an increasingly vocal female audience. Women are a huge part of the consumer market in this state as well as natural nurturers who are genetically predisposed to cultivate life, so including powerful, creative and experienced female leaders in your business is great way to diversify.
The best way for cannabis businesses to avoid workplace litigation is to inform themselves on which laws apply to their employees. Business owners need to remember that both state and federal employment laws must be followed. The key to navigating the complex legislative landscape is to create a comprehensive set of human resources guidelines that ensure a positive work environment for all employees, especially women. It is important for canna companies to responsibly attract and maintain high female employment rates because inclusion gives fledgling companies a competitive edge.
As a new business owner, the first place to look to make sure you are protecting your company is federal employment laws. America’s employment policy is generally outlined by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which provides baseline protections for all workers in the country. The FLSA notably sets the maximum 40-hour workweek and the national minimum wage for all salary and hourly employees. In conjunction with the Equal Pay Act of 1963, these laws seek to ensure that female employees receive equal pay and workplace treatment. However, considering that women still earn about 80 cents per every dollar that men do, there is still much work to be done to achieve true equality. One of the key litigation tools for employment law disputes currently is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on a variety of factors, including sex. Under Title VII, companies cannot base any hiring, employment or exit decisions on the fact that an employee is a woman. This means that, despite the fact that Oklahoma does not have a state law requiring employers to offer maternity leave, if your company fires a woman for getting pregnant, she can sue you under this law. If she wins, your company might be liable for back wages, future wages and even attorney fees. This protection is echoed by Oklahoma’s own Anti-Discrimination Act that prohibits discrimination based on sex and protects female rights surrounding pregnancy and childbirth. While some federal laws like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) only apply to companies with 50 or more employees, the Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act applies to employers with one or more employees — so this applies to most businesses in this state.
Cannabis businesses have a unique opportunity to use their progressive reputations to help transform business stereotypes. While there are laws regulating discrimination based on sex that might promote equality in the workplace, putting women ahead and in positions of power might also just be good business. We are living in exciting times. Women are not only a target demographic for cannabis and CBD retail products, but they have proved themselves a force to be reckoned with in boardrooms and ownership circles throughout the budding industry in Oklahoma. By adhering to equal pay laws, protecting things like maternity leave and ensuring that workplace sexual discrimination is a major focus for HR and employment handbooks, cannabis businesses can successfully promote a culture of inclusion for women in this state.
Kaimbri B. White
Kaimbri B. White is a cannabis industry business consultant at CLIMB Collective. While in law school at University of Oklahoma, White founded her own cannabis industry consulting firm. When she graduated, her business was acquired by CLIMB. White consults with businesses of any size and variety in every sector of the cannabis industry.