hero-graphic-Inclusive Policies and Practices for a Stronger Workplace
Posted by Ben Mervis, for Vangst / Sep 09, 2021

Inclusive Policies and Practices for a Stronger Workplace

Representation in Cannabis Part 2

Our first piece in this series came out at the end of June and focused specifically on queer and BIPOC representation in mainstream and cannabis media. We announced that the pride-month blog would be just the first in a series on representation in cannabis. Just as this author is gay year-round, most marginalized people wear their identities 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year.

This series is meant to set the stage for the critical work ahead of us. By starting conversations here and continuing them in our circles, we can all take impactful actions towards a more Just, Equitable, Diverse, and Inclusive industry.

JEDI is my favorite acronym of all time… and I’ve heard a lot of acronyms. You might be familiar with the more ubiquitous DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion), but justice MUST be at the front and center when talking about cannabis. So many people — disproportionately in BIPOC communities — were delivered complete injustice through Cannabis Prohibition and the War on Drugs. Thousands of people are still in prison for nonviolent cannabis crimes, and many more thousands have had their lives forever impacted following incarceration. This hypocrisy grows clearer with every “legalized” state, and each time the cannabis market is estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

It’s incumbent upon the US cannabis industry to be proactively inclusionary and serving justice. It’s also an incredible opportunity to set a global standard by addressing JEDI topics early on in our decision-making and establishing new businesses and markets.

Today we’re discussing inclusive policies and practices that can make a workplace safer, stronger, and more attractive for marginalized professionals. From hiring to maintaining your corporate culture, these policies and practices are meant to benefit a more inclusive group of individuals, which leads to greater understanding, growth, and stronger foundations for a successful career in cannabis.

I asked two great professionals to share their personal and professional opinions with us. Despite their traditionally marginalized identities, both of these people make an impact as leaders in their cannabis careers. That said, the views reflected in any quotes that may follow are those of the author and guests as individuals, rather than that of their employers.

To start, I need to give credit for the title of this piece to Sarah Kabakoff, the Head of Sales for Dutchie. Sarah is a colleague of mine in the cannabis industry, and more than that, a friend. Dutchie is the leading provider of Retail and Payment Software as a Service in the cannabis industry after recently acquiring Greenbits and Leaflogix. When asked about inclusive policies, Sarah’s first comment was that “policies are great, but they don’t do much on paper until they’re in practice and become a behavior.” This workplace version of “practice what you preach” felt to me like the most important takeaway for anyone who has read even this far.

JEDI in the Workplace

1. The first thing any company can start today is deciding on a set of diversity data and statistics that leadership would like to disclose privately or publicly. Customers and employees alike have been asking to see these numbers from hourly part-time workers to executive leadership. The data collected can be limited to the workforce or extend to contractors, vendors, and service providers. A group of intersectional colleagues and sometimes external subject matter experts can be called in to set these parameters. Then an internal team would invite their workforce to self-identify, often anonymously.

It’s one thing to have data and statistics ready from a reactionary position, but it’s entirely different than seeking a proactive use for it, such as inclusive hiring. To discuss recruitment and retention, I turned to Ciera Parks, the Head of People at Vangst, an international leader in workforce development and recruiting, and the website that you’re on right now!

ciera-parks https://vangst.com/members/ciera-parks

2. Ciera’s first suggestion is to define “what does it mean to bring in diverse talent?” and to examine whether your company has recruitment and retention policies in place that will actually make that happen. In terms of those policies, Ciera encourages: - “Asking yourself, ‘am I building an inclusive environment where people can show up as their authentic selves?’ Candidates should be made to feel that their vernacular, hair, style, gender expression, or sexual identity will not limit their ability to grow within the organization.” - “Look at the company - is your leadership representative of a commitment to diversity? Specifically, what does senior leadership look like throughout the organization, and is there a clear pipeline to leadership for employees to follow.”

Beyond the social and moral benefits of inclusive policies, JEDI efforts can have a significant impact on your bottom line. According to The Society of Human resources Management report, “Fostering inclusive environments increases employee engagement and reduces their likelihood of leaving by 87%.” Various other studies attribute better financial performance to companies with higher percentages of ethnic, racial, and gender diversity on their leadership teams.

3. Sarah has taught me a lot about policies that normalize advocacy and create opportunities in the workplace. Sarah’s personal experience advocating for transgender rights, resources, and representation has inspired me as a queer person who has always tried to use my platforms and opportunities to open the door for more marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ communities. In particular, Sarah has taught me quite a bit about Employee Resource Group (ERGs):

  • Establishing an ERG creates an internal group of peers who can listen to one another’s needs and advocate for them. This same group can serve as subject matter experts that can consult on policies and practices throughout multiple departments. ERGs serve as safe spaces to ask questions of people who stand a better chance of understanding where you’re coming from.
  • ERGs are a great way to build community and social connection online or in-person, which we’ve seen the importance of since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. ERGs often have budgets to host virtual meetups, luncheons, and hand out gift cards.
  • ERGs are often listed on a company’s website, as they can be a huge draw for job candidates. Say you’re a queer person and see a Pride ERG exists somewhere that you’ve been invited to interview, it’s not unreasonable to ask that a member of that ERG be a part of your interview process.

Inclusion in the cannabis industry as a whole

Strong data on diversity in the national or international cannabis industries are far and few between, but in 2017 Marijuana Business Daily estimated that white people comprised up to 80% of cannabis executives. A more recent survey by Business Insider found that white men are nearly 70 of that 80%. Of the 75 executives surveyed from the 14 largest cannabis companies in the US and Canada, only five of them identified as Black.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising if you’ve been paying attention to what’s going on in this world, but it certainly cannot stand. Most states incorporate social equity licensing when launching a new market, meant to benefit those who have been most impacted by the War on Drugs and cannabis prohibition. But many states and municipalities have seen damaging delays in their rollout of social equity programs, and success stories are unfortunately uncommon as of yet.

Despite the long-time connection between native Americans and plant medicine, the inclusion of indigenous people in our cannabis industry is even lower.

We need these communities to see themselves in the US cannabis industry, not just as staff but as owners, executives, and champions.

What can we do to help?

The first step is to become an advocate in your own workplace and community. See something unfair or unjust? If you don’t feel safe or comfortable bringing it up with your manager, there might be a way to submit anonymous feedback to your employer or leadership team.

Get involved in the regulatory process if you live in a state or municipality with a brand new cannabis market. Attend a public meeting, and if you don’t hear anyone advocating for social equity in the industry, be that voice. Never underestimate the importance of self-identifying your preferred pronouns. It creates an environment where others can feel more comfortable doing the same and eliminates the expectation that anyone should assume a peer’s gender identity based on their physical appearance. Lastly, share educational and anecdotal resources with your team or coworkers. You never know what will help someone to feel seen or heard. Vangst has some great resources for further reading, including A Guide to Social Justice and Social Equity in Cannabis.

Ask questions and engage with communities outside of your own! This can happen on traditional social media such as Twitter and Instagram, or even LinkedIn. There are also great conversations happening every day in the Vangst Community forums!

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