The Cannabis Industry Needs Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

Click to read about why the cannabis industry needs cultural diversity in the workplace.
Photo by Micheile Henderson Via Unsplash

May 21 is World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. The United Nations created this internationally recognized holiday to bridge the gap between cultures and promote peace. Cultural diversity is a driving force in many aspects of our lives, promoting ideas and building meaningful connections throughout the world, which can in turn help fight against issues like oppression. 

Though the United States is ripe with diverse cultures, the cannabis industry lacks this representation, often uplifting white and/or Eurocentric viewpoints and values. The cannabis industry represents different ages, races, cultures and other dynamic, diverse groups. Recognition of cultural diversity is crucial. We’ll explore how promoting diversity across the cannabis industry workplace provides a new way to thrive. 

 

Understanding Cultural Diversity

Diversity can refer to a host of aspects: from racial, ethnic, and gender identities; to religious groups, disability status and age. Cultural diversity in the cannabis industry is fostered through cultural practices, values and beliefs based on these identities. The goal of diversity is to have equal representation, which matters because a person’s experiences of the world can vary dramatically due to their identity. 

In the U.S., race and ethnicity are often confused as synonyms. Though these categories are different, they are difficult to separate. Essentially, an ethnicity shares cultural experiences that define groups, while race refers to a category of people based on physical characteristics. However, race often becomes a marker that can overshadow ethnicity, leaving the two inextricably linked. Cultural diversity then intertwines various intricacies between people of different racial and ethnic identities. These cultural variations serve as a starting point for examining the role of diversity in the cannabis industry workplace.

Cultural Diversity in the Cannabis Industry

In the cannabis industry, cultural diversity is a necessity. The industry was built on the backs of those who are Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC), who represent multiple cultures across the United States. However, these same people are being excluded and left behind in the industry. The opportunity to build an equitable cannabis culture is often hailed as a unique feature of the cannabis industry and leaving behind the folks that helped lay its foundations only generates distrust and pain. Moving forward, diversity should be at the forefront of industry professionals’ minds for a bevy of reasons. 

First, the cannabis industry is becoming an increasingly global workforce. With this expansive globalization, it’s crucial to build connections with diverse populations around the world so the industry can grow in innovative ways. Presently, the cannabis industry is overrepresented by white English-speakers from similar backgrounds. By embracing cultural diversity in the cannabis industry workplace, we embrace inventive blends of ideas, goals, and methods to accomplish them.

Fostering a space rich in diversity helps the cannabis industry bridge the gap between cultures. Members can introduce different perspectives to generate innovative ideas and tackle challenges from within the company. Promoting cultural diversity in the workplace can also benefit employee interactions in cannabis communications roles, whether it be to overcome language barriers or to relate more closely with customers. This extends into leadership roles as well. For example, board members with diverse cultural identities can help better understand community needs and develop solutions accordingly, as well as participate more effectively in business-to-business interactions.

 

Diversity and Inclusion Issues in the Cannabis Industry

Unfortunately, many issues are plaguing BIPOC cultural groups in the cannabis industry. 

The cannabis industry faces an immense lack of BIPOC entrepreneurs in leadership positions. Notably, ethnic minorities occupied just 17% of executive positions in the cannabis industry in 2017. 

Some states like New York and Massachusetts are working to create social equity programs to promote representation. However, due to a lack of economic capital and other concerns, many BIPOC are not applying for dispensary licenses. For ethnic communities that have been disproportionately affected by various factors such as income inequality, discrimination and barriers to access, the cannabis industry needs to be more inclusive for all who want to be involved.  

 

Breaking Barriers to Promote Cultural Diversity in the Cannabis Industry 

There are organizations seeking to promote cultural diversity in the workplace and empower communities. For example, Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) seeks economic empowerment for culturally diverse communities and BIPOC. MCBA hosts training sessions on starting a cannabis business and provides valuable information on achieving equity for communities affected by the drug war. 

National Diversity & Inclusion Cannabis Alliance (NDICA) seeks to increase cannabiz representation of those impacted by cannabis prohibition. Accordingly, they host industry-oriented training sessions, expand outreach and create educational programs. Cannabis Cultural Association (CCA) helps people take advantage of opportunities in legal cannabis and works to educate the community. The CCA regularly hosts meetups for POC communities focused on various cannabis-related subjects as well as private business developmental workshops. 

 

Promote Cultural Diversity as an Employer

For employers looking to promote in-house cultural diversity, there are a handful of important considerations. Celebrate diversity openly and have cultural diversity at the center of a cannabis organization’s ethos. Encourage diversity in the workplace by promoting cross-cultural participation and create projects with culturally diverse teams. Diverse teams have shown time and again to be industry leaders and have superior value creation. Moreover, cannabis product development among diverse working groups can help meet the needs of various cultural groups. By building collaborative teams, organizations can market and deliver interesting and culturally sensitive ideas and products to clients and customers alike. 

While it’s vital to cultural diversity to build a team of people from multiple ethnic backgrounds, it’s also important not to pressure employees, especially if they represent an ethnic minority in the company, to coach the team about diversity. Conversations about injustices brought about by cannabis prohibition are essential, but don’t let all of the work fall onto marginalized groups. Elevate voices in a cohesive, yet productive way to promote cultural diversity in the workplace, and be sure to provide support for members of marginalized ethnic groups who do offer their experience and expertise. 

Employers must be prepared to face challenges when promoting cultural diversity in the cannabis industry workplace. If team members do not feel heard, listen to their needs. Actively call out discrimination that occurs across the cannabis industry and serve as an advocate. Furthermore, quickly and completely address issues surrounding accusations of bigotry in your own business. Diverse teams need transparency and real action to thrive.

Achieving cultural diversity in the workplace is vital to the cannabis industry for myriad reasons not as significant in other industries. This World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, create a list to figure out where you can go from here and make it your personal goal as a leader to promote cultural diversity in the workplace. Make plans to host interactive diversity, equity and inclusion sessions that push the envelope of personal development. Collaborate with businesses that have achieved cultural diversity to see how you can build towards it. Each of us has a responsibility to ensure the cannabis industry is equitable for members of all cultures, especially those most impacted by historic cannabis prohibition. 

If you’re in search of more resources, read our blog about how The War on Drugs Reinforced Structural Racism or visit any of the businesses mentioned above. Diversity in the cannabis industry workplace is possible, and it’s in much closer reach than is often realized.

For those actively advocating for social equity in the cannabis space, feel free to reach out to us. We also offer pro bono services to help promote your contributions to justice in the marijuana industry.

Kelly specializes in writing and research. She hones in on her creative talents to curate high-quality content and bring a certain variety of vibrancy to the table.