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  • Writer's pictureSysamone Phaphon

Why Diversity Matters When Growing a Cannabis Business

Legalization presents cannabis companies with an opportunity to counteract this racial inequality— and this must begin with creating an industry that is truly diverse.

This article first appeared in Cannabis Dispensary Magazine on December 31, 2019

As the cannabis industry moves towards legalization, DEI—diversity, equity and inclusion—is unfortunately still not considered an important part of many companies’ growth strategies. Considered “nice to have” rather than an essential requirement, too many companies are missing a key element to success in the expanding industry.

DEI is more than goodwill—it’s good business..

There are plenty of studies that highlight how diversity improves a company's overall profit margins. The Harvard Business Review, McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group each make detailed and compelling quantitative arguments. But let's talk about two central qualitative ways that diversity matters when scaling a cannabis company.

A diverse workforce combats the injustices of cannabis enforcement.

It is public information that the U.S. judicial system has disproportionately prosecuted people of color with cannabis-related crimes. Though white and black Americans consume and sell at roughly the same rates, the ACLU reports that the latter are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for possession. Over the course of decades, this biased enforcement has done immeasurable damage to communities of color across the country.

Legalization presents cannabis companies with an opportunity to counteract this racial inequality— and this must begin with creating an industry that is truly diverse. Hiring racially diverse candidates helps to uplift marginalized communities through economic opportunity, but it doesn’t stop there. The simple truth is that nobody knows how to combat and rectify discriminatory policies better than those who have experienced it firsthand.

Having a diverse workforce apply individual life experiences and knowledge to these issues is incredibly powerful. With racially diverse teams, cannabis companies are best equipped to implement thoughtful and effective DEI initiatives. Diversity on your staff begets diverse ideas for your business.

As cannabis companies grow, and the industry along with it, diverse teams provide systematic strength and staying power by helping to ensure a just and equitable future.

A diverse workforce fosters innovative ideas and dismantles bias.

A diverse team provides global perspective, which is an essential asset when growing a cannabis company. Consumers of cannabis span all ethnic backgrounds, cultures, genders, orientations, generations, religions, abilities and time zones. When a company fails to represent the diversity of its demographics, fundamental weaknesses quickly emerge.

Hiring people from the same background with the same perspective limits innovation while increasing unconscious bias. A monolithic workforce is incapable of understanding the best ways to engage and communicate with a broader consumer base, limiting a company’s ability to be creative in marketing, products and services.

Simply hiring one or two diverse candidates won’t solve the problem. In a space that is not truly diverse, team members of minority backgrounds are steered to conform with limited ideas that do not reflect the consumer base. This environment hinders team members from speaking up and sharing progressive ideas.

In contrast, a diverse team prevents certain biases from forming and builds trust with consumers, who can identify themselves in the company’s branding. On top of that, diverse experience, knowledge and backgrounds lead to creative solutions to challenges, more compelling initiatives and a better chance to successfully develop a business in a global market.

Pairing diversity with an open-door policy for pitching ideas helps all employees feel included and confident enough to share their perspectives. During periods of growth, this diversity of ideas can bring about transformative solutions.

Clearly, prioritizing diversity in growth strategy positions cannabis companies for innovation, impact and longevity. Working with a product that has a long history of discriminatory enforcement, it is not only a financial beneficial to prioritize diversity, it is an ethical imperative, and one that I call upon my colleagues in the industry to swiftly and fully adopt.

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