Kristina Etter   |   January 17, 2019

The Cannabis Industry: A World of Opportunity for Women in Tech

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave.” ~Cheryl Strayed, Wild

When women joined the workforce during World War II, they were told: “We Can Do It!” So, they rolled up their sleeves, put on dungarees, and went to work like Rosie the Riveter encouraged them to do. Praised for their ambition to do “a man’s work” while the men fought the war, women kept the country productive and functional. However, when the men came back, many women didn’t’ want to give up their jobs, and many men resented sharing the work.

For decades, women have fought for more than just equal pay in nearly every American industry. I can vouch. As a female who spent almost two decades building a career in the male-dominated information technology sector, I’ve personally experienced the career-stunting impact of “the good ol’ boys club.” I’ve listened to the blond jokes and sexual innuendos, been excluded from golf course business meetings, and passed over for promotions by men with lesser qualifications. Throughout my 20-year career in corporate America, disrespect, discrimination, and dismissal were behaviors I came to expect as a female.

I am not alone.

However, in this #MeToo era, with the infancy of the cannabis industry, women are taking the opportunity to take control of the reins, redefine their roles, embrace their feminism, and tell a new story — one where women are encouraged to be women.

Seizing New Opportunities

Without existing hierarchies, decades of “we’ve always done it this way” mentalities, and stuffed shirts at the helm, many people, men and women alike, are recognizing this chance in a lifetime opportunity to create something wonderful. For women, the emerging cannabis industry presents a unique opportunity to realize their strengths, build on their passions, and make a living doing something which feels authentic and righteous.

These four, outstanding women in technology are blazing a trail in the industry by blending feminism and fortitude to redefine strength and girl power.

Salma Mayorquin, Software Developer and Aspiring Roboticist – KindBot.io

After graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in Applied Math, Mayorquin, like most of us, didn’t expect to be working in the cannabis industry. However, as a pet project, took on a life of its own, she and her partner developed an AI solution for home cannabis cultivation, called KindBot. Mayorquin took a “few years of tinkering with hardware” and became the co-founder of a company which puts artificial intelligence and machine learning in the palm of your hand.

Mayorquin admits getting into the cannabis sector was a little intimidating initially, but she continued, “It’s a very exciting industry, where we get to introduce something new which might be useful.” She continued, “It’s also nice, getting into the industry, and breaking the stereotypes to prove the industry is more diverse than people think.”

Her advice for other women wanting to explore a future in cannabis: “Don’t hesitate, just try your ideas out – it may feel like the odds are stacked against us; there are not that many women in tech. But what we need to do is forget about the stats and realize, we can bring something very valuable – a different perspective and special gifts we alone can share with the industry.”

Laura Breit, PE, Principal and Mechanical Engineer – Root Engineers

As a mechanical engineer, Breit knows what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. Recalling her earliest days in her career, she said, “In my first job, I dressed like a contractor in an attempt to feel like I fit in the room.”

Attracted by the challenge of precise environmental controls, today, Breit runs an engineering firm in Bend, Oregon designing the intricate HVAC and electrical systems for cannabis facilities. After completing more than 80 cannabis projects, Breit stated, “We’ve watched the industry grow up. More people are interested in doing it right, which is my end game – to see [growers] paying attention to smarter, more efficient engineering.”

From her perspective, being in the cannabis industry isn’t much different from more traditional paths, calling it “a little dude-heavy.” But she went on to say, “the one cool thing about where the industry is at, is in the fact that everyone is really excited. There’s this idea we’re all in it together, and a little bit ‘against the man,’ so to speak.”

For women moving into technology, whether cannabis-centered or not, Breit offers some profound advice, “You’re a woman. You are different, and you don’t have to hide from being different, you’re not going to be like the other men in the room. It’s ok to be a woman. Find other women to help you find your professional voice because it’s not going to sound like a man’s.”

Dr. Moran Grinberg – Cannabis Entrepreneur, Strategic and Regulation Advisor.

Dr. Grinberg is a top expert in the field of Cannabis research and development, a strong, intelligent woman with a Ph.D. in Molecular Virology who hold several patents in the field of cannabis and cancer. Besides contributing to cancer research and clinical trials, as well as, working on a cure for HIV, Dr. Grinberg also volunteers to teach biology to special needs children in Israel. In 2018 she served as a keynote speaker at CannaTech in Tel Aviv and was selected as one of the top 10 most influencer females crafting the cannabis industry.

Today, after spending almost two years as the VP of Research and Development for Cannabics Pharmaceuticals Inc., Dr. Grinberg now serves as a strategic and regulation advisor for cannabis-based biotech companies, helping them to bring viable novel therapies from bench-to-bedside.

Dr. Grinberg makes no apologies for being a female. When asked about women in the cannabis industry she said, "My point of view is not only based on the gender issue but it is truly based on the nature of the cannabis industry. The cannabis industry is a great launchpad for opportunities, for several reasons: it was started by pioneers, it has no defined rules, it is open to anyone and it allows integration of people from many fields such as agriculture, to share and work with, the pharmaceutical industry. We should look at this new industry as a platform for new opportunities, not victimhood.”

Jennifer Kregor, Data Scientist – Brightfield Group

As the Head of Data Science at Brightfield Group, a CBD and cannabis market research company, Kregor’s passions come from using technology and analytics to track the pulse of the cannabis industry. Prior to coming to the industry, she worked primarily as a manager of academic projects focused on advancements in cognitive science and psychology. After being exposed to Python during a project at the University of Pennsylvania focused on natural language processing, she fell headfirst in love with programming. She shared with her longtime friend, Bethany Gomez, the Managing Director at Brightfield, that she was considering a career shift, and Bethany saw a potential fit in her flourishing company, and thus her involvement in the cannabis industry began.

Today, Kregor works on decoding cannabis data to provide useful, insightful consumer personas, industry shifts, and associations between data sets. As stated in her professional bio, “she hopes her research will help identify the products and lifestyles that help people thrive in a way tailored to their own singularity. She’s particularly fascinated with the vast array of uses and cases where cannabis and CBD have helped individuals be well and enjoy their every day with more gusto.”

“The variety of personas using cannabis and CBD, the array of reasons they are using, and the continuously expanding product offerings are all endlessly fascinating to define, dissect, connect, and understand,” Kregor mentioned as she discussed how powerful the anecdotal stories are in tandem with quantitative data. While it’s incredible and important to use robust quantitative methodologies to make sense of the vast array data out there, it’s equally important those measures are interpreted and understood by the content experts This requires close collaboration with everyone in the industry. It’s been incredible to embrace that collaboration between other women in the industry who also value the connection of impact, stories, and robust data. She further continued, “The information is fascinating and ever-changing, but we can also feel good about the impact it’s having on the world.”

Kregor goes on to encourage other women to get involved, stating, “Seize that opportunity to embrace an industry so young and flexible. Where you can feel comfortable being creative, being yourself and trying the ideas that you might otherwise keep to yourself. Get them out there!”

Encouraging Future Generations

Research shows nearly 74% of 11-year-old girls are interested in STEM careers, yet women make up less than 20 percent of tech jobs. Interestingly, data also indicates the quit rate is more than twice as high for women (41%) as it is for men (17%) in the same field. While we can only speculate, when young women in tech jobs statistically earn 29 percent less than their male coworkers, it’s easy to understand why women might seek greener pastures outside of the tech industry where they feel more appreciated.

A recent article from Forbes shows many women are pursuing work-from-home tech jobs to help balance the demands of parenthood and economics. With the increase in advance technology solutions and the rapid growth of the marijuana industry, many of these jobs may come from the cannabis sector, as many tech firms are looking to cash in on the green rush. While Zip Recruiter shows cannabis-related job listings are increasing at more than 700% year over year, technology jobs come in second at 245%. Add those together, and you have unlimited opportunity for anyone willing to work.

The Best Lesson: Don’t be afraid to be a woman

The most common piece of advice I heard from all the women I interviewed, is that it’s high time women stop being afraid to be women. So often, we dress in power suits and try to “blend-in” to the more masculine persona in the room, when we should be asserting ourselves in our role as a female.

As role models for our future, women like these encourage other women not just to chase their dreams, but to achieve them. In a country divided by politics and blurred definitions of power, women are taking the opportunity to find strength in numbers, uplifting each other, and supporting each other in pursuing their passions to improve the world around us. Naturally, as we tuck away the competition card, and begin to help each other, we all win.

 

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