Women are underrepresented in both the food and tech industries, but the tides may be turning as more and more women flex their entrepreneurial muscle and speak out about the need for equal opportunities.
One field where women might have a leg-up on their male counterparts is cannabis, a newly legal industry that has drawn strong favor from millennials in both tech and agriculture. Women are already making major leadership strides in the industry, reflected in the Women Grow networking group consisting of 1,500 monthly attendees across the country.
For Hanna Brand, co-owner of Santa Barbara-based cannabis cultivator Autumn Brands, the industry presents a perfect culmination of her lifelong passion for growing plants, her experience as a member of a sixth-generation farm family, and a desire to help people feel better. Brand is responsible for increasing revenue and maintaining the farm’s pure growing practices that began in Holland more than 100 years ago.
A recent graduate with a degree in Agricultural and Environmental Plant Sciences with a concentration in Environmental Horticultural Science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Brand approaches the industry with a rare combination of old-world craftsmanship and tech savviness coupled with a millennial’s approach to holistic wellness.
“I feel like this industry might be different than traditional industries because I am working with a lot of young people. In a sense, that makes it easier to gain respect,” she tells AgFunderNews.
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We caught up with her as she settles into her new full-time role with the company to learn more about her experience leading a cannabis company in California.
I went to Cal Poly before I even knew that I would be in the cannabis field. I grew up around flowers and in greenhouses and on the avocado ranch so I always had a love for things that grew. I have always been inspired by how my dad’s work ethic is always, which is to roll up your sleeves and work hard in the greenhouses, the fields, and the office. I never saw myself solely having a desk job.
Around 2015, some people approached my dad and asked him about becoming partners in cannabis cultivation buy converting our flower greenhouses to cannabis. He was skeptical at first, but after talking with my brother, his brother, and me he realized that there are so many benefits to cannabis, medically speaking. About a year ago, we decided to brand our own brand. We were selling wholesale and wanted to create something we could put our name on. Ultimately, I have a passion for the plant and the science. I’m in for the long haul.
What is your role at the company now that you have graduated and work full-time?
I graduated from Cal Poly in December and now I oversee everything that happens in our operation post-harvest, including when things are taken out of the greenhouses, when they go into the driver, etc. I work with two managers and they have women working underneath them on all of the hanging, drying, trimming, and packaging. I also oversee what goes into branded, fresh frozen, and bulk sales. We are starting to do more regional sales around LA.
On top of that, I work as a brand rep and go to dispensaries for what we call Autumn Days. These are patient appreciation events where we run specials and I get to talk about our product and our farm person-to-person. We can also get great customer feedback.
What has been your experience leading a company as a woman?
I love being in this industry as a woman because I feel a sense of empowerment and pride to hold such a top position. It is still a very male-dominated environment, but I see a lot of women in leadership roles in other companies and it always sparks a light and makes me excited. Unlike alcohol or tobacco, which are very male-dominated, this is a newly legal industry so women have the same chances of getting leadership roles that men do.
When it comes to your customers and cannabis consumers, in general, do you notice any differences between women and men?
I definitely notice that women tend to be more interested in learning when I am speaking with them at dispensaries. Men are more interested in high percentages of THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis), whereas women talk more about aspects other than THUC levels. I think that comes with women just wanting education, too. I’m at the dispensary for a few hours and they like hearing our story and learning about us being a family farm. Men tend to ask more questions about growing, and a lot of people who grow at home ask for advice.
How can we continue to encourage more women entrepreneurs?
Continue to promote the women around you. I am all about the idea that other people can be doing good with you. It’s not against you when you are both succeeding. Also, doing small things like knowing what products you are buying. If you see a women-led company maybe spend a few extra dollars buying those products.
Do you have any advice for women who may be hesitant to launch a company or to apply for a job?
Just keep pushing and stay true to yourself. You don’t need to settle. Women are very strong mentally and physically. If you set your mind to something, then see it through. Don’t let someone tell you that it’s not enough. There is a stigma around women not being physically capable on the farm. People say to me, “Oh, you work on the farm, too?” Yes, I work in the greenhouses and the dispensaries and the office. You can do multiple things and be good at them.