April 18, 2018 is the day I finally snapped. I’m surprised it didn’t happen when I worked at a Marketing Agency in NYC during the aughts. All 28 offices that surrounded “the pit” (a cluster of cubicles) were occupied by white males. Several years into my stint there, they finally gave a few women an office. As in, the two women chosen for director positions had to share an office. We were angry then, but we weren’t in a position to do much about it. I was in my 20s, too low on the pecking order.
I hadn’t thought of that period of my life for more than a decade. But something major changed when I started a cannabis company with my husband and our friend in 2015. People from my past started coming out of the woodwork to pitch their business, network, or learn about the cannabis industry. For the most part, it’s been fun to reconnect.
But hearing from so many white males from the same NY marketing agency struck a chord. As they would pitch me, I would look at their company profiles and realize nothing had changed. All white males at the top. I guess they have no idea how incensed the women were at the agency back then—and they still have no clue the effect this has on their female staff and clients. Either that, or they don’t care.
I’ve recently started to remember some of the behavior of these men, after having blocked it out for many years.
I’ve recently started to remember some of the behavior of these men, after having blocked it out for many years. I had one direct manager tell me during a business dinner that he had a thing for Asians. I’m Chinese. I had another direct manager who came knocking at my hotel room door at 4 a.m. during another business trip, asking if he could crash with me. Hard no. I had a VP invite me to a dinner for a client whose project I wasn’t even on and, after many drinks, encourage me to sleep with the married CEO they were trying to pitch. I ran away.
To any of my ex-colleagues/managers/bosses reading this: You’re probably wondering if you’re the one who made me snap. It wasn’t you; it was all of you. It was a group effort to keep white males at the top regardless of their fireable behavior. I’m ashamed to say, I never once spoke up about any of these offenses. Some of these offenders were my friends and I didn’t know how to navigate it.
In addition to the sexual harassment I experienced, some of the men at this agency I worked with simply treated women like garbage to boost their own egos. I had one manager who wanted me to record his voicemail so it sounded like I was his secretary. I wasn’t. Another asked me, in front of clients, to go out and fetch coffees for the group meeting I was leading. And then there was the digital director who yelled at me in front of 150 coworkers because someone else was late to the meeting. (I’m proud to say I invited that digital director for a one-on-one talkin’ to. Saying “We need to talk” is a power move.)
Women, and particularly women of color, are unfortunately used to absorbing tons of toxic behavior.
Even all of this wasn’t enough to make me snap, as women, and particularly women of color, are unfortunately used to absorbing tons of toxic behavior. Within the cannabis industry, we work with many organizations, vendors, contractors, law firms, agencies, and brand partners. I started to notice that, within these ancillary businesses, I wasn’t seeing many WoC, PoC, or women in a lead/partner position unless it was a woman who had founded the company.
I finally snapped when I was having a debate with someone on Instagram about whether or not the cannabis industry was women-lead. They were cheering, like women had secured our piece of the pie. I argued that we still had a ways to go and it wasn’t time to celebrate just yet, especially when we’re thinking of the long game. They cited a statistic saying that 36 percent of leaders in the cannabis industry are women—but that number has dipped to 27 percent within a single year. I don’t want to settle for numbers that aren’t equal and aren’t wins, even if they’re higher than in other industries. As the cannabis industry gets more mainstream and more VCs get involved, it’ll be more bro-y and more male-dominant. We’re already experiencing this.
We know to send the men in if we want to get the money.
I, along with other women-owned cannabis companies, have had the experience of investors and potential investors preferring to speak to our male counterparts. We know to send the men in if we want to get the money. We are not always treated as equals, even when we are in a top position.
On April 18, 2018, I sent out a mandate to our company on Slack, without consulting my business partners.
Wednesday, April 18th
DOOBIESIU 9:11 AM
THIS IS A NEW COMPANY MANDATE:
I was asked in an interview yesterday how women are leading the way in cannabis. Sure. We are seeing women in the industry, sure we are seeing some women CEO’s and founders. But here’s a challenge I will bring to those who are in position to bring equality to the industry and to their companies – HIRE PoC, WoC, or WOMEN IN GENERAL – IN LEAD POSITIONS. For example, I’d love to work with a Cannabis Law firm that has diversity and gender equality in partnership roles (like JUST EVEN ONE—the bar is so, so, so low for me at this point, which is pretty sad)—so this is my call out—do better and get our business. Don’t approach me if the top people at your company are only white males. This happens time and again and our company is refusing to work with such companies.
I sent an email to our partner businesses and vendors that read as follows:
I’m going to put our call/meeting on hold for now.We are actively looking to work with companies that include diversity and equality in leadership roles. PoC, WoC, or women in general.We are actively looking to work with companies that include diversity and equality in leadership roles. PoC, WoC, or women in general.We are sending this message out to all of our business partners. It’s a stance we are taking in how we choose the companies we work with with the hopes of elevating equality practices.
Good luck with everything—give me a call if anything changes with your management team.
We also put up a post on our Instagram account and lost quite a few followers on the spot and received some irate comments.
It took being in a position of leadership to fully realize I hadn’t felt capable of speaking up earlier in my career. This is something those of us in leadership roles should remember as we create and foster our corporate culture. I am fortunate to have business partners (some of whom are white males) who see these issues as critically as I do.
My husband/co-founder encouraged us to set a corporate cultural stance before we launched. And our other co-founder always reminds me that we have the opportunity to create a diverse company from the beginning and not retroactively try to do so, as so many companies are now doing.
This is the positive outcome of a woman snapping on April 18, 2018.
I hesitate to name and shame, only because I genuinely hope the companies we reached out to experience a shift and start seeking to place a WoC, PoC, or a woman to a partnership or leadership role. This is the motivation behind our new company mandate. This is the positive outcome of a woman snapping on April 18, 2018.
We aren’t here to point fingers or hold grudges from the past. We are here to help elevate equal and diverse hiring practices within the organizations we want to work with. Let’s all do better.
Leslie Siu is the CEO and co-founder of Mother & Clone, a sublingual cannabis company.