Women in weed: Meet Ontario's gender-inclusive cannabis companies
These entrepreneurs aren't just creating women-friendly products, they're creating employment opportunities to close the cannabis industry's gender gap.
Monika Sidhu, Contributor
Melinda Rombouts knows what it feels like to be overlooked in the agricultural cannabis industry. Despite the increased demand for the substance and the increased employment opportunities that followed Canada's 2018 legalization of marijuana, Rombouts says there is still a lot of room for women to grow in the industry.
The CEO, President and Director of female-focused Canadian cannabis brand Eve & Co, Rombouts says she remembers being at an international conference and not getting recognition from other professionals for her leadership role.
“I would ask the questions, but they would turn to my male team member and give him the answer,” Rombouts says. “They’re not used to women running a greenhouse, so it’s…it’s interesting.”
Rombouts had been operating her own greenhouse in southwestern Ontario since 2005, where she originally grew seasonal flowers like petunias and poinsettias. When she decided to dedicate her entire business to growing cannabis flowers in 2014, she knew it would be important to build her brand as female-focused.
“We decided early on that because [the industry] is so male-dominated, we want to be the company that ensures that we address what women want from their cannabis,” Rombouts says. “So we have always been orienting the company that way.”
There are several ways that the company ensures its products reflect what female consumers are looking for. One of the most integral parts of this process is by creating opportunities for women within the company, which it achieves with a staff that is 70 per cent women.
“Putting together the right team is absolutely important because it’s so tied into success,” Rombouts says. “When you have a great team that can pull together and that believes in the company.”
The team of women at Eve & Co are the driving force of the greenhouse’s success, from the growers in the greenhouse to the administrative workers in the office. Rombouts says she believes that many women want to pursue a career at the company because of its supportive environment and internal growth opportunities.
“We actually promote from within, so they have very fair opportunities at the company.”
Melinda Rombouts: CEO, President and Director of Eve & Co.
Eve & Co also brings this female focus into the products and experiences offered to its main consumer demographic—women who are age 35 and over.
“We’re trying to promote having an open mind. If you want to relax on the weekends, a cannabis product is often, you know, a better choice than an alcoholic beverage, right?” she says. “So we produce on such strict regulations and guidelines that it’s a very safe product.”
In addition to selling flowers, Eve & Co is exploring new ways to market their products to women. Though Canada legalized marijuana in 2018, products with cannabis extracts were not available until 2019 and were introduced as Cannabis 2.0, an umbrella term for derivatives. Extracts have higher THC concentrations, offering a more intense experience and an alternative to smoking. They can have up to 90 per cent THC, while dried flower typically contains one per cent to 30 per cent THC.
One of the ways Eve & Co is taking advantage of Cannabis 2.0 is through a partnership with Colio Winery—the Ontario winery that produces the popular Girls' Night Out wines and sangrias—to create a new product.
“We will be partnering with them for an infused beverage, so we are very excited to move that along and hopefully that’ll be in the stores sometime soon,” Rombouts says.
Eve & Co isn’t the only cannabis company priding itself on valuing the role of women in the industry. Located just outside of Ottawa, Fleurish is another licensed Ontario producer that advertises a female-focus. Fleurish’s Director of Marketing Operations Jessica Canas says the company currently operates on a business-to-business basis but is "on the cusp” of selling its own product.
Canas approaches being female-focused in a similar way that Rombouts does with Eve & Co—by reaching out to women and including them in the workforce, as well as reflecting their needs in the company's products.
“We’re very proud to be working with women we employ,” Canas says. “We really like to empower women to forge forward and flourish, essentially.”
Fleurish also conducted market study research with focus groups in 2018, which Canas says helped the company get the answers to their most important question: What do women want?
The question works to find out different consumer preferences, from the packaging and product to how they’d like to consume their cannabis. She says the company received valuable information from the study, which is helping them better develop better, tailored products for women.
Their main demographics, as Canas puts it, are “marijuana moms” and “modern millennials.” Fleurish currently carries four strains to cater to these two demographics, each offering its own experience paired with fitting names like social, rally and unwind.
Like Eve & Co, the company is also looking to tap into the Cannabis 2.0 market in a way that speaks to their target market.
“We already have all of our extraction equipment in house,” she says, “so it’s just a matter of moving on to the extraction component and creating edibles and things like that, [for example] topical suppositories for women for their pain issues.”
Today, there is still significant gender disparity within the agricultural cannabis industry in Ontario and across North America. However, many women-led businesses and initiatives are changing the game and building a more gender-inclusive future for women in weed.
Canas says she hopes their female-focus approach will make a difference and that it will “just overall, empower women to give themselves something that they need.”
With more licensed producers producing cannabis by—and for—women, maybe women in the industry will soon be looked up to instead of overlooked.