The growth of the cannabis industry over the last five years has been explosive and exciting. The industry itself is projected to be worth $50 billion by 2026, and early 2020 found a record-high 243,700 Americans employed in the legal cannabis industry, with 33,700 jobs added in 2019 alone.
But legal cannabis remains an overwhelmingly White industry, with its growth coming at the expense of millions of people of color who bear the impact of criminal records and incarceration for even low-level marijuana possession. A 2017 study found that less than a fifth of the people involved at an ownership or stake-holder level in cannabis were people of color. Black people made up only 4.3 percent.
As GrowFlow’s CEO, I’ve had time to reflect this year on what it means to be a White male leading a cannabis company at a time where unimaginable racial injustice is rampant throughout our industry in the U.S. As a CEO, I know that what we do as a company and who we choose to do business with is directly in my control. While we’re proud of who we’ve been as a company, it’s clear that there are many people and many communities that we touch or influence — if even in the smallest way.
As such, we’ve placed even more focus on living our core company values and making decisions that create an equal opportunity environment that’s as free of bias as possible.
GrowFlow’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Commitments:
Our intent is to build an amazing place to work that gives everyone the same chances to succeed. GrowFlow has begun a biannual Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) survey, giving our team the opportunity to speak openly and anonymously about our efforts to create a diverse and inclusive workplace, where we’re improving, and where we can focus our efforts next. Our team has been vocal about wanting to make D&I a priority, and our goal is to continue building a culture in which our team feels comfortable providing candid feedback to leadership about D&I, as well as any other topic that can lead to GrowFlow becoming a more diverse, inclusive, and equal opportunity workplace. We’ve committed to select a handful of the top items and issues each time we survey our team, and to take action and make investments into the various initiatives they identify as important.
Two years ago, we implemented a hiring process in which the first two stages are blind, meaning no names, ages, races, or photos are disclosed to the team. This process is designed specifically to create an equal opportunity hiring process free of bias and to ensure we’re looking at the things that matter, like skill set and experience. In the last calendar year, GrowFlow’s team has gone from being 15% people of color to 20% people of color. This increase in diversity is not quite as high as we had hoped, but we’re committed to progress. Currently, two-thirds of our hiring team are people of color, as we firmly believe building a diverse and inclusive team begins with diverse hiring managers.
We also understand our shortcomings as a company: our C-Suite team of executives are currently all men and there is little diversity on our Board of Directors. However, this is something we’re actively working to address through continuing to build diverse relationships with top talent and top subject matter experts - both inside our industry and outside it.
3. Equal Pay.
One item that was brought up during our recent D&I team survey was in regards to identifying and correcting any existing salary discrepancies there were between team members of different races or who identified as different genders. I’m happy to say that we found only two very small discrepancies in terms of salaries, both of which were corrected immediately. GrowFlow has now adopted official pay bands for each role internally, ensuring no discrepancies exist from a compensation standpoint when it comes to team members of different races or ethnicities, or different gender identities moving forward.
Another item that came to light from our recent D&I team survey was putting a larger emphasis on community involvement in the cannabis industry. Some of the ways we’re doing just that include:
GrowFlow has officially partnered with The Last Prisoner Project (LPP), which is an organization addressing the unfair incarceration of cannabis offenders who are currently serving prison time for actions no longer deemed to be illegal. The stats on the racial inequality as it relates to our criminal justice system are jaw-dropping, and they’re even worse for cannabis-related offenses. A report published by the ACLU found that, despite using cannabis at similar rates, Black people are 3.64 times more likely than White people to be arrested for marijuana possession. In 2018, 567 Black people per 100,000 were arrested for marijuana possession, compared to 156 White people per 100,000. We’ve opted to use our influence to align ourselves with LPP and various advocacy groups in the industry to help be part of a solution.
GrowFlow has begun exploring various volunteer opportunities for our team and has adopted a charitable matching program that allows our employees to give back to the organizations they believe in most. GrowFlow will match the dollar amount of any employee donation to a charity of their choice.
Change comes from the top sets an example for the rest of the team. The first commitment I’ve made as CEO is to keep my ears open. I have benefited from privilege in various ways and know that many others haven’t been so lucky, and it’s difficult without having conversations and listening to truly know what it’s like for others. I’ve also begun volunteering more frequently as a mentor for various entrepreneurship programs and various schools, including the entrepreneurship program at my alma mater, The University of Northern Iowa, LvlUp Ventures’ pre-accelerator program, Propellant Labs’ pre-accelerator, and several others, helping others succeed by granting advice, wisdom, introductions, and capital. One example of something I’ve spent considerable time on lately is helping a group of female filmmakers raise capital for their short film called The Shift, which is about social justice, LGBTQ+, and the various struggles these communities have been forced to face in the age of COVID-19.
It may seem cliché, but we’re truly trying to “be the change we want to see” in a real way. We accept that our commitment to DEI means a dedication to be constantly listening and learning — we’ll make mistakes, but are determined to learn from them and to improve.
We look forward to working closely with our team and our customers to ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion remain central to our mission and our work.