What Does It Mean to Do Business Like a Feminist?

business feminist. Nicole Skibola
Nicole Skibola. Photo courtesy of Nicole Skibola.

The recent increase in women-owned companies is proving that feminist values can have an impact on more than just the bottom line.

One of my favorite parts of being a cannabis entrepreneur is working with other women to shape a brand-new industry. There’s a push to find women investors, market to women consumers, support women-operated enterprises. It’s not just lip service, either. Women in the cannabis industry have banded together in a way, I venture to say, no other industry has before. When the Select Oil CEO came under fire for an out-of-court settlement for a rape allegation, women in the industry banded together to expose the issue, despite subpoenas and cease and desist orders. I’ve exchanged endless messages with “competitors” on social media, sharing manufacturing and legal tips, and we’ve cheered for each other through legal changes, growth and regulatory pull-your-hair-out-frustration. After years in the business world, it’s been an honor to experience first-hand how women do things differently.

 
After years in the business world, it’s been an honor to experience first-hand how women do things differently.
 

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link for a gathering of women cannabis entrepreneurs offering the opportunity to learn how to pitch investors, network over cocktails and take some time out for CBD massages and morning yoga. At the time, we were in the middle of discussions with a prominent venture group. My heart sank as I read the description of the event and my friend’s note: “Why are we pushing business as usual?” I understood the quandary perfectly. Do we risk our own failure if we try to do things differently as a company? Or can we imagine a different type of business where we don’t cater to the same rich dudes who’ve dictated our economic destinies throughout history?

Another industry colleague posted about the problem of female representation at the executive level recently, citing a Marijuana Business Daily women and minorities representation report from 2017. The report found that while the representation of women in leadership positions was higher than the national average in other industries, the percentage of women holding executive positions at cannabis businesses had fallen 9 percent from 2015–2017. The report cited:

An increasing number of senior-level male executives from more traditional companies have begun entering the marijuana industry, attracted by explosive sales growth and declining social stigma surrounding cannabis use. Consequently, the executive structure of businesses in the traditional economy—where males occupy more than 75% of senior roles—has begun to seep into the marijuana industry.

The notion of doing things differently mushed around in my brain for weeks as I oscillated between the euphoria of the cash and market opportunity I could glean from a glitzy investor and the likely reality of selling out on my values which include supporting my local community, small retailers and the family farmers who we cherish. I also discovered Sister (formerly the Feminist Business School) and fell down a rabbit hole of feminist business principles which included “institutionalize empathy: build frameworks that support feelings,” “tell the truth” and “a business can be a model for a new social and economic order.”

 
Does a morning yoga session or a bubble bath erase the fact that we are being encouraged to subscribe to the same way of doing business?
 

I’m not dismissing the importance of capitalist principles like finding investment, establishing a viable business model or tracking costs and profit. But do we have to act like we’re on an episode of “Shark Tank” to survive? Do we need to sit around a boardroom table, cater to the same men who continue to dominate every industry and adopt tech bro vernacular? Does a morning yoga session or a bubble bath erase the fact that we are being encouraged to subscribe to the same way of doing business? (Answer: no, it does not).

Here’s my version of a feminist way of doing business: I recently had dinner with a potential investor. I laid out my values. We want to hire from the local low-income community and we want to offer equity. We will always pay a fair amount to the small, family farm we work with, even if its above market value. We are not going to kill ourselves so you can double your money in 12 months. We will accept the cost of doing things that align with our values, at the expense of traditional notions of “returns.” And guess what? The investor (a man) loved that we had principles.

 
We are not going to change the number of women in leadership positions by repeating the patriarchal patterns of the business world.
 

I do not purport to hold my company as a radical example of socialist feminist business. There are others who are doing a far better job of that. However, we are not going to change the number of women in leadership positions by repeating the patriarchal patterns of the business world. And even if we did, the businesses led by women who had been groomed by men, played the roles of men and were accepted because of their likeness to men wouldn’t be changing the world we live in. I think feminists can thrive doing business differently. By shifting traditional notions of cost and profit, I can enrich a community, give people a chance to be an owner in a company, contribute to regenerating clean soil and water by working with mindful farmers. Will I personally have less money in my pocket at the end of the day? Maybe. But it’s time we begin thinking in systems and externalities, in the whole of our actions. Those are the returns I am after.