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Fostering Inclusivity in a Post COVID-19 Cannabis Workplace

In a post COVID-19 world, businesses are just beginning to get back on their feet. With social distancing and telework changing the workplace as we know it, there’s no better time to talk about inclusivity and diversity.

In the cannabis industry, inclusivity and diversity have become an increasingly prevalent issue. It’s no secret that President Ronald Reagan’s war against marijuana has left a stigma that still lingers to this day. Thousands of minorities have faced mass incarceration due to cannabis-related charges.

As a result, the industry now faces a diversity issue that has been decades in the making.  Confronting and overcoming the stigmas of the past may be the only way to make cannabis workplaces more inclusive and diverse.

Yet, these issues go far beyond skin deep. Let’s take a look at how cannabis business owners can foster inclusivity and diversity in the workplace as we all strive to make the cannabis industry stronger and more inclusive together.

Understanding the differences between inclusivity and diversity  

Loneliness and isolation

Inclusivity and diversity are not the same things. While used together quite often, they define two entirely separate, yet equally as important functions within a healthy work environment.

Inclusivity is the deliberate act of collaborating and engaging with individuals without attempting to change who they are as you strive to achieve a common goal or objective. On the other hand, diversity is the difference we all inherently possess due to unique attributes, such as skin color, culture, personalities, backgrounds, and characteristics.

The danger of implementing diversity without inclusion can be likened to opening up Pandora’s box – you’re only going to find trouble and chaos inside (i.e., lawsuits, loss of reputation, conflict, etc.). The trick is to implement both in equal measure to ensure you provide a work environment that’s fair and equitable to everyone.

The war on drugs and its impact on inclusivity and diversity in the cannabis industry

Signed into law by Richard Nixon on October 29, 1970, The Controlled Substances ACT (CSA) Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act made it illegal to manufacture, import, use, distribute or possess Schedule I and Schedule II drugs.

Deemed a Schedule I drug, cannabis was heavily targeted and demonized by the government. People of color bore the brunt of the war on drugs, which saw the disproportionate incarceration of thousands of black and Hispanic people.

Today the stigma of cannabis and its association with the mass incarceration of thousands of people of color still lingers to this day. As a result, many individuals from affected communities often find it difficult (or outright refuse) to take part in the cannabis industry.

According to a study conducted by Marijuana Business Daily, 80% of all cannabis businesses are currently owned by Caucasians, 6% by Hispanics, and 5% by African Americans.

While the landscape is slowly but surely diversifying as the country becomes more cannabis-friendly, the industry still has a long way to go to make the workplace feel more inclusive and diverse.

Thankfully, the government has recently made strides to improve inclusivity in the workplace. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that employers who terminate employees for the pure fact of being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This ruling is a significant victory for LGBTQ workers. It also serves as an excellent example for a step in the right direction for making work environments more inclusive and diverse by removing bias.

Strategies to foster inclusivity and diversity in cannabis businesses

The fight to make the cannabis industry more inclusive isn’t something that can be done overnight. Factor in the new normal of social distancing, and you’ll find that entire business models have been forced to adapt in unique and challenging ways.

Let’s take a look at strategies that cannabis businesses can adopt to make their work environments more inclusive and diverse in a post COVID-19 world.

Build trust amongst your employees 

If you want your employees to feel a sense of belonging in your organization, start by first building trust and acceptance. No matter their race, sexual orientation, or age, all employees should feel they have equal opportunities within the workplace.

Cannabis business owners can do this by acknowledging all voices within their organization. Remember the Pandora’s box paradox – you can’t implement diversity without inclusion without causing chaos. Listen to what your people have to say, and you’ll greatly increase your chances of avoiding problems that may arise. As a tradeoff, you’ll help to create a sense of value and belonging.

Be proactive

Inclusivity initiatives often involve stepping out of your comfort zone to interact with those who are different than yourself in terms of upbringing, culture, political viewpoints, etc.

One effective way cannabis business owners can be more proactive in pursuing inclusivity initiatives is by expanding recruiting, selection, and hiring. You’ll likely find that the more you interact with people who bring a unique experience and perspective to the table, the easier it becomes to overcome your discomfort.

Involve employees in the decision-making process

Making crucial decisions regarding inclusion policies can be a daunting task when working with a truly diverse workforce. However, cannabis business owners can ensure all parties are treated fairly by involving a broader range of employees in the decision-making process.

You should never assume you have all of the answers. One man’s solution can be another man’s nightmare. Ultimately, involving a broad range of employees in the decision-making process of inclusivity initiatives can help you better meet the needs of your workforce.

Educate yourself

The only way you will understand the issues that affect your diverse workforce is to educate yourself as thoroughly as possible.

Set aside time and listen to each viewpoint. As you learn about your workforce’s unique needs, you can make more informed decisions when it comes to implementing company policies that are fair and equitable to all.

Provide support for employees who work from home

Depending on how you operate your business, you’ve likely been forced to require your staff to work from home to limit the spread of COVID-19. Understand that even in situations like these, inclusivity and diversity still play a prevalent role.

Cannabis business owners should reach out to their remote workers and learn more about their work-home situation to see what challenges they may face day-to-day. You may find that these challenges vary from person to person, as each individual’s circumstances are unique.

The key is to communicate with your employees and provide them with the support they need to work from home successfully. Showing that you care fosters not only goodwill but further inclusivity.

Moving forward

As we begin to slowly recover from the ravishing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we should pour our energy into fostering inclusivity and diversity in the workplace to ensure the cannabis industry remains fair and open to everyone, no matter their sexual orientation, age, sex or race.

The road to making cannabis work environments more inclusive and diverse is by no means easy. Still, it falls on the shoulders of cannabis business owners to use their position and authority to enact change within the cannabis industry.

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