Curating a Community Ellementa Co-Founder Aliza Sherman continues to disrupt male-dominated industries with a fresh female focus

Photo credit: Suzanne Sutcliffe Photography

Aliza Sherman isn’t a typical cannabis consumer or industry professional.

She’s 53, a mother of three, a pioneering website designer and author of a dozen books. But in a male-dominated industry, it’s the fact she is a she, and a woman of experience, that sets her apart just as much as her accomplishments.

“There are a lot of complex things that I need to be dealing with that the typical stoner culture does not cover,” she said.

It was this disconnect, a lack of resources for women about cannabis, which led her in 2016 to co-found Ellementa, a global network committed to sharing information about cannabis for women, by women. There are already local chapters in 42 cities, as well as a robust website, ellementa.com, dedicated to this mission.

And if Sherman’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s done it before, as a pioneering web designer back in the ’90s who helped connect a generation of women with a new thing called the internet.

 

The Cybergrrl

In the early 1990s, the internet was a male-dominated network of chat rooms and message boards. Typing “women” into search engines usually meant X-rated results.

“There was a lot of academic stuff, a lot of scientific stuff, a lot of hobbyists and gaming oriented things, geeky, nerdy stuff, but there wasn’t anything on female health, on childcare and family care. So it was really just irrelevant to women,” she recalled. It’s a small wonder then, that women accounted for just 10 percent of internet users.

Sherman, trained in HTML, had begun using the internet as a hobby, but she decided to launch cybergrrl.com, which led to webgrrls.com, a network of resources for women that grew to more than 100 local chapters and 30,000 members. Her websites, launched at the exact right time to be at the forefront of the internet boom, have been credited with helping innumerable women take part in that boom.

Newsweek magazine in 1995 named her one of the “Top People Who Matter Most on the Internet,” with Sherman representing one of only three women on the list. “I see the same exact same parallels now for cannabis. There’s very little relevant information specifically for women and women’s needs, particularly older women,” she said. “It’s intimidating. It’s scary, and in a lot of places it’s still illegal, so women don’t know where to turn for proper information, and women’s lives are so complex.”

“These are the kind of things that older women are facing and the first thing [doctors] want to do is slap some opioids on you . . . They want to mask the underlying issues and they don’t want to deal with the whole body.”

 

A Healing Medicine

Growing up in the ’80s on a steady diet of anti-cannabis propaganda, she only dabbled in cannabis as a youth and not at all as an adult.

Flash forward to her early ‘50s and she was suffering from chronic pain, insomnia and other negative health impacts of aging and menopause. She had tried all kinds of holistic medicines and herbs, and when she moved to Alaska, a state with medical cannabis, she had an “a-ha” moment.

“Here I am into all these alternative remedies and here is the most effective alternative remedy, and I avoided it out of fear,” she said. Cannabis, and particularly cannabidiol (CBD) products, provided relief that no pills could.

“These are the kind of things that older women are facing and the first thing [doctors] want to do is slap some opioids on you . . . They want to mask the underlying issues and they don’t want to deal with the whole body.”

Along with co-founders Melissa Pierce and Ashley Kingsley, Sherman launched Ellementa as a “global women’s cannabis wellness network.” There’s the website, weekly profiles about women in the industry called Her Canna Life and a robust consulting business, helping cannabis companies reach and design products for women. She hopes these efforts, like Webgrrls for the internet, can help more women succeed in the industry.

“The cannabis industry is still nascent enough in order for women to gain a foothold, to have a voice, but the reality is the window of opportunity for women to truly make a major impact in this industry is narrowing and closing,” she said. “The more that big money, old money, big pharma money, venture capital comes in . . . those who hold the major purse strings are all male.”

Photo credit: Suzanne Sutcliffe Photography

But there are other groups, such as Women Grow, with that emphasis, so most of what Ellementa does is focused on consumers and their health. At monthly meetings in 42 cities, women pay a nominal fee to take part in group discussions, product presentations and information sessions, organized by an Ellementa contractor working on commission.

There are usually 20 to 40 participants, all women, to keep it a safe space for an honest and frank discussion of women’s health issues. And while women of all ages are welcome, many tend to be older and maybe haven’t used cannabis in decades but are looking for answers.

“My needs are very different from a 20-year-old. Women make the major decisions about health care purchases in their households. Whether they’re taking care of their children, their partners, their aging parents or themselves, they are usually the ones with the fingers on the pulse of what can help their families, their loved ones, themselves, to feel better,” Sherman said.

“Our focus is on helping people feel better, on getting better information about cannabis and CBD out there and more relevant information for women on our particular needs.”

As for whether Ellementa can do for the cannabis industry what Webgrrls did for the internet, and whether women can be truly equal in this industry, she sees plenty of room for progress.

“When women are equal to men in the world, that will be the day that women will be equal to men in any industry. I think there’s a lot of opportunity still for women, but I think there are still a lot of barriers,” she said.

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