Profile: Women First with the Women’s Inclusion Network
It’s Women’s History Month, and that means celebrating the fierce femmes of the industry all month long. CULTURE spoke to Laura Toomey, chief of staff for The Arcview Group, and Sarah Falvo, director of community with The Arcview Group, about the Women’s Inclusion Network and why it’s important for women to have each others’ backs and help pull each other up.
How did you get started in the cannabis industry, and what drew you to it?
Toomey: I started in the cannabis industry about three years ago, but I had started researching the health benefits of cannabis about a year prior.
My mother had been diagnosed with two types of cancer—microinvasive and breast—and the doctors were making all of the “by the book treatment” recommendations to her. They caught the cancer in an early enough stage that it was treatable; however, the suggestions they were making would not give her a chance to fight it, should it return. I went as the “bad cop” to all of her appointments to help ask the questions that she was too nervous to ask herself.
I finally asked one doctor if his recommendations for my mother were what we would also recommend to his mother under the same circumstances. He hesitated, and then said that, strictly off the record, he would skip the procedures, have her take a high-CBD and low-THC combination, and monitor the cancer’s spread…it was her choice. We did exactly that after conducting massive amounts of independent research. I’m happy to report that four years later, she is cancer-free and thriving.
While this isn’t always the case for everyone, it made me realize that your health and wellness are too important to not research every alternative, especially cannabis. It has been restricted by the “reefer madness” stereotype for too long.
Falvo: I was working in non-profit fundraising and after 13 years and decided I needed a change, not just in the institution I was working for, but a career overhaul. I wanted to do something I was passionate about, and growing up in Southern California, I have always had a deep love for cannabis. I was offered an opportunity to get in at the ground floor of a cannabis start up as employee number one, jumped at the opportunity, and now, four years later am in an industry that is a lifelong commitment.
What do you think needs to be done better to make the industry more equitable?
Toomey: We started the Women’s Inclusion Network under Arcview’s umbrella to help address this problem. There are gender disparities in terms of equal access to capital, product shelf space, board seats, C-suite level positions and pay, to name a few. We partnered with NCIA to create an incredible, white paper study on these issues—it was authored by fantastic women in the industry that recounted personal stories and collected impressive data. If you are looking to learn more, the papers are available as a free resource and toolkit to download: arcviewgroup.com/ncia
The Women’s Inclusion Network provides networking and educational tools via biweekly mentorship workshops that address everything from how to raise capital, build financial budgets, and even lessons that you can learn from the wine industry. We also curate female-founded pitch competitions; special, product-shopping collaborations for women-owned brands; and monthly, virtual, networking happy hours.
We offer minority membership scholarships for those that would benefit from joining the network but need financial support. Also important to this conversation is the fact that men are welcome to join the Women’s Inclusion Network and help contribute to gender equality by providing funding, board seats, C-suite positions, etc. Women should not have to be the only ones fixing the problem of inequality, and we recognize that some good men would like to lend their support.
Falvo: I absolutely think companies need to be more equitable in their hiring practices. They need to consciously make the effort to create a diverse workforce at all levels, and also compensate and delegate fairly and equitably. Additionally, investors need to start deploying capital into more BIPOC and female-founded companies, small and large.
As a woman, what challenges do you face in the industry, and also, what unique advantages do you think your perspective gives you?
Toomey: I feel like I can relate to women in any industry—not inherently knowing how to ask for the right salary, a raise, feeling intimidated to speak my mind at times. It takes courage to speak up for yourself and time to do your own research, but once you do it, you’ll never go back to just accepting things as they are.
I feel like I have learned very valuable lessons over the years about not letting the fear of rejection hold me back, and I try to empower other women that work with me to learn how to speak their mind in a professional way as well. It’s normal to want to avoid confrontation, and it takes time to learn how to lean into that uncomfortableness of expressing your own opinion.
Falvo: I’m technically in the “middle-aged mom” demographic (which is crazy because I’m still 20 in my mind!), so I think the struggle is to be taken seriously at all levels in this industry. As a professional, as a consumer, as a subject matter expert, but once I start to talk, people can figure out I can walk the walk as well.
Tell me about the all-female pitch fest. What is it, how did it get started, and why is it important?
Falvo: The Pitch Fest is a partnership between The Arcview Group and PitchForce, where we will feature ten female founders who are in our Women’s Inclusion Network. This is a direct product of feedback from our members (both entrepreneurs and investors) of what they are seeking for exposure. There are so many opportunities to pitch for various groups out there, but none that really focus purely on the female-led companies in the space. It isn’t just important for us to have these companies get as much time in front of investors, it’s also about highlighting the amazing and diverse products and companies that these women are building.
Toomey: Sarah encompassed it beautifully and did an incredible job making the Pitch Fest come to life.
How can women get involved?
Falvo: We love to connect with all women at any point in their cannabis journey! That can be either on the entrepreneur side or the investor side, and there is a place for all within the Women’s Inclusion Network.
Toomey: We want to build an international community of one million women— and we want it to be entrenched in community, networking and education. Strong women lift each other up. Check out the Women’s Inclusion Network, and share it with women everywhere! We don’t want any woman to feel like they need to “go it alone.”
What else do you think women should be doing to support each other and show solidarity?
Falvo: Connect with other women in the space. That is the biggest suggestion I have because every single conversation I have had with another female has been eye-opening, deep and I am always impressed about their cannabis journey story and what they are building in the space. Be open to connections, conversations, and ask for help and resources when you need them.
Toomey: Mentor other women, and if you are an investor, be brave enough to believe in another woman’s vision by investing in them.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Falvo: As legalization continues to sweep across the US, I am excited to welcome more women to become consumers, investors and leaders in the space.
Toomey: This industry is new to everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. At times, it can feel like the Wild West, but just know that everyone you meet in this industry is in a continuous learning phase.