September 2, 2015

Breaking Glass In The Marijuana Industry

September 2, 2015
broken glass ceiling women marijuana cannabis

broken glass ceiling women marijuana cannabisBy Sara Batterby

This is the first of what I hope will be many posts for The Weed Blog. I am going to be writing about the business end of cannabis. The business end of business really, because that is what I know the most about. But first…

My career has been underway for a long time. 21 years to be precise. It started off conventionally enough in England when I was hired out of college by a big, American technology-consulting firm. That was considered a major accomplishment for a young woman with a degree in philosophy and zero exposure to computers. It was a steep learning curve, but I didn’t mind that. It was crazy long hours and weeks on the road, but I didn’t mid that. It was days on end in neon-lit cubicles working for clients who did not super appreciate being told what to do by a woman half their age, but I didn’t mind that.

It was a profoundly hostile environment for women and sadly, these days shockingly, I didn’t mind that either. It was the 90’s in London. The professional culture had not even begun to develop the language and narrative that allowed me to articulate the experience I was having, even to myself. Persistent sexual harassment, unwanted attention from bosses and partners in the firm, strange dress codes that disallowed me from wearing of pants in the office. I mostly passed it off as just part of the job. The way of the world. Guys being guys. I was propositioned by the first man who interviewed me for that job, and 4 years later, in my exit interview with one of the managing partners of the firm, I was propositioned again. There were countless indecent proposals in between, and I ultimately left feeling like a failure because I could not contort myself into the role of pleasing femme that was, as it turned out, the between-the-lines job description and prerequisite for success.

I felt like I could never work in a professional firm again and that I was essentially unemployable because I couldn’t deal with the constant struggle to maintain my dignity and self-respect. I became so sick with stress and depression that I was misdiagnosed with breast cancer at 27 after developing benign tumors in my body. One day I just quit. I left a high status, highly paid career with one of the top technology firms in the world and went back to waiting tables as I had done after high school and in college. Six months later I started my first business because I believe that was my only option and I have been essentially self-employed ever since.

This story was polished into the appropriate resume piece over time, minus the restaurant stint, and I generally obscured the truth about those early years of work. It was easy to be nostalgic and farm out platitudes about how independent and entrepreneurial I was. How “interesting” my life had been and how adversity breeds strength, but the truth is I was traumatized by that experience and it hurt me a great deal. It kicked off a decades long pattern of undervaluing my skills in professional contexts and not seeking leadership, recognition and reward in situations where I earned and was entitled to them.

Blaming myself and then furiously working to build an alternative universe to inhabit meant that I never allowed myself to acknowledge what really happened. That came years later, when I found myself in management positions, responsible for creating the environment for other young women starting their careers, and mentoring them through their own challenges. That was when, through empathy with these young women, and a desire to somehow shield them from what I had gone through, I began to feel angry. Very, very angry, and shocked. Shocked that I had borne so much and thought so little of it. Shocked by the extreme lengths I went to to avoid traditional employment, and sad at the story I told myself. That it was somehow my shortcomings that had ejected me from that job and that life. Ultimately however, I was shocked at the extent to which, camouflaged by political correctness, all the same systems were at work in my career and the careers of the women that I met and worked with.

So I decided to give myself permission to be fucking angry about it…

And that takes a minute.

Actually it takes quite a while, but once it’s settled, and it is, I find myself able to get on with being strong and independent. I can embrace what was hard, and enjoy the strength it has built. I can channel my anger into a powerful pursuit of my own equality and selfhood, and stretch beyond that into a deeply felt desire to support the selfhood and equality of other women who have inspired me through their clear grasp on what confronts them and their refusal to be pleasing and supplicant as a response.

So I’m breaking glass. Shattering the smooth surfaces down which we slide into subtle submission. Cracking the invisible walls that we bruise ourselves against but that others claim not so see. Banging away at that ceiling. The thing between us and the skies into which our souls our skills should rise unhindered. It’s hazardous. I will probably get cut here and there. It is awkward and it makes me uncomfortable, but I am simply telling myself a story that is true and allowing that to filter into the truth that I make for myself moving forward, and the truth I can help create for others if I have the opportunity.

The business of cannabis is, for me, the business of breaking glass. Bypassing the systems and stereotypes that have held so many of us in check, “in our place” for so long. It is an opportunity to do things differently from the start, and while I am thrilled to share my business experience on this amazing platform, I had to start with why this business makes sense to me. Why I am here, and why I am passionate about it.


About Sara Batterby

Sara is a recent Venture Capitalist and early-stage technology veteran with 20 years of marketing, operations and business development experience in high growth, innovative environments. Prior to entering the cannabis industry, Sara co-founded an early stage venture fund in Silicon Valley with the goal of helping investors understand the powerful business case for investing in women as part of a well-diversified portfolio. Now as the CEO of Hifi Farms, a cannabis cultivation company, and Founding Chair of the Portland Chapter of Women Grow, Sara’s priorities are diversity, sustainability and organics.  She is excited to bring her business experiences to bear supporting those who wish to enter this industry and ensuring that cannabis becomes a market that enriches and empowers a diverse group of entrepreneurs in Oregon and throughout the US.


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