Under your cannabis dispensary’s leadership, your company has recruited a diverse cannabis workforce that includes a range of ages, ethnicities, religions, and worldviews. Identifying and hiring dispensary workers with such diverse backgrounds and characteristics is an achievement that you reflect on with pride.

So now you can check off the diversity and inclusion box on your to-do list for building a great workplace … right? Not so fast. Diversity is only half of the picture. Creating a dispensary culture where people are respected and appreciated requires another level of effort that may not be getting the investment it needs.

The challenge is in having a culture where all employees feel included. It’s a major investment to bring talent into your cannabis organization, so why bring them in if they’re not happy when they get here? You’ve got to get the inclusion part right.

Think of diversity as being like selecting people for a chorus who have different musical backgrounds, vocal ranges, and abilities. The inclusion piece means making sure that those different voices are heard and valued and that they contribute to the performance.

When dispensary employees who are different from their colleagues can flourish, the cannabis company benefits from their ideas, skills, and engagement so the retention rate of those workers also rises. To that end, here are six (6) practical strategies for creating an inclusive environment:

1. Educate Your Leaders

Your dispensary’s leadership will be instrumental to your efforts since, at the end of the day, it’s the dispensary managers who’re on the front line with cannabis industry employees and it’s the experience of that manager that is going to make or break your initiatives.

The dispensary training helps make people aware of this form of bias and drives home the importance of modeling inclusive behavior – such as engaging in active listening and encouraging different points of view – in meetings, performance reviews, and other interactions.

A cannabis dispensary needs to periodically evaluate its professional development offerings to ensure that managers have opportunities to learn how to better manage diverse employees. Dispensary employees talk about how to deal with real-life scenarios that managers face, such as supervising an employee who needs accommodation for a disability or a worker who is a single parent with challenging childcare issues.

2. Form a Dispensary Inclusion Council

Consider forming a council comprising a dedicated group of eight to 12 influential dispensary employees and carefully select them for their passion and commitment to inclusion.

You need people who are going to make the time to “roll up their sleeves” and do the work. They need to be “a channel for communication” between the ranks and the C-suite, and that includes advocating for inclusiveness in discussions with top dispensary executives when necessary.

Ideally, councils should be involved in goal-setting around hiring, retaining, and advancing a diverse dispensary workforce and in addressing any employee engagement problems among underrepresented dispensary employee groups. Most councils meet quarterly to review organizational feedback, troubleshoot challenges, and, most importantly, carry messages about their work to their senior peers and the dispensary management team.

The councils should be as diverse as possible, with members representing not only different ethnicities and genders but also different dispensary business functions and geographic locations. If this is difficult due to the lack of diversity in the top levels of your organization, make sure council members learn about your company’s diversity strategy from Human Resources.

An inclusion council is sponsored by individual dispensary managers and typically serves as grassroots diversity cannabis business networking events, usually for mid and junior-level workers who share common backgrounds. They are good inclusion tools and provide a safe place for people to express themselves. Sometimes discussions that arise in these groups can even provide an early warning of issues bubbling up within the cannabis dispensary.

The onus for inclusiveness, however, should not fall on the underrepresented members of your dispensary workforce, whether they be women, people of color, or members of other minority groups. Those individuals often don’t have the power or influence to bring about change and that’s where inclusion councils can take up the cause.

Inclusivity Checklist for HR

  • Make sure company leaders understand that inclusion is about ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard, opinions are considered and value to the team is evident.
  • Train managers – and hold them accountable – to show that inclusivity is a core competency.
  • Form an inclusion council with genuine influence and power.
  • Value differences and create an environment where people can feel comfortable bringing their “full selves” to work.
  • Identify underrepresented groups’ needs and give them the necessary support and resources.
  • Provide workers with a safe space to voice their concerns.
  • Benchmark key aspects of your organization’s culture – and understand the employee experience – before making changes to promote inclusivity.
  • Remember those daily interactions are the most telling sign of whether your company has an inclusive culture.

3. Celebrate Dispensary Employee Differences

One of the most important ways to show employees that you respect their backgrounds and traditions is to invite them to share those in the workplace. Cannabis businesses can promote inclusiveness in other ways, too, with:

  • A meditation or prayer room. Creating a permanent space, however, is an inclusion piece where people felt they could bring their ‘full selves to work.
  • An enhanced HR presence for more-isolated employees so you can create a small HR office to serve production team employees who work on a different floor than the HR team and who often work different hours from the rest of the organization. It’s also a place where those workers can have private conversations with their dispensary managers.

It’s well-known that diversity in teams leads to better decision-making, greater innovation, and ultimately higher returns. But inclusion is what connects people to the business, and we believe it’s one of the core reasons they stay.

4. Listen to Dispensary Employees

Conduct a comprehensive assessment of your organization’s demographics and people processes to develop specific strategies to promote inclusiveness. You can create a very close-knit group of people who treat one another like family and that’s incredibly powerful, especially when you look at everything happening in the world.

Think about the culture you want and how you can create one that is authentic to your cannabis brand while meeting the needs of your employees. We serve a diverse dispensary workforce, but, more importantly, we wanted to make it an inclusive workforce so that means making strategic decisions that align us with that thinking.

5. Hold More-Effective Dispensary Meetings

A dispensary employee’s daily experiences with co-workers are more telling about a workplace’s inclusiveness than anything else. Determine the moments of truth in the cannabis workplace where any individual can impact diversity and inclusion. What makes the most impact? It is NOT what the CEO says, but the experiences that you have with the five or six people that you work with every day.

What are the key moments almost every dispensary employee touches where they can have an impact? Meetings are a prime example, the following ideas for fostering an environment where contributions from everyone are encouraged:

  • Distribute meeting materials in advance and share questions to be discussed. This is helpful for workers for whom English is a second language and for introverted employees who function better when they are given time to process information before reacting to it.
  • Reach out to teleworkers. Make sure you have the right technology for virtual meeting participants to have a meaningful experience. Welcome them to the meeting, ask them questions, and pause to be sure they are allowed to take part in the conversation.
  • Rotate meeting times if you have remote workers in different time zones.
  • Give credit where it’s due. When someone is recognized for an idea that someone else put forward earlier in the meeting, point out who shared the idea originally.
  • Be conscious of your communication style. Don’t assume you know more than others by explaining concepts they may already understand – a behavior sometimes referred to as “mansplaining” when done by men to women.
  • Promote active debate and be courteous. If one colleague interrupts another, call attention to it to underscore the importance of letting everyone is heard.

Creating an inclusive mindset is not a linear process so it will take time and a consistent effort and there will be “stops and starts” along the way. Cultivating inclusion is an evolving process with constantly moving targets. You’re never done, and a company’s goals and tactics must evolve along with the needs of current and potential talent.

6. Communicate Goals and Measure Progress

Establish and communicate specific, measurable, and time-bound goals as you would with any other strategic aim. Every company should first benchmark its culture before they begin investing in it, so the following actions are recommended:

  • Conduct a full audit of your people processes – from recruiting and hiring to developing and retaining employees. Couple the data with engagement and other workforce survey data to gain a full measure of your climate.
  • Identify any shortcomings and measurable discrepancies around inclusiveness in your organization.
  • Instill rigor into inclusion strategies with data-driven plans and measure the results.
  • Establish a clear business case for how the company will benefit by having a more inclusive culture by asking:
    • What are our inclusion goals?
    • What are the reasons for those goals?
    • How do we quantify inclusion?
    • How will inclusion impact our mission, brand, or bottom line?

When you can answer these questions, you’re speaking the language of your dispensary employees, legitimizing the business of inclusion and making inclusion a ‘verb’ versus an ideal.

Let us know what you think.



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