On International Women’s Day, Entoura general manager Clare Barker celebrates the many women in senior roles in the Australian medicinal cannabis industry, but warns there’s more to be done to recognise and reward talent.

Celebrating the Australian medicinal cannabis industry on International Women’s Day feels appropriate. Though I have been vocal that calling out ‘Women in Cannabis’ can feel glib and potentially condescending when we do not call out ‘Men in Cannabis’, today I am proud to be writing as a woman leading a medicinal cannabis company in Australia. 

Entoura general manager and global business development executive Clare Barker

One of the things that struck me when I first entered the industry in 2017 was the significant number of women in leadership positions in what was a fledgling sector. It was also evident that there were many women in advocacy roles, both in the spotlight lobbying government such as Lucy Haslam with United in Compassion, and within their own sector managing and influencing processes to improve patients’ lives, such as Carol Ireland with Epilepsy Action Australia. 

Beyond leadership positions there are women in all areas of the industry. From cultivation, R&D, business development, research, patient advocacy, quality and regulation, education, supply chain and logistics, manufacturing, marketing, and medical affairs through to healthcare professionals, prescribers and pharmacists. Women are shaping the industry, building their careers, building their companies and playing an integral role in improving the quality of life for patients.

I have had people tell me that it is the nurturing, caring nature of women that lends them towards this industry. I think this underplays the capacity of men to display these characteristics but, more importantly, it diminishes the intellect, political and business savvy of these women and their flexibility, determination, resilience, and sheer ability to get stuff done. 

There is something unique about being one of the people on the ground as an industry is commencing. I quickly learned that for the sector to flourish, the players needed to be working towards a common goal. What better goal than improving people’s lives by giving them access to what is for many a life-altering medicine?

The industry has evolved over the past five years and is continually growing. Unfortunately, as this growth is occurring the industry is falling way behind with respect to women in board positions. 

The Australian Institute of Company Directors published a release in December 2021 noting that all ASX200 companies had at least one woman on the board, with women making up 36.3% of board positions. 

I reviewed 16 ASX-listed medicinal cannabis companies and found six of the 16 did not have a single woman on their board and only 14.4% of board positions were held by women (12 out of 83). I recognise this is not a definitive list, but it is indicative of the true situation. 

And I must give a shout out to Ecofibre who, according to asx.com.au, have three women on a board of seven. Well done on being above the ASX200 average. 

To cross check this trend I then looked at the heads of medicinal cannabis suppliers in Australia and found seven of 32 have a woman leading the company. Interestingly, four of us were in those positions in 2018 — Fleta Solomon (Little Green Pharma), Jo Patterson (Bod),  Elisabetta Faenza (LeafCann) and myself.

Meanwhile, only three suppliers entering the Australian market over the past few years are led by a woman — Phoebe Macleod (Heyday Medical), Katy Williams Day (Tikun Australia), and Amelia Gartner (Greenfield MC). 

Again, not definitive data (and I would be more than happy to be corrected), but certainly a point to be considered. 

While these figures are a little bleak, there is still a great deal to be positive about. 

We are seeing women leading green dispensaries (Lisa Nguyen, Angelica Rostov and Sharon Miller) and consultancy companies (Patty Holmes and Fiona Wilson, Jodie Fergusson-Batte and Amelia Dickinson), founding change initiatives (Bee Mohamed, Drive Change) and taking key roles in industry associations (Rosemary Richards and Gail Wiseman at MCIA and AMCA respectively). 

There are many more women doing amazing things in the Australian industry and I extend my apologies to those I have not mentioned. 

So, while there is still room for much better representation at a senior level, today I celebrate the achievements of all the women in the industry, and I am proud to be part of the effort to help improve patient access to high-quality products.