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Women’s History Month – Everest’s Standard of Creating a Diverse Workforce

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Everest Cannabis Co. CEO - Trishelle Kirk's thoughts on her experience as a Women CEO, and the importance of diversity in the workplace.

Is it important to you to have a balanced ratio of women to male leaders? If so, why? 

Diversity in any team environment or company is incredibly important. Anytime you have the majority of one “type” of person, it leads to groupthink. Groupthink stunts creative problem solving, growth and culture. Groupthink is a problem when you lack gender diversity but it is also relevant if your entire leadership team lacks diversity in age, education, background, sexual orientation etc.

Women in leadership is, in some ways, the lowest hanging fruit. It is important but not the only diversity metric we should measure or focus on. I’m incredibly proud of our high percentage of our female leaders but I’m also very proud of how ethnically diverse we are. I’m proud of how many LGBTQ+ team members and managers we have and I’m proud of how diverse the ages of our management team is. All of this makes for a company that resembles our community. When our decision makers represent many sectors of our community, we are better able to serve and improve our customers and team members. Management diversity also improves morale, problem solving and the ability to think outside of the box.

What impact do you hope Everest’s balanced ratio of male to female managers has on Everest as a whole?

My goal is to shrink the confidence gap for people that haven’t historically had opportunities to achieve leadership positions in business. At Everest, we have made a concerted effort to look for the people in our organization that are qualified for jobs but not applying for them. The leadership team makes it a point to suggest those individuals apply for an open role that may provide an opportunity to grow their career. By starting there, we are strategically shrinking the confidence gap. A lack of confidence affects everyone but most commonly we see it holding back women, people of color and the LGBTQ+ community from taking a risk. Our society is improving but most positions of power in our country are still occupied by white, straight men. While a confidence gap and imposter syndrome affects every group of people it becomes more extreme when the ownership or leadership team of your organization doesn’t contain individuals that look like you or share your background.

It is much easier to feel confident in your ability to take a career step when you’ve watched someone else you relate to take that step. This is something I have personally struggled with in every step of my career and I still feel imposter syndrome on a regular basis. My personal struggle with confidence has helped me stay committed to the energy it takes to work on identifying and closing the confidence gap. It has been incredibly rewarding to see that as we have continually grown the diversity of our management team, we’ve seen a shift in who is applying for and receiving promotions. We’ve seen our colleagues say “the worst they can say is no” when applying for a big promotion. That is incredible and inspiring, whether you get the role or not. Having the confidence to try can change your life. The confidence to try is something our team members can use at Everest or anywhere else they work, volunteer or participate. The confidence to try makes our community better as more diverse leaders are able to advocate for interests that may not be visible to what most of the management in corporate America still looks like.

Was there a point in your career that you felt companies you worked for lacked women in management/leadership roles? How did that affect you?

A lack of women in upper management roles where I worked was always something I struggled with before joining Everest. For years, I aspired to being a “number two” in an organization and never even considered working toward a CEO role. “Number two” felt big and audacious to me, a goal that was so big I didn’t want to say it out loud. I knew very few female CEOs and never worked for one. Being a woman in my 30s with two kids made the C-Suite, especially a CEO title, feel completely out of reach. Finding a mentor who was a former female CEO while being a similar age to me and balancing motherhood, divorce and co-parenting was a big game changer for me. She helped me find the courage to see myself as the leader of an organization and refused to accept that I didn’t deserve it. I’ve since had many incredible C-Suite friends and mentors that have become an incredible support system for me. I can’t imagine going through a week without that group of people. It is inspiring, validating and so helpful to know how many people are promoting leadership diversity in our business community.

Has there been a time where you have felt people have underestimated you based on your gender? 

Yes. This is still very real in the business world and our community. I’ve rarely met a male CEO that gets asked who in the organization he is married to or related to, as a way of understanding how he ended up in his role. I don’t know very many male CEOs that get asked who is watching their children while they work, or when they plan on getting remarried, or how they “balance it all.” This is a disservice to our society as a whole, as it implies both that women carry the majority of the burden of home life and dismisses the ongoing contributions that many men make in home life. I don’t know any parents that aren’t struggling with balance.

While I am not unfamiliar with needing to prove I earned my role even though I happen to have two X chromosomes, the biggest champions in my career have been men. That is important because while I earned my title, having champions has been critical in helping me jump over the hurdles, challenges and fear. I would not be where I am today without the people, many of them male, that have told me to ignore the noise and make it happen. We are doing better as a society but there is more to do to achieve equity in the business community.

Do you think the cannabis industry as a whole provides enough leadership opportunities for women? If not, what are some changes you would like to see in the cannabis industry to make the cannabis industry more equitable for women? 

I’m a broken record on this topic but happy to say my line again. Cannabis is a new industry. New industries do not have an established hierarchy that looks a certain way or has a certain background. Cannabis as an industry has an immeasurable opportunity for diversity in leadership, and we’re seeing that in many of the larger companies and markets. We are still on the ground floor and companies have an easy opportunity to leave the door open for diversity, rather than a glass ceiling needing to be broken. If we are conscious as an industry, we will be diverse and stronger because of it.

With that said, entrepreneurship opportunities are still a real challenge. There are and will remain financing challenges, since most traditional banks won’t lend to the industry. Due to banking restrictions, there is a higher emphasis on the need for private capital to start or grow a cannabis business. The individuals that have access to private capital are typically wealthy, white and male. More access to financing will allow for diversity in entrepreneurship which will be critical for growing a truly diverse industry. There is more work to be done on this front.

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