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On National Women’s Equality Day, Spotlighting Women in Cannabis

National Women’s Equality Day was first designated by the U.S. Congress in 1973, and is celebrated every year on Aug. 26. National Women’s Equality Day commemorates the certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote, on Aug. 26, 1920, and a nationwide demonstration for women’s rights on the same day in 1970. It celebrates the passage of the 19th Amendment, and calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality.

Across the U.S., women are underrepresented in the workplace, especially in upper-level business positions – and the cannabis industry is no different. A 2019 report from Vangst, a cannabis industry job networking and hiring platform, found that 38.5% of total employees surveyed for the report were female-identifying. The report also found that 54.9% of surveyed companies had one or no female-identifying people on their director or executive teams.

At Vireo Health, we are proud of our diverse team. Of our more than 500 employees, 43.1% identify as female, and we have more female-identifying people at the Officer, Vice President and Director level than the cannabis industry averages in the Vangst report. We are also proud to have two female-identifying members on our Board of Directors.

To recognize National Women’s Equality Day, we’re highlighting two women making a difference in the cannabis industry: longtime Vireo Health partner and supporter Ashley Manning, Chief Operating Officer of the National Association of Cannabis Businesses (NACB), and Chef Michelle Mango, Vireo Health’s very own Director of Edibles and Production.

Ashley Manning, Chief Operating Officer, NACB

Questions:

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live now?  Do you have family you want to mention?

I am originally from Pittsburgh, PA, and currently live in Southern California. I enlisted in the Marine Corp while in high school; after a short time in the Corp, I moved to California in 2007 to go to Police Academy. Unfortunately, I broke my hip and femur, ending that pursuit fast. Realizing I probably needed a less physical career, I became a certified nursing assistant/technician – I worked in medical departments like the ER, Infectious Disease, Orthopedics, and Neuroscience.

Tell us about NACB and the organization’s mission.

We are a self-regulatory cannabis member organization – when we see a need in the industry that regulations are not addressing, or not addressing well, or elements that we know we need to address, we adopt national industry standards and best practices alongside our members and industry experts, and then provide public officials with these standards to help implement into their state policy.  I always like to throw in what makes us the “industry unicorns” – we are the only cannabis trade association where members are vetted for being responsible, trustworthy, and compliant before being approved for membership into the NACB.

Tell us about your role at NACB.

I have been working with the NACB for almost 3 years and am the Chief Operating Officer. I am honored to work alongside our CEO Gina Kranwinkel; we refer to ourselves as the “Mario & Luigi duo.” We have a great working relationship; she’s been an amazing mentor, and as a woman in the cannabis industry, I really appreciate that and the continued support in the development of my career path.

In my role, I wear many hats; when I’m not working on day-to-day operations and events, I am diving deeper into our members’ needs, and looking for ways we can support their efforts or connect them with others in our trusted network. One of the most important elements of my position is to constantly remain alert and forward-thinking about opportunities and risks in the cannabis industry, which is crucial to our organization.

What made you originally interested in the cannabis industry?

I’ve had a lifetime of polypharmacy (and hiding it well) to find relief from chronic PTSD, major depression, CPRS, and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that led me to the cannabis plant. I found internal and external healing, removing my dependency from pharmaceuticals and most of the hardware from multiple surgeries. Literally healing from the inside out.

What are some of the challenges unique to the industry?

First, we are the only industry where people are still locked up in prison for something that is legal in their state. How is that remotely fair?

Second, lack of standardization. We are “figuring it out” as we go, so regulations are constantly changing — a good solution to that is self-regulation.

Are there any unique challenges being a woman in the cannabis industry?

HA! I am not one to say being a woman is a challenge in the cannabis industry. But honestly, we face a lot of challenges regardless of which industry we work in. As women there are still a lot of extras we have to do to achieve a more equal footing and to be heard. We often have to be a little more assertive, give way more of our time and talents, speak a little louder to be heard, and not be afraid to take that seat at the end of the table – we honestly just want to be at the table.

What are your favorite activities or hobbies outside work? 

Traveling in my van to unknown areas, fermenting gut-healthy foods, hiking, bird watching, kayaking, photography, and doing handstands when I need to get back to balance.

What events or programs does NACB have coming up?

The NACB is constantly hearing the concerns of the industry and working on national standards to address those issues, especially social equity. Right now, we are working on national standards devoted to sustainability, cash management, DEI in the workplace, and delivery and payment processing. We are also consulting with the Vermont Cannabis Control Board on recommendations for their adult-use policy and revising their medical-use program. We host three virtual events per month that address different parts of the market such as our Cannabis Clinicians Lounge that discusses the clinical applications of cannabis, Blazers & Blazers where we bring the “blazers” of the cannabis industry and the “blazers” of the banking industry together, and our Happy Hour where we address current industry related topics.

How can people connect with you and with NACB?

I am always happy to connect! I like to call myself a “cann-ector,” so I encourage anyone looking to connect with me to reach out on LinkedIn or email me at ashley.manning@nacb.com. The best way to stay up to date with what the NACB is doing is to follow us on all social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn!

Chef Michelle Mango, Director of Edibles and Production, Vireo Health

Questions:

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from? Where do you live now?  Do you have family you want to mention?

My name is Michelle Lynn Mango, and I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. For the last 27 years, I have lived in Scottsdale, Arizona. I come from a large, tight-knit family and love going back to New York to visit everyone as often as possible. Here in Arizona, I live with my 13-year-old daughter Avery, 11-year-old daughter Ellie and 8-year-old son Joseph.

Tell us about your role at Vireo Health.

My role at Vireo Health is to research, develop and produce the best-dosed, best tasting, all around best edibles on the market, including topical products as well in as many states as possible.

What made you want to be a chef?

I come from a large Italian family from my mother’s side. My mom was the best chef in the world. She cooked for us four kids and my dad and uncle, three meals a day every day. My Jewish father loved to eat and sit around the table, so food was always a focal point in my life. In Buffalo, my family owned a famous restaurant called The 31 Club. I always loved going there. I knew early on food was life.

What made you become interested in the cannabis industry?

I was a French-trained chef, but after culinary school and working in restaurants with long hours all day every day, I ended up having my first child and could not work in that industry anymore. I still wanted to provide for my family. I made a call to a friend and asked his opinion on my next step, and he said, “I just bought the largest plot of land in Arizona to grow medical marijuana and I want you to be my chef.” That day changed a lot. I was in and I was never leaving. I finally had direction with meaning. I had a willingness to learn, I showed up, I did the work and fell deeper in love with the plant every day.

What are some of the challenges unique to the cannabis industry?

Teaching people the importance of education and advocacy for this plant. I want to shatter stoner-culture stigmas and bring cannabis conversation to the mainstream. I am so proud to do what I do. Most people who don’t know about cannabis don’t even give it a chance. Another challenge at the beginning was creating authentic relationships. After being burned a few times, I have chosen to collaborate with the right people to build amazing relationships.

Are there any unique challenges being a woman in the industry?

For a woman, if you create an authentic, positive atmosphere everything will work out. As a single mom female entrepreneur, I had to work hard and hustle every day to make my business a reality. Now it is such a fast-paced environment you have to be at the top of your game. I want to increase the quality of life for cannabis patients through my products and that is the focus. There is no time; only the strong survive. Overcoming challenges is part of every industry. If you believe in yourself and find a support network incredible things happen.

So, what tasty things are you cooking up in the Vireo Kitchens?  

Right now, the focus is on the Gummy and Hard Candy Pastille.

What are your favorite activities or hobbies outside work?

My favorite hobbies are hiking, hot yoga and, of course, cooking!

Anyone you want to shout-out?

A huge shoutout to my father, Dr. Martin Mango, and now my sister, Dr. Laura Mango. Every time someone found out who my dad was, they said, “You’re Dr. Mango’s daughter, we love your dad!” They would say how much he has helped them. Every holiday we would get crates of fruit, baked goods, chocolates, flowers given to him by his grateful patients. Everyone would always ask me to ask him for medical advice and he always helped. He still practices and still wants to help people so a big shout out to him for pushing me to love my profession and to helping people as he dedicated his career to.

Thank you, Ashley and Michelle, for taking the time to share your stories with us!

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