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Holly Hager is the co-founder and COO of House of Puff, a NYC-based boutique that “makes luxury smoking accessories for the modern woman.” In the newest entry of “NY’s women in cannabis,” Hager shares her favorite tools and resources within the industry, and talks about the ongoing work of de-stigmatization.
Women are vastly underrepresented in cannabis, and not just in New York. From 2019 to 2022, executive-level females have seen their industry wide status drop from 37% to 23%. Yet the MRTA makes things very clear: women-owned businesses are a key component of the state’s social and economic equity plan.
NY Cannabis Insider is seeking to elevate women in cannabis through a hyper-focus on female story sourcing and balanced representation in articles.
This series will last for as long as submissions come in.
Why did you launch your career in the cannabis industry? Were there any women who inspired you to do so? How did you do it?
I owe my move into the cannabis industry to my amazing business partner, Kristina Lopez Adduci. Like her, I came to cannabis late — I didn’t start consuming until I was in my 30s. But even when I got on the NY medical program to treat my autoimmune disease, I didn’t share my cannabis consumption with anyone other than my husband.
Meanwhile, Kristina and I worked together for two years without ever revealing that cannabis was part of our daily lives. Then, I saw her post a gorgeous House of Puff rolling tray on her personal Instagram, and I became a customer. By that time, I was looking for a way to bring inclusive art to a wider audience, and she was working to scale House of Puff. The niche she had created for destigmatizing cannabis with chic, art-inspired consumption devices inspired me to make the leap into the industry.
What do you think is the most significant barrier to women leadership? Are the barriers different in cannabis than any other industry?
Capital is the most significant barrier to women in cannabis leadership. I could share tons of anecdotes about the barriers to raising capital as a woman. (For instance, on our first call, one potential investor offered to help Kristina and I find husbands.) But, while anecdotes can be rationalized away, you can’t argue with data.
According to TechCrunch, in 2022 only 1.9% of VC funding went to all-women teams in any industry, and that’s not a flash in the pan. It aligns with a decade-long trend. As far as other barriers go, they’re not qualitatively different in cannabis. Over my career, I’ve worked in diverse sectors including law, education, HR, finance, fashion, and fine art. While things have certainly improved overall, women and minorities in every industry are still held to higher standards consistently in order to obtain the same opportunities that are open to white men.
Why do you think women are so underrepresented in leadership roles in cannabis?
There are several reasons for underrepresentation. First, cannabis is a capital-intensive business. Since women have such limited access to capital, that hamstrings female founders.
Plus, there’s the enormous cannabis stigma. As of 2022, the Women in Cannabis Study found that 66% of survey respondents were still being shamed for their cannabis use and their work in the industry. So, understandably, many women still hide their cannabis use. That resonates with me, personally. For the first two years Kristina and I worked together, we shared cocktails, but we never even talked about our cannabis consumption — let alone sparked up a joint together.
Plus, as mothers, women in many states still face dire consequences for cannabis use. Those factors magnify the overall barriers to leadership positions that women face in any career. That’s why we’re so committed at House of Puff to eliminating stigma via elevated consumption and education.
What are some ways in which companies can support gender diversity at senior levels?
The best ways to support diversity seem simple. In practice, they’re really complex. The obvious answers are to hire women, pay them what they’re worth, take their analyses seriously, and provide reasonable accommodations for work/life balance.
Given how ingrained gender stereotypes are, though, many men (and some women) aren’t even aware when they’re not being supportive. That takes me back to the numbers. Counting is one of the strongest strategies that feminists use in academia. Women make up 51% of the population. That holds across cultures since time immemorial (unless the sex ratio is skewed by abortion or infanticide). So, if your percentage of C-suite women is less than that, you’ve still got work to do.
First, consciously foster an egalitarian culture and institute DEI best practices. But don’t stop there. Also, consistently analyze your employee population and your compensation stats to learn where you’re not making the grade.
Shout out your other favorite women-owned or women-led businesses in the industry.
I’m a huge fan of the Cannabis Media Council (CMC) led by incredible women like Amy Deneson and Lulu Tsui. Like House of Puff, they’re doing ground-breaking work to destigmatize cannabis. Their “I’m High Right Now” campaign, in tandem with Hearst Media, is a great example of how to mainstream cannabis.
Not that there’s anything wrong with legacy culture — but it’s preaching to the choir. Instead, CMC campaigns feature people who aren’t typically associated with the plant — especially seniors — in a responsible cannabis context. Considering how much time the War on Drugs spent demonizing cannabis, there can’t be enough consumer re-education based on science, not culture wars.
Who/what are your favorite tools and resources in the industry?
The Cannabis Collective is an amazing resource for C-suite members of the New York cannabis community. Every event they hold is more than just great for camaraderie. Their programming also creates incredible networking opportunities with the people who are building New York’s new legal cannabis industry from the ground up. And their bi-weekly Coffee with the Collective calls are phenomenally educational. They offer the opportunity to learn from cannabis experts of all types.
Then, there’s On the Revel. They consistently produce unmatched industry events, many of which are open to the public. Their educational events are immensely informative — especially for people who want to transition into cannabis. And their Buyer’s Clubs, in which they bring together NY industry producers and retailers, are the best bang for buck of any trade show we’ve participated in.
What advice would you give your 25-year-old self? What advice would you give to the next generation of women leaders?
My advice would be to own your own greatness. I’ve always had a really strong work ethic. But when I was young and the compliments were being handed out, unlike my male counterparts, I would deflect. In fact, I still battle that inclination, and I see it a ton in my women colleagues.
Instead, take credit where credit is due to you. And, if you’re not valued in your current environment, find — or make — a position where you are.
If you’d like people to connect with you, please share your favorite methods of contact.
I’m old school. So, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hager, co-founder and COO of House of Puff, shares her favorite tools and resources within the cannabis industry and the work happening to de-stigmatize the plant. Read More