Editor’s note: In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, Eaze is focusing on women working in the cannabis industry. This is the second in a series.
A chocolatier and a would-be lawyer.
Shiao Williams-Sheng came into cannabis “kind of by accident,” she says. She was leading product and recipe development for a chocolatier when a growing company called PLUS requested her expertise as a consultant.
“I met with them and ended up helping create their product line and building up their factory,” says Williams-Sheng, who joined the company as director of innovation last summer. “So I wasn’t particularly expecting it, but I’ve had a lot of fun in the industry.”
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Lucie Herold’s road to cannabis was equally surprising. She was set to study law in 2015 when she heard a friend from high school was starting a cannabis company. She met up with that friend, PLUS founder Jake Heimark, who said he needed someone to direct sales for his new venture.
“I thought, ‘OK, this is a really cool opportunity that I’m probably never going to get again: to be a co-founder of a cannabis brand,” Herold recalls. “I knew the family really well, so I kind of just banked on them. And I decided this is probably more fun than going to law school.”
From gum to gummies.
PLUS initially developed a cannabis chewing gum that was slow to catch on, but the brand found immediate traction when it made the switch to gummies.
“The market just wasn’t there for gum yet – it was a new company and a new category, so it was a hard sell,” Herold says. “People loved our gummies right away, so we knew we were on to something and it’s been really fun since.”
With its low-calorie, fast-acting, dosable gummies in inventive flavors and formulations, PLUS is now the No. 1 edibles brand in California.
A progressive industry.
Though neither Herold nor Williams-Sheng expected a career in cannabis, both say it’s exciting to work in such a progressive industry. Things move quickly, for both professionals and consumers.
For WIlliams-Sheng, it’s thrilling to see culture changing around cannabis. Legalization is dismantling stereotypes and inspiring a new wave of potential customers.
“There is no one identity of cannabis user,” she says. “Before it was so cliche and specific, but it doesn’t seem like there’s a blueprint of that ideal user anymore. There’s room for people to re-evaluate what the norm is.”
That same open-minded attitude can lead to more professional opportunities, too, particularly for those often edged out of traditional corporate power structures.
“There’s a lot of respect for women and minorities and equality” in cannabis, Herold says. “A lot of that does really have to do with the rich history of the cannabis plant and all the equity struggles entwined with everything that’s happened in this space.”
Room for women at the top.
Herold’s career has blossomed at PLUS. She now leads a (gender-balanced) sales team of eight. Williams-Sheng is also soaring. Her skills transferred seamlessly from chocolate to cannabis, and she’s looked to as an authority on manufacturing standards at the company.
“We operate as if we were federally regulated,” she says proudly.
Both Herold and Williams-Sheng say they’d like to see more women at executive and managerial levels in their industry, and they have reasons to be hopeful.
“I do feel there’s more awareness about gender equality in the cannabis industry than any other industry,” Williams-Sheng says.
“Particularly here in California, it’s a very open, nurturing type of industry,” Herold adds. “And to be honest, there’s a lot of truth in the fact that cannabis is this beautiful, female plant.”