LAUREN TAMBURRO – VICE PRESIDENT OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT, VERTOSA
- What is your proudest accomplishment in the cannabis industry?
It’s hard to say. I have a few that are high on my list. First and foremost is cold calling the CEO of Vertosa and asking for a job. I had been working with them as a client and admired their science-driven and collaborative approach. Shortly thereafter, my company downsized which gave me the opportunity to assess where I wanted to work. I wanted to spend my time doing something I believed in.
I was pro-cannabis 20 years ago in New York, but at that time there wasn’t a path forward for participating legally and professionally in cannabis. The act of making the decision to advocate for cannabis and immerse myself in this budding industry fills me with pride. It was a turning point for me as I suspect it has been for others. It made me verbalize my passion for the plant and all the benefits I thought it could offer. I had to talk to my family, friends, and colleagues about making what some perceived as a risky career choice. I pivoted out of a well-established consumer packaged good space and into a challenging and rewarding industry where my career has, thankfully, flourished.
Aside from joining Vertosa, I’ve been a part of a few panel discussions and presented at the National Cannabis Industry Association Midwest Cannabis Business conference, where I discussed how to develop a cannabis-infused product and the pitfalls to avoid. I was proud to share my knowledge but more so to be introduced as a leader from Vertosa. So much so that I still have the badge on my nightstand half a year later, as it inspires me and brings me joy each time I see it.
- Do you feel that the cannabis industry has more opportunities for female-identifying people than other industries?
From my experience, the industry has been welcoming to anyone who wants to be in the industry, irrespective of gender. The cannabis industry is growing rapidly and this opens the door for many new employment opportunities. I’ve had the good fortune to work alongside some brilliant female scientists and business leaders, and the gratification of hiring a few of them.
I’ve met some amazing trailblazers. Our friend Tiffany Yarde, the CEO and co-founder at SHOKi, has created an Afro-Caribbean line of cannabis mixers. One of their brand responsibilities is inclusive commerce and unapologetic activism. Demonstrating there are fabulous female leaders to be found in cannabis.
- Do you feel you have to work twice as hard as male colleagues or do you think the industry has moved past that?
As I’ve only worked in the industry for the last two years, my experience is limited to Vertosa and I don’t feel that I have to work twice as hard as my male colleagues. I’m thankful that we have an environment that includes coaching in the form of immediate and actionable feedback.
Coaching is incredibly important for women to succeed in the workplace. According to the Harvard Business Review, without specific and candid feedback about where to improve, women are less able to build the skills they need to get to the next level, which creates a subtle promotion disadvantage. This often stems from gender stereotypes. Society often expects women to behave passively, especially in the workplace. One study found that 76 percent of the time a performance review called someone out for being “too aggressive,” it was in reference to a woman. Women are particularly likely to receive this feedback when they act in ways that are counter to people’s expectations, which only reinforces gender stereotypes.
The great thing about the cannabis industry is a lot of us were drawn here by the opportunity to create something; new brands, new scientific studies and a new corporate culture of inclusion and honest conversations.
- What was your biggest challenge in business and how did you overcome it?
Every day is a challenge, I can’t think of one day that stands out compared to the others. Pushing the science forward is critical to the success of the cannabis industry, particularly for consumer packaged goods. Other industries have had decades to centuries of trials, errors, and discoveries. The science of cannabis is relatively new and there’s so much we have yet to uncover. For me, the challenge is staying focused on the most valuable studies and building a network of researchers and clients to share our learnings. To do this, I worked with my team to build our top project list. We’ve tackled packaging scalping, oxidation of cannabinoids, and how to prevent it, and have begun partnering with top universities to study cannabis. “Do not try to do everything, do one thing well.” Thanks, Steve Jobs!
Another challenge with a burgeoning industry such as ours is the sharing of the knowledge that we gain. This is where network building is so critical. As they say, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” I think this is particularly important as this industry isn’t product A versus product B. There are enough external factors trying to keep cannabis out of a mainstream society that we as an industry succeed by uniting and sharing our discoveries. This is what has led us to be a service-first, science-backed, and collaborative company.
- What have you or your company done to help give more opportunities for women?
Although I’ve worked for other companies that tout the importance of community, Vertosa is the first employer that wholeheartedly leans into this as a core value. To us this means being agents of change and opening our doors and hearts to the community. This includes women and all LBGTQIA+ individuals. I and many of my colleagues actively participate in mentoring as both mentors and mentees, with a specific focus on mentoring other members of the cannabis community. Last year many colleagues–men, women and myself included–participated in two mentoring programs, Illinois Women in Cannabis and the pilot mentoring program for Our Academy, presented by Our Dream. These programs are designed to give guidance and support to women in cannabis.
- What are your personal goals for 2022?
Live by example. This year I’m focusing on my physical health and mental well-being. The last two years have been trying for, well, everyone. A few months ago I rededicated myself to running, yoga and meditation. These habits allow me to be a more grounded human in both my personal life, as a wife and mother of two young boys, and my professional life, as someone whose goal is to double or triple our business over the next year.
Remember, you vote with your dollar. Spend it on something you believe in.