By Bianka Anguiano| July 8th, 2020
I had the awesome opportunity to interview Dara Williams! Dara Williams is the VP of People at LeafLink. LeafLink has a team of over 100 employees and Dara is responsible for creating and scaling the People Operations department with the objective to build sustainable programs that engage and motivate the employees. She is highly experienced in building and developing scalable processes and programs in fast-paced, high-growth environments at start-up organizations.
Before joining LeafLink, Dara worked as SVP of HR at Refinery29 where she supervised 400+ employees across four locations globally and launched the company’s very first Diversity/Inclusion initiative. Prior to Refinery29, she worked at Blue Apron as Director of HR, successfully increasing corporate employee engagement by 20% within her first year and launching a Learning & Development roadmap for 400 employees nationwide.
Dara received a B.S. in Psychology with a Human Resources emphasis and a Minor in Business Management at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania.
This is one of my favorite interviews so far because Dara gives us insight on what it takes to be a successful woman of color in a new and exciting industry, what initially inspired her to work in this market and how you can do it too. Check out the interview below and don’t forget to share it with other Weed Queens!
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I partner with leaders to help shape and define their workplace culture and overall employee experience. Now, as the VP of People at LeafLink, I am focused on building the people policies, processes and programs that will support our team’s growth and create a best-in-class place to work.
What is LeafLink about? What do you guys do?
LeafLink, the cannabis industry’s wholesale marketplace, is defining the way thousands of cannabis brands and retailers manage and track their orders and relationships, so they can focus on growing their businesses. Our e-commerce marketplace empowers brands, distributors, and retailers who want to streamline the ordering process, simplify communication, scale operations, and spend less time on administrative work. LeafLink currently partners with over 5,000 retailers and more than 1,500 brands across 26 territories in North America, and manages more than $2.4 billion in annual wholesale cannabis orders.
Did you ever expect a career in the cannabis space?
Growing up on the tiny twin islands of Trinidad & Tobago, working in the legal cannabis industry never crossed my mind as a possibility. I always knew, though, that I’d most likely end up working in an industry that allowed me to build, shape and lay down foundational elements from scratch. During my job search, I had a chance to meet the founders of LeafLink and learn more about the space – cannabis hit all of those points for me. The cannabis industry is still young, so there’s lots of opportunity to make that kind of impact here.
What inspired you to make the jump into the weed world?
Meeting the founders of LeafLink and learning about their vision and their authentic commitment to enhancing, professionalizing, and defining the cannabis industry was extremely inspiring. Getting to be part of an industry that still has so much potential while being part of a new, growing company at the same time was exciting to me. Shaping and influencing cultures is important to me, and having the opportunity to influence the cannabis culture in both an internal and external capacity is a once in a lifetime opportunity in my view.
Were your family and friends supportive?
Everyone in my support system and broader networks were quite supportive when I joined LeafLink. After a few chats with my husband, mentors and parents, we were all in alignment that this would be an incredible adventure.
Did you ever feel like you weren’t taken seriously because you are a WOC?
Every single day as a Black woman, I know that in order to be taken seriously and seen as a credible executive, I have to be prepared to work twice as hard as my colleagues and peers. There is also a certain mental strain that goes along with being a Black executive, knowing that you will be judged for your work as well as other intangible differences that are not part of the dominant culture. When joining LeafLink, it was important to me that the founders saw me for me – A Strong Black Woman – and were not afraid to create space for me at their table despite our differences.
How/do you think your involvement in this industry is going to positively impact your community?
I think having more executives that look like me in the industry paves the way for future diversity within cannabis. Having the opportunity to change the landscape for what a cannabis executive could be is one of the biggest impacts that I can make within the Black community. Within LeafLink, I am also in a position to influence our company’s philanthropic and corporate responsibility efforts. I am looking forward to leveraging this position to introduce a stronger stance externally on social justice reform, specifically within the Black and Brown communities that have been unfairly impacted by cannabis convictions. Having the opportunity to get LeafLink involved in initiatives like the Last Prisoner Project or The Bail Project are personally important to me, and I look forward to positively impacting my community positively through this work.
What factors have contributed towards your path of success?
I am incredibly fortunate to have had strong mentorship throughout my career. I have had many senior executives in the start-up space personally take an interest in my development and offered their time, networks and experiences to help create a pathway for success for me. These relationships have been vital in my career thus far, and it is a practice that I have started to foster on my own with new up-and-coming talent in the HR space.
What’s the biggest change you want to see in the cannabis industry?
I would like to see more space being given for Black entrepreneurs to successfully enter the cannabis industry. Often, thanks to a lack of access to capital and the fact that systemic racism is still at the core of how we do business, many Black entrepreneurs will never have the opportunity to obtain legal licenses or even have the ability to make the right connections with potential investors in their businesses. I would like to see this change. In an ideal world, I’d want to see states take more proactive measures and push for reform within their laws, practices and policies that would allow for Black communities to have an equal share in the burgeoning cannabis industry.
As a woman of color, what challenges did you encounter (if any) building your business in a male-dominated industry and how do you plan to create change and inclusiveness for future WOC joining the industry?
I actively ensure that the teams that I build are filled with diverse women of color. This practice is not one that I shy away from sharing and being transparent about with my peers and other executives. The only way that we can work to systemically break down barriers and create space for women of color is by making a proactive decision to find them, interview them, and hire them.
What would be your best piece of advice for fellow WOC looking to pursue a career in the cannabis industry?
First, figure out which aspect of the cannabis industry you want to join and why. Joining the cannabis industry does not always have to mean owning a dispensary -there are a plethora of supplemental professions that make an impact on the space everyday. My advice would be to research them all thoroughly and make an assessment as to where your strengths and experiences align. From there, I would say to actively seek out authentic relationships and mentorships, and to attend conferences and other events with a plan to learn the in’s and out’s of the area that you have decided to join and to make connections.
What would you consider to be the most effective way or initial steps of breaking down barriers and ceilings to pave this path for women in the industry?
Hire women executives! Give women the opportunity to influence business decisions at a more strategic level. Offer women the chance to be in positions where they are in charge of building and creating teams. Make sure they have a real seat at the table for revenue discussions and overall company positioning. Allow women to be seen as mentors within the space, and let them build their own networks of younger women that can be groomed and primed to one day join the executive table. If companies are not more intentional about this, it will continue to be a tough road for women to enter AND lead within the space.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
As an HR professional, I love having the opportunity to help create a work environment for people where they feel they can grow, learn and make an impact everyday.
Where can we reach you? IG? Twitter?
Twitter intimidates me but my instagram is @dara2210.
Key Takeaways from Dara Williams:
- Figure out which aspect of the cannabis industry you want to join and why.
- Research them all thoroughly and make an assessment as to where your strengths and experiences align
- Actively seek out authentic relationships and mentorships.
- Attend conferences and other events with a plan to learn the in’s and out’s of the area that you have decided to join and to make connections.
We want to thank Dara Williams for sharing her story as a WOC, advice and experience. You can learn more about Dara Williams and LeafLink here.
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