Entre Nous: Samantha Miller, Chief Science Office, hmbldt, Part Two

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Sometimes, when I’m interviewing someone, I hear my story in hers. This is how I felt listening to Samantha Miller, Chief Science Officer at hmbldt, talking about her trajectory from being an up-and-comer to a full-on entrepreneur. Being in both seats, at different parts of your life, is familiar. In talking to Samantha, and in particular in this part of the interview, I knew I’d met a kindred spirt. In Part One of my interview with Samantha, I learned about her approach to her six distinct formulas; In Part Two, I learned what it’s like to be a woman in the cannabis industry. Settle in. And enjoy.

You began your company Pure Analytics with your husband. What was your experience when you were in the process of establishing yourselves?

I’ll tell you, when we first started my laboratory—my husband is my business partner—and we would go out and do sales together. I’m president, he’s vice president. I would be pitching them [prospective clients] and they would have to look at him. I would just laugh and say, “hey you can look at him all you damn want, he’s not going to say a damn word, he’s going to let me do the talking.” I honestly really didn’t care because my sense of self was already established by that point. If I was in my twenties, I probably would have been horrified. But by that point in my early 30s. I was like you can look at whoever you want.

You’re the boss.

I was doing a pitch at one dispensary here in Northern California. I can tell not only are they not really paying attention to me but they’re not even really looking at him. They’re looking past both of us. My partner indicates with a little nudge that I should look behind me. I turn around and there’s a stripper grinding on the door jam behind me. She’s auditioning for something. My husband tells me later that the part I didn’t see was the first part was her intro: she unveils a breast and puts one breast around the corner and shakes it at everybody. So that was early days.

UGH.

And I remember the first cannabis expo I went to which was a Hemp Con at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 2010. There weren’t many females who were there to do something other than shake something; so many boob girls. I just wanted to take them all aside and say to them, “Can I speak to you about your sense of self? Can we talk about you as a woman and what you are doing here today?” If that’s what you want to do, that’s what you want to do. I don’t present myself that way so I don’t invite that attention, but it does hit you in the face that you’re one of the only ones there who’s not.

Wait. The women were used as sexual props? Is that typical at these shows?

“Oh wait, there’s a girl, oh wait she’s in a bikini.” If that makes them feel awesome, then I’m glad they’re doing it. That doesn’t make me feel awesome. We have this culture of the boob girl. If you’re going to have a booth at a trade show, you’re going to have to get boob girls and I don’t like that. I actually had that experience recently in Canada. I went to a trade show up in Toronto and I walked into the main expo room. I don’t have this filter on but I couldn’t help but notice that I couldn’t see another woman in the room. I’m looking around, I’m taking stock of the place and I don’t know anybody here. Everybody’s a white guy, like every single person.

Let’s switch gears before my brain explodes. You’re incredibly successful. You’re providing a vehicle to wellness. What obstacles have you encountered as you’ve risen through the ranks?

The most limiting habit I ever had was seeking external validation as a female. It led to all of these behaviors that are just destructive. I’ve learned the hard way at different times in my career that there are certain attributes that women are socialized with that fundamentally keep us out of the boardroom. One of those things is external validation. Most of us my age or older—I’ll be 40 in a couple of weeks—are trained to seek validation from outside ourselves. I actually had to go to an executive coach to unlearn it. It was probably the hardest transition in my life.

Do you see it in women that you’ve worked with as well?

You know Marcelle, I’ve had a lot of people work for me over the years at this point. Every young woman who has worked for me between 25 and 30, I see a reflection of myself at that age; I see the same thing because when I was that age, I thought it was me. I thought it was my problem. But no. I see how [women] are trained to do it, too.

What’s an example of seeking external validation?

I remember the moment as an executive— and it’s not solely to cannabis—when I realized that I had been socialized that it wasn’t polite to negotiate. It wasn’t very feminine because I’m pushing back, right? You can get away with one but two rounds of negotiations? You may become a “B” word. I spent a part of my international career doing business. Man, you can’t do business in Italy if you’re not willing to survive at least five rounds. Cannabis isn’t in any exceptional space with respect to that. It’s no different than any other business environment.

Right. You have to stand your ground. And for some of us, it’s a learning curve.

Before I started really cruising up the ladder, I was like, I’ve never experience sexism! It’s like, “No honey, you’ve never been a threat.” I think that you can lull yourself into thinking it’s not there because you really just haven’t become a threat yet.

In running your own business for the past seven years, you don’t have to think about things like that. You’re the Chief Science Officer; what you say, goes.

I have the gift of having a supportive environment. I have an amazing partner, we don’t have any male female tension between us—we don’t have role definition between us that’s gender based. That’s just who we are; I have great fortune in that in my life. I’m in such a unique position in that I make my own universe here at Pure Analytics. It’s an amazing gift I gave myself. If someone comes here and treats me like shit, Marcelle, I can tell them to get the fuck out the door. It doesn’t have to be tolerated here. I’m in my own environment, insulated so to speak. It’s given me an incredibly bold sense of self; I know exactly who I am, I know exactly how the world responds to me, I know where I stand, I know what I can do I know, what I’m capable of. Nothing is beneath me and nothing is above me. It’s such an amazing freedom as a woman because I can certainly know and recall the times where I didn’t have that.

Like when?

I was 25 and I had gone from the engineering department to the marketing department. It was a big move for me because now you’re at the front line of the business. The first thing I had to do was this whole pricing scheme for this new product line. It was a big job. It was like hundreds of skews and I had never done pricing before. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing but shoot, I was going to do it. made this enormous spreadsheet and it was great and fantastic. So now I’m going to present this to all the execs and right before I go in I copy and paste it because I want my spreadsheet to look beautiful. I set up my a/v, and there I am 25. I turn on my projector, get my laptop, pull out my spreadsheet and it’s all zeros and ones. (laughs) And I just freeze. I literally couldn’t think. And the director of engineering who was my most recent boss was trying to prompt me. All I could do was say, “I’ll be right back,”and I had to go cry in the bathroom. I really did. Today, if I did that, I would laugh and be like, “I’ll be right back, let me get a different file.”

You learn. Over time, you learn how to manage a situation in the work-space. When you’re 25, you have no experience. By the time you’re 40, you’re like, everything is cake.

I recently found myself Marcelle counseling a young woman and I was actually pissed off at myself that I said this to her but it’s the reality. She was telling me, “I talk and they don’t hear me.”  Oh yes, I’ve heard those words come out of my mouth before. I said, “You’re talking to all men aren’t you?” She said, “Yeah.” And I said, “You gotta take your female ideology and ideas and perspective and you have to translate it through a man voice or they’re not going to hear you.” And she said, “The only time they hear me is when I cry.” And I said, “No! No! No! You can’t cry! If you cry, you’re in the girl box. Once you’re in the girl box, it’s almost impossible to get out!”

It’s game over.

Its’ game over. You’re done. You know, it pissed me off that I said that.

Why did it pissed you off?

This was my coaching! It really upset me. I kept thinking about it. I was like, am I wrong? Did I just tell her to submit to discrimination or be a willing participant in misogyny? what did I just say? But what I said was reality.

And that’s the reality. As Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own, “There’s no crying in baseball!”

You know recently—and I will totally remember it for the rest of my life—I spoke at an event called Recode. It was a big honor to be invited. I did a breakout session on cannabis. Hillary Clinton was one of the speakers on the main stage. I wanted to see Hillary so I made a point of getting into her talk but I was two minutes late and everyone was already seated. So I stood  in the aisle between the riser seats because I didn’t want to be the asshole that walks in front of the cameras to go sit in the one seat in the front row. She was awesome. They were kind of grilling which was cool to see them not be easy on her totally but they were making her answer for some bullshit like, why’d you fail, dammit we wanted you to make it. And this guy comes up to me and was like, “Are you in line?” And I’m like, “No man, I’m just watching Hillary.” I look around and I see a microphone and shit, I’m in line! I can ask Hillary a question! and I introduced myself and I said, “I’m known as starting one of the first cannabis laboratories in the United States.” I gave a pause and you see this look go across her face, she was like, “oh shit what’s going to come at me now?” Because she doesn’t have the most positive record on cannabis. And I said, “I get interviewed in the media a lot and a lot of people ask me what’s my advice to young women who want to reach success like mine. My advice that I give is that women need to shed their requirement for external validation that they’re taught because it’s what keeps us out of the boardroom. So I’d really like to know what your advice to young women that want to reach the highest heights is.” And she gave a really awesome response that focussed on the socialization and support of young women in their formative years. But what was so intense about the moment was she gave her entire response to me with eye contact and my asking of the question. You could feel the emotional charge. The people who were around it, people kept coming up to me afterwards and were like, “That was an amazing moment.” You know, for her it was really intense too because everyone was just asking her about fucking Trump and Twitter and politics and shit that doesn’t really matter; she loves the question. You can tell that moment between her and I was extraordinarily intense. Definitely a moment I will remember that is very cool.

Thank you for sharing that story. And that you for the hmbdlt vape pens. I like them a lot.

I do too!

 

 

 

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