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Cannabis Exec Ericka Pittman Talks Disrupting The Space, Self-Care & Power Of Sisterhood

Viola's new CMO is redefining what it means to make an impact.

BOSS UP

Ericka Pittman is a woman whose career gives true meaning to the power of black girl magic and the ultimate career glow up. With a resume that includes leadership positions at companies including Vibe Media Group, AQUAhydrate, and Combs Enterprises (the brainchild of Sean "Diddy" Combs and powerhouse umbrella to the Ciroc empire, among others), she has shown enough business tenacity to join the ranks of the fashion, entertainment, and beverage industries' top executives.

In her latest boss move, she has landed a gig as CMO of Viola, becoming the first black female CMO of a cannabis brand. The company offers cannabis flowers (or weed, as we all know it), ready-made joints (called pre-rolls), vapes, and concentrates.

"While cannabis is a consumer packaged good, we want to make sure that we are brand-forward. We want to do that through purpose, product, process, and people," Pittman explained during an interview with xoNecole. "The purpose is our social equity initiatives around the war on drugs' [affect on] nonviolent crime offenders. It's important for Viola to establish a platform for education and opportunity within the cannabis space---entrepreneurship and expungement of their records so they can have a clean slate and start a new record for themselves in the new landscape of the cannabis industry."

In terms of product and process, Pittman said, the brand approaches creation very meticulously, taking "painstaking time" to ensure an end-result that is top-notch. So, this isn't just your regular marijuana shop. "We want to make sure that people understand that when they engage and interact with Viola, they are receiving a quality premium product," she added. "The people side of it are the brand and lifestyle [aspects including] interacting in spaces that are similar to other brands---you know, fashion, art, music. These are all key areas that we want to figure out ways to partner and expand the Viola imprint above and beyond the [cannabis] flower."

We talked further about the impact Pittman would like to make on the industry, how she finds balance, and how she advocates for women in business:

What piqued your interest in the cannabis industry?

I'd say over the last 10 years, working with Combs Enterprises, [my career has been about] representing brands in the spirits industry, fragrance, fashion, even with the media platform---the television network Revolt---and water companies. This was a natural progression being that I have had innovative opportunities over the years with developing new products and bringing unique messaging to the marketplace--engaging consumers in a different way. Those elements, I think, were the parts that really got me excited about working in marketing and getting up every day to come to do the work I was doing. As I thought about expanding my career, cannabis was sort-of the next frontier.

I love the idea of being one of the pioneers in this industry potentially. Being able to define the narrative around how to communicate with consumers in this space was really compelling for me.

What does an average day look like in this new role?

We start work sometimes as early as 8 a.m., and it's pretty aggressive hours. We work from 8 until [the work is] done. I think the environment is really inspiring. I work with a group of really curious, dedicated, passionate people that are committed to making this brand excellent. There's a whole host of team members who are working behind the scenes to make sure that this brand is consistent and that it lives up to the premium product that we're evangelizing in the marketplace. So there are a lot of meetings, calls... I mean, it's a usual workplace---it's nothing fundamentally different from, you know, working at a bank, except you may [see] a celebrity rapper come in to play ping pong with [Viola founder] Al Harrington. That could easily happen. But other than that, it's a typical work day.

What challenges have you faced as a female executive?

[One is] being heard without being perceived as a steamroller or know-it-all. It's figuring out how to be heard in a room where, perhaps, the woman's voice is not always appreciated in the same way without being offensive.

There are these preconceived notions about a woman's place---when and how she should speak, what tone she should use. There are all these different rules and guidelines around being a woman in a business environment. I think the biggest struggle for me... is figuring out a balance between having my voice heard and taken seriously without alienating my constituency.

What advice do you have for other aspiring female executives to advance in the workplace?

First and foremost, people do business with people that they like. So, while you can have every skill set in the world and be experienced, if you're not well-received and well-liked, you may have a harder time getting buy-in from your peer group and your superiors around whatever your goals or initiatives are. Make sure you have the right attitude and the right mindset. Put the brand and the goals of the business first.

[Second, you must be] OK with doing the work. Put your ideas out there in real life. Being someone who can actually execute the ideas is a unique talent and is a skill set.

Third, don't just come to the table with a problem. Come with some recommended solutions on how you might achieve a goal. Know where your value lies, and understand the value you're providing the organization. Make sure that everyone around you understands that as well, and that they are aligned. A win only matters if it achieves the objectives of the greater good.

As a busy exec, how does self-care play into finding balance in your life?

Self-care and balance is a huge part of success in this day and age, particularly for women. In more recent years, people are starting to respect and appreciate the balance of self-care, mental health, and wellness with ambition and striving to be your best self. I started to [wake up] earlier---about 5:30 a.m.---so that I could have more time at the front half of my day to calibrate how I want my day to go. So that includes meditation, journaling, or [listening to] a positive audio book. I think that helps me to get myself in a frame of mind of positive intention and really thinking through my day---the personal things that I need to achieve, the professional things I need to achieve---and being able to eat healthy and work out a bit before I go to work.

I really like to hike. I'm actually bi-coastal, but I spend the majority of my time in California these days, so being able to go outdoors and hike is really inspiring for me---just the scenery and the fresh air. It gives me a good energy boost.

[After work], I'll go home and sit in silence, quite frankly. There's just me with my thoughts to decompress. This role means a lot of decisions that need to be strategic so we need to think about things six steps out, and it requires a tremendous amount of cognitive functioning. By the end of the day, my brain tends to get a little foggy. So it's easier for me to just be quiet. But then there are times when I want to kind of connect with friends and detach a bit. So, you know, going out to dinner and those sorts of things tend to help.

Speaking of friends, how do you find time for a social life and for family?

I am very family-oriented. There's literally only five of us in my entire [immediate] family, so we're all very close. They are mostly on the East Coast, so when I do get back East, I try to spend as much time with them as possible. I also have five godchildren, and I have a slew of best friends who have children.

My whole journey is about how do I navigate and how do I help other females navigate their success in their lives, whatever that is. And so there's no judgment on what it is you want for your life, but it is helping you to maximize getting there as quickly as possible.

I am a girl's girl. I have very strong female friend network, and I am a loyal friend. I have friendships that are literally 40 years old, so I happen to really, really appreciate the female dynamic--being a woman. I think that we as women tend to have very similar experiences. They may be different scenarios, but I feel like there are a lot of things that we think are just happening to us that are actually happening across the board. So it's important for me to express those things and connect with dynamic women who I view as peers to gain perspective and encouragement. I think over the years in doing that, I have created a bit of a tribe of my own---women lifting women up and that's very important to me. It's completely the ethos of what I do.

Find out more about Ericka Pittman and her latest book via her Instagram here.

Featured Image by Jack Manning, courtesy of Ericka Pittman

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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