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