Illinois Equity Staffing (IES) is quickly becoming one of the most popular HR, staffing, and consulting services in the state’s emerging cannabis industry.

But why? Yes, IES offers an essential range of services necessary for any sustainable cannabis operation, however, what is it that makes them stand out?

The short answer: everything.

From their solution-oriented attention to detail to their ongoing efforts in uniting Illinois’ cannabis industry, and their celebration of diversity and inclusion – IES is doing their part to move cannabis and the businesses they serve forward. 

Here’s a closer look at exactly how IES is adding real value to cannabis employers in Illinois.

1) Seizing the Opportunity to Raise Social Equity Standards

The importance of social equity continues to gain momentum in the U.S. and has become a popular talking point among cannabis stakeholders and businesses. Embracing social equity through action, however, requires a collaborative approach, which is where companies like IES add a lot of value.

“Most of the groups that we work with – the strategic partners, the clients, the multistate operators – they come to us knowing first of all we are a black, female-owned business,” says Shawnee Williams, IES co-founder, recruiter, and account executive. “And they want to work with minority-owned and women-owned companies because they know that social equity is important, and they want to do better at it.”

Social equity is all about ensuring that the people and communities most affected by cannabis prohibition have opportunities to participate in the legal industry. This is a critical social justice issue in the cannabis world precisely because prohibition has had such a disproportionate impact on people of color. It is only right that those most impacted have the opportunity to benefit from legalization.

Right now, there is a lot of room for improvement in social equity efforts throughout the industry.

“We formed IES knowing that the population of the cannabis industry does not match the population of the U.S. or the markets cannabis legalization is intended to serve,” Williams notes.

“We wanted to shed light on the issue and intentionally bring companies, groups, and folks that really understood social equity to the forefront.”

In other words, IES is working to bridge the gaps in social equity. And as Williams points out, it’s much bigger than an employment or HR issue.

“A lot of folks talk about getting black and brown people jobs, and that’s great, that’s not something that should be left by the wayside,” Williams says. “But there should also be opportunities in leadership and ownership when it comes to the cannabis industry. Minority groups shouldn’t just be collecting paychecks, these folks should also have the opportunities to build legacies just like everyone else.”

And while a lot of enterprises are criticized for lacking social equity, Williams believes that a collaborative approach is much more effective – actually sitting down with business owners to help them understand their strengths, weaknesses, and to identify opportunities where they could improve.

“At the end of the day, everything IES does is about social equity,” Williams says.

“Social equity brings people from a different socioeconomic status to the table that wouldn’t have otherwise had that opportunity. When we have differences in thought and diversity of thought, it brings together a team that can actually combat a lot of issues and come to a lot of great decisions together.”

2) Embracing the Value of Community

Community is another core value for IES. This is especially important in the legal cannabis landscape today, where collaboration is more often needed before competition.

Williams reveals that community-focused efforts are one of the most important activities IES commits to on a regular basis, contributing time and resources at both the state and national levels in the name of cannabis progress.

This heavy involvement in the cannabis community is part of what enables IES to really go the distance when actualizing their clients’ objectives through local outreach initiatives and networking frameworks.

For instance, IES recently organized an event through Illinois Women in Cannabis (IWC) on transferable skills for people coming from other industries – as well as how to update resumes and stand out during job applications when transferring into the cannabis space.

In addition to IWC, IES also has active memberships with Minorities Cannabis Business Association, and Minorities for Medical Marijuana, and National Cannabis Industry Association, where Williams serves on the human resources committee.

IES also collaborates with Equity Coalition and Social Equity Empowerment Network, doing their part to build bridges wherever they can, connecting people and businesses who can help.

That same spirit of unity became a central focus after the recent confusion and concern over the Illinois cannabis licensee lottery announcement. 

“We went into full gear as far as what can we do to bring everyone together. There are a lot of groups working on this and the end goal is the same: how can we make this industry more equitable so that it better reflects the general population and has a positive impact on the economy,” Williams notes. 

“And we’re not the only ones trying to do that. A lot of people see the synergy between these groups and how they can work together.”

3) Filling Holes on Cannabis Teams with People Ready to Add Value

Recruiting, finding that right match for your cannabis team can be a time-consuming, stressful process.

However, for people like Williams, recruiting and job matchmaking are a passion. Whether it’s sitting down with an employer to consult over their organizational charts and develop strategy for filling holes, or simply connecting the right people with the right companies, IES was designed to bring forth results and out-of-the-box thinking.

“In one case, we had a client who needed to find a lot of entry-level people, and so we encouraged them to be more active in the community. The objective was how can we find minority women who don’t necessarily live in the nicer areas of Chicagoland that would love this opportunity,” Williams recalls.

“So right off the bat, when we did that Illinois Women in Cannabis presentation on transferable skills, I made sure that particular client was a panelist for that particular discussion because it just made sense.” 

Many people didn’t know about her even though she was an advocate, Williams continues, and she just had all these things to offer to women who were interested in getting into cannabis. Today she is still fielding calls and requests to chat with women who saw her speak and love her story.

“Those are the types of things we want to focus on. Out-of-the-box ways to meet your goals and organically fill those gaps for you,” Williams notes.

That kind of big-picture, creative thinking is also at play when IES is actively recruiting for clients. For instance, Williams remembers one applicant who was overqualified for the position in question, and she sensed they ought to meet her client anyways.

“This was a person who lived in a disproportionately impacted area, yet they had a lot of leadership experience in retail operations,” she explains. “Knowing he was overqualified for the entry-level positions my client was looking to fill, I knew they should talk anyways. I saw the synergy. And sure enough, they loved him. It was such a natural match they created a position for him and now he’s their marketing manager.”

4) Bolstering Bottom Lines with Training

Employee training is an overlooked opportunity in a lot of businesses and industries. Cannabis is no exception. Yet with a little research, it’s clear to see that the benefits of training add up fast.

Corporate training has proven to increase employee engagement, improve turnover rates – and it’s something that employees want more of, according to shiftelearning.com

What’s more, employee turnover is expensive, yet employee training has proven to be a driving factor in bringing about greater profitability for a business’s bottom line.

Training in the cannabis industry is even more important when you consider all the knowledge gaps and misconceptions about cannabis itself. It is another gap that IES is doing its part to help bridge.

“We do a lot of training for some of the larger licensees here in Illinois – standard dispensary agent training, like a certification class,” Williams notes.

IES also offers training programs on cannabis in the workplace and sexual harassment.

“A lot of times people will hire someone and never invest in their career development, and this is what leads to stagnation within companies,” Williams reveals. 

“What’s more, a lot of lower-level employees rarely get the opportunity to attend conferences, go to classes, or get certifications. And when many of these entry level folks are black or brown or female, you see fewer of these groups receiving the same investment in their career, which brings us right back to those challenges around diversity and social equity.”

5) HR and Staffing Services Are Essential to Good Business Practices

As the cannabis industry continues to find its feet, one of the greatest learning moments has been the realization that most cannabis operators are dropping the ball on their HR responsibilities. Overlooking HR or not giving it enough attention, opens businesses to all sorts of unwanted vulnerabilities. 

“Human resources in the cannabis industry right now is largely overlooked, and it’s the source of a lot of lawsuits, issues, cases, and investigations within a lot of larger companies,” Williams notes. “Cannabis employers are not putting enough focus on HR, and when the inevitable issues arise, they are not prepared.”

In all of these areas: recruiting and placement, HR consulting, training, payroll administration, compliance, and employee benefits – IES saves business leaders from a lot of headaches. 

“Our team sees the holes and opportunities in other teams really well, and it’s become a fulfilling part of what we do in combination with helping the underdogs in our community rise to the top.”

Want to avoid the HR and staffing pitfalls so common in cannabis while also celebrating diversity and social equity? Contact IES for your free consultation today.

Author: Gregory Frye

Gregory Frye is a storyteller, writer, editor and award-winning journalist with a love for meaningful collaboration. He was part of the founding team at Green Flower Media, where he spent almost five years as executive online editor.

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