A growing number of women are making headlines in the blockchain industry. Coinbase has installed a number of female C-level executives in recent months; Lightning Labs’ Elizabeth Stark, Bancor’s Galia Benartzi, Quorum’s Amber Baldet, and so many more are rising to the top of the crypto space.
Still, a February New York Times report estimated that women comprise only 4-6% of all investors in the blockchain space; innovators and users of blockchain and crypto make up a similarly small percentage. (Recent evidence shows that this figure may have doubled, but women remain a small fraction of market participants.)
Jalak Jobanputra, the founder of Future Perfect Ventures, said that this is particularly problematic as “the early days are what decide the culture of an industry and who gets involved in making the decisions.”
Women, consider crypto. Otherwise the men are going to get all the wealth, again.
— Alexia Bonatsos (@alexia) January 25, 2018
So, what’s keeping women out of crypto?
New Industry, Old Problems: Deep Seated Cultural Roots and Implicit Biases
Emily Arth, VP of Operations at Constellation Labs, believes that the gender imbalance in the blockchain industry has deep-seated cultural roots; women are still not seen (and may not see themselves) as being welcome to or capable of thriving in certain industries.
“Little girls are taught from a young age that tech and science are ‘boy jobs,’” she wrote in an exclusive email to Finance Magnates. This is reflected in adult life: “According to UNESCO, less than 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women. Clearly, this is not because women are less capable in these fields, but because they are neither directed towards nor encouraged to enter these industries.”
Additionally, financial matters from the household to Wall Street have traditionally been ‘men’s work.’ “It’s no surprise that more women aren’t involved in cryptocurrency investment when women traditionally do not control and are not the decision makers in financial decisions,” said Arth. “In short, finance, whether it be fiat or crypto, is considered within the realm of a man’s responsibility in our society.”
Therefore, it’s imperative that industry participants pave the way forward in combatting our society’s sexist cultural backwash. One of the ways to do this is to be aware of implicit bias–the unconscious tendencies that recruiters and hiring managers have to hire people who are similar to themselves.
This is of particular importance as the blockchain industry grows closer with the finance industry, which is unquestionably dominated by white men. “This has led to audience changes in the meetings and events I attend. In some cases, it’s gone from a very collaborative group in casual clothing to bankers wearing button-up suits. It’s very exclusionary and male-dominated, seemingly only for the elite,” wrote Samantha Radocchia, co-founder of Chronicled, in an email to Finance Magnates.
Implicit bias in the corporate world means that if white men are in charge, it’s more likely that they will hire other white men. However, with awareness and proper training, the role of implicit bias in hiring can be diminished.
When the Government Falls Short, Companies Must Provide the Resources Necessary for Women and Their Families to be Successful
Still, the women who have made their way in the crypto space report that the environments they’ve been present in have been welcoming. “I have found this is an industry which is very open to women and new ideas,” said Caroline Abenante, founder, and COO of NYIAX, in an email to Finance Magnates. “Women have to take the leap and apply. This is a new industry and their skill set is transferable.”
Joanna Pawluk, co-founder and CEO of Orion Vault, echoed similar sentiments in an email to Finance Magnates: “I don’t see the hostility towards women, rather the opposite in Crypto Valley as women are well respected and treated equally,” she wrote.
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However, “I think the huge difference in workplace comes once you are building a family….Women are working the same hours as men, yet are expected to have much more social roles in the society–mothers, nannies, home chefs, cleaners, businesswomen, to list only a few.”
This is a particularly acute problem in the United States, where the government does not mandate any time off for new parents of any gender. By cultural default, the main responsibilities of childcare fall on women; even if women are in partnerships where childcare is equally distributed, employers might expect that women will have to miss more work because of their children, and may make hiring (and firing) decisions accordingly.
Because the United States government is not likely to take any action to mandate time off for new parents anytime soon, the onus falls on companies to provide the resources necessary (including time) for new parents–mothers and fathers–to care for their children without having to worry about losing their jobs or otherwise damaging their careers.
“The priorities change for a lot of women once they have a family and there are few things that might be helpful to create a better work culture: flexible hours but also a flexible office/work from home plan; kidcare packages; daycare at work or in near proximity (companies like Google offer this); [and] additional benefits for men who take care of kids,” wrote Pawluk.
Women in the World’s Most Vulnerable Populations Stand to Benefit the Most From Blockchain
While empowering women in the corporate blockchain world is undoubtedly important, it’s equally (if not more) important to consider how blockchain technology affects the lives of women in the world’s most vulnerable populations.
When Satoshi Nakamoto created Bitcoin, Satoshi wanted the currency to take power away from ‘big banks’ and centralized financial institutions, and allow people to be their own banks.
Indeed, cryptocurrency has been a tool of the ‘unbanked’ (people who do not have the option to rely on traditional banking systems) since it began. Sex workers, the homeless, and individuals who live in countries with unstable fiat currencies have relied on Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to store and protect their money.
Vulnerable women who live in patriarchal countries could (and do) also rely on cryptocurrencies to financially empower themselves. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 42% of women worldwide do not own a bank account. Many of those women may live in countries where they are not legally allowed to hold bank accounts of their own (at least, not without a husband or father’s permission.)
There are a few examples of women using Bitcoin to empower each other financially–Quartz reported that Roya Mahboob, CEO and co-founder of the Digital Citizen Fund, has created a network of female content creators in Afghanistan. Because many of these women do not have access to bank accounts of their own, Mahboob pays 2,000 women in Bitcoin.
Inclusivity Means Taking the Leap
Created on the cusp of this age of globalization, participants in the blockchain industry have been granted a unique opportunity to create an industry that has the potential to financially empower an unprecedented number of people in every circumstance imaginable, including members of populations that have been traditionally marginalized.
To do that successfully, members of marginalized populations must participate in the industry: as investors, users, and innovators within the space. How to get started? “My recommendation to be a part of increasing diversity is to get involved,” wrote Samantha Radocchia.
I meet a lot of people who want to get more involved in the crypto space. Here’s an awesome list of ideas from the 0x team on things to build. Take the talented @tomhschmidt up on his offer to help if you are interested in working on any them. I’m happy to give feedback on it too https://t.co/0I8V53Wlyw
— Linda Xie (@ljxie) May 2, 2018
“It may seem intimidating, but the community is very welcoming. Reach out to people that you admire on Twitter or LinkedIn. If you read an article and think that the author has a great perspective, get in touch with them…Reach out, get involved, and see what happens.”