It’s a lovely vision – a disruptive and truly innovative technology sector that aims to revolutionise currency and data storage for everyone around the world. A welcoming environment for the best and brightest, evolving from just an idea into a massive global movement.
There’s just one problem – the cryptocurrency and blockchain world is in danger of failing to fulfill that promise by repeating the mistakes of its predecessors. For all the lip-service to diversity in the technology industry as a whole, the lack of it in the crypto world is indicative of a deep-rooted problem that can’t be solved unless everyone is on board.
A recent New York Times article pointed to the advent of ‘Blockchain Bros’ as one reason women were reluctant to enter the industry, with January’s North American Bitcoin Conference adding to the perception by including 84 male speakers against three female.
Then you have incidents such as those in Las Vegas clubs, which saw dancers sporting temporary cryptocurrency tattoos for tipping purposes, or social media ads with the tagline “Touch my ICO” (and worse).
Today (March 8) is International Women’s Day, and it comes at a time when females across all industries are asking for more. More respect, more inclusion, equal pay. The business and technology worlds are struggling to change, but many have hope that start-ups and freshly-mature sectors can lead the way.
So why is it that women are so underrepresented in blockchain?
Doomed to repeat history’s mistakes
Of course the main worry with blockchain and crypto is the amount that’s at stake should the male-dominated culture continue. As venture capitalist Alexia Bonatsos pointed out on Twitter, we are in danger of allowing history to repeat itself when it comes to future distribution of wealth.
Hannah Drake, chief operating officer at AI, blockchain and energy firm Energi Mine, said: “Throughout my career in both the energy and crypto space, I have found that these two very different industries are worryingly alike. Women only make up a fraction of the community that drive them and this must change if they are to move forward.”
The numbers speak for themselves, with figures from Coin Dance estimating (at the time of writing) that the cryptocurrency world currently stands at 94.73 per cent male and 5.27 per cent female.
“As a woman in the relatively new area of blockchain, a technology industry that has only been around for nine years, it is interesting to reflect on the presence of a female voices in this area,” Jane Zhang, marketing partner at Ethereum-based prediction market platform Delphy, told us. Sadly, for all its talk on innovation and disruption, the world of cryptocurrencies trails behind in diversity and there is an underlying tone of a ‘gentlemen’s club’ culture.”
Brave new world?
The issue with representation is not just about those groups not getting their fair share, but also about the success of companies attempting to differentiate themselves from every other male-dominated competitor. Diversity breeds creativity, which in turn leads to innovation.
“As a company, we believe that great ideas are born out of a diverse team,” said Hayley McCool Smith, head of strategy at Energi Mine. “Working alongside people who think differently from you means we can tackle creative and technical challenges in a sharper and more innovative way. Our commitment to hiring and promoting more women in an industry that is very male-skewed forms part of our resolve to ensure that Energi Mine embraces diversity.”
Baroness Michelle Mone, co-founder of the EQUI platform, added: “This isn’t just for men. You can enter from any industry… These spaces have always been predominantly about men but hopefully we will start to see an increasing number of women join us.
“The future of cryptocurrency is dependent on women getting involved.”
The ‘bro culture’ of the tech world has seemingly been transferred to crypto, betraying its pledge to be something new and empowering. The problems aren’t limited to a lack of inclusion, but also the way in which women in the crypto space are treated once they get there.
Zhang continued: “Why do we see and read about cryptocurrency events being held at gentlemen’s clubs? Why are there so many stories from women who have attended cryptocurrency events only to be subjected to sexist and conedscending remarks? An innovative and exciting new world is stuck in the dark ages.”
Crypto has often been described as a bubble – both in value and culture – and nowhere is that clearer than in its lack of diverse voices. Women simply can’t afford to be late to this industry.
“Women all over the world are orchestrating innovative ideas with game changing results,” continued Drake. “I am proud to be at the forefront of a fast paced and innovative company, where both women and men move forward as one.”
Zhang added: “There is hope. The crypto community is still relatively new. We need to ensure that women’s voices are being heard, that women are being brought into the industry whether that be from a business, investment or development perspective.
“This is an exciting world, but it can only succeed in truly disrupting if it is inclusive.”