We celebrated International Women’s Day on Sunday, and while honouring the achievements of women in a variety of fields got us excited, it also got us thinking: “where are the women in crypto?”
At first glance, the crypto landscape can - as is the case in many areas of tech - seem male-dominated. According to Adeva IT, as of 2018, women held only 25% of all the jobs in the tech industry, despite making up almost half of the total workforce.
A PWC Women in Tech report found that the disparity begins early when high school goers choose their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. While certainly not the only reason for underrepresentation, these subject choices ultimately form part of the first set of decisions that generally navigate one’s career path.
The report states that: “According to the research, 83% of boys in high school opt for STEM subjects, while only 64% of girls opt for STEM subjects.” In addition, out of all the female respondents surveyed, only 27% said they would consider a tech career, in contrast to 62% of males.
In order to close the gender gap, it would appear decisions made in high school, when learners are between the ages of 13 and 16, are pivotal.
One of the key issues is a lack of role models. A lack of inspirational figures who young women can look to and strive to follow. Part of this is a lack of media representation and coverage of women’s achievements in the technology and science space. Part of it can be attributed to hiring and promotion issues lower down on the tech career ladder, that become even more conspicuous when you get to the C-suite. In 2019, Fortune reported that women made up just under 7% of chief executives leading Fortune 500 companies.
But there are role models out there, and they’re leading the way in the crypto space. We spoke to some of them as part of the Pennydrop campaign.
Alexa, why do we need women?
The presence of women is crucial not just for a balanced and inclusive industry, but also because we’ve long seen the evidence of negative consequences when women aren’t included in the creation process of new technologies.
As Karen Hao, Junior Data Scientist and Quarts Contributor, reiterates in her piece titled The first rule of being a woman in crypto is you do not talk about being a woman in crypto: “The lack of diversity in crypto has implications beyond a basic sense of fairness. If blockchain really does redefine the global financial system, the uniformity among its creators will result in biased products.”
This was the case back when seat belts were invented, killing more women and children simply because they weren’t considered in the product design and testing process. It is, alarmingly, still the reality today in the development of nascent technologies. For example, voice recognition, an artificial intelligence tech that we almost take for granted nowadays, struggles to recognise and respond to women’s voices because it was developed by men.
As Harvard Business Review reported, “Research by Dr. Tatman published by the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (NAACL) indicates that Google’s speech recognition is 13% more accurate for men than it is for women.”
This doesn’t just impact the ease of which we can communicate with robots of the future. It also has very real implications in today’s world. With diminished chances of having women’s voices heard, literally, our societies miss out in the creation of solutions that work for everyone.
Mind the (gender) gap
Women need to be intimately involved in the innovation process of our future financial system, if only because women stand to either lose or benefit the most from it. Trustless technologies like cryptocurrencies are particularly important for minority groups, who have long been unconsidered.
Cryptocurrency offers opportunities to turn traditional, and in certain instances oppressive, systems on their head. For women, this new financial system can mean not only financial inclusion but also empowerment to ‘harness their own value’.
Beyond a ‘way out’ of oppressive systems, cryptocurrencies and their underlying technology can be used to mitigate problems that the traditional financial systems pose for marginalised groups, as Lerato Mlambo saw first hand in her social justice work.
While women continue to be underrepresented in tech and the crypto industries, there’s a huge opportunity for new companies and startups to create a truly inclusive and equal system. We’ve seen before that when women lead, the interests of marginalised groups are more likely to be considered. This is a chance not only for parity in female representation in new tech but also better inclusion for all.
After all, the financial system is due for an upgrade. The archaic, legacy systems we currently interact with weren’t built with today in mind. As we move forward creating technology and financial systems with inclusivity in mind, the crypto space is poised to serve as a microcosm for more female and other minority groups to receive the representation they’ve so long been denied.
Luno’s Global Head of Recruitment, Daisy Rasaki and Country Manager for France, Maria Woncisz are two women taking on leadership roles in future of finance. Maria facilitates many of the workshops and education sessions Luno hosts, bringing the world of crypto closer to those who are keen to learn more and get involved. Daisy’s primary focus is quite literally finding talent and opening the doors for those looking to turn their fintech passions into a career.
From education and real-life use cases, to exploring the possibilities that the nature of cryptocurrencies’ accessible and trustless system offers, these women are breaking ground on changing the future.
For Tamarin Gerriety it was precisely the trustless nature that allows for peer-to-peer transactions, rather than having to go through a middle man (pun intended), that attracted her to crypto. If women aren’t included in the development of technology to access cryptocurrencies, we could see these benefits fall to the wayside, or worse, be replaced with systems that have the same issues we face today. For as well-intentioned as our counterparts might be, life experience can be strong triggers for action.
Alakanani Itireleng, known as the Bitcoin Lady, got involved because she needed access to what Bitcoin had to offer. Once she realised the potential that cryptocurrencies hold, she realised it would mean nothing unless people understood how it worked. In a bid to educate those around her, she founded the Satoshi Centre.
Similarly, Sonya Kuhnel founded the Blockchain Academy to advance accessibility and the opportunity for other women to get involved. Their work is proof that crypto truly is for everyone, not just the old guard. And that when we ask “where are the women in crypto?”, the answer is that they’re right at the heart of the process.
This is just the beginning
As we build the future of finance and create the infrastructure for technology, like blockchain, that will impact every industry we know today we need to ensure everyone’s voice is heard. The mission is to use this technology to make meaningful and long-term positive impacts on all members of society, no matter who they are or where they’re from. To do that we need to not only include but also leverage perspectives of all members of society.