As the world celebrated International Women’s Day on the 8th of March 2019, there were concerns about the place of women in many industries, and cryptocurrency is no exception.
A recent study by London Block Exchange suggested that only 13% of women would consider a cryptocurrency investment, and in October 2017 MyEtherWallet reported that only 16% of their wallet holders were female.
At the time of writing this, a review of Google Analytics data suggested that only 8.27% of Bitcoin community engagement was from women.
More concerning is that these statistics don’t seem to surprise anyone within the cryptocurrency space, or even outside of it.
Excuses such as females being more biologically risk-averse and trading culture being incompatible with female lifestyles, are thrown about with an almost foregone sense of definitiveness. That the youthfulness of the industry leads to it being populated largely by the demographics of its precursor Cypherpunk and Libertarian movements is a more credible explanation. Equally, adopters too have been from the finance and tech community, again largely male dominated fields.
Outside of this, there are still a number of reasons why the crypto ecosystem could see a greater comparative rise in female representation.
Gender wealth imbalance
For one, as one of the core ideological motivators, the cryptocurrency paradigm has the promise of greater equity in the distribution of global wealth. Women have traditionally had the smaller slice of the global wealth pie and despite a shift toward greater parity in the last decade. As per Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report 2018, women still only hold 40% of the world’s wealth, with this number seeing significant declines in regions outside the EU and North Americas. A new financial ecosystem that promises a redistribution of this wealth imbalance then, seems suited to the 50% of the population who suffer from these issues.
However, ideological promise does not necessarily equate to practical realities. But, even on that front cryptocurrencies seem to facilitate the female cause and adoption.
The many parts of the crypto puzzle
Cryptocurrencies present a unique challenge to those that are unfamiliar with the technology due to the nature of its founding ethos. Prior knowledge of finance and economics are of much less utility than when approaching any other financial network. This serves to reduce the knowledge gap for anyone fresh to the industry.
It is no secret that within the financial sector, women are grossly underrepresented, suggesting a generally lower baseline level of expertise in financial markets. In an area where financial acumen is not as decisive a factor, the cryptocurrency industry offers an opportunity for more women to enter a relatively level playing field with their male counterparts.
Equally, crypto spaces tend to be rather welcoming when it comes to education. Most cities with a crypto community host very regular crypto meet-ups, education sessions and events. On an individual level, crypto enthusiasts often relish the opportunity to introduce newcomers to the expansive crypto universe.
A top-down, industry-level perspective though, is where the greatest potential for female involvement stems from. Traditional financial spaces have seen decades of male domination and over-representation, a distinct gender power imbalance and set gender roles which have all too frequently veered away from female leadership. However, the cryptocurrency space, starting afresh as it is, has none of that ingrained structure and stigma. It just hasn’t had the time to etch that into the cognitive memory.
We are already seeing this manifest. 50% of Binance’s management staff are female, including co-founder Yi He; Kathleen Breitman, CEO of Tezos that raised $232M; Elizabeth Stark, CEO of Lightning Labs that is developing second layer software for the Bitcoin network; and Amber Baldet who heads the Blockchain Centre of Excellence at JP Morgan – a traditionally male dominated bank – are just some examples.
The industry perspective
Interestingly, women within the industry seem much less concerned about this apparent phenomenon. Bee Weck, a broker at cryptocurrency brokerage Caleb & Brown, suggests that focussing on this imbalance has the potential to be counter productive: “promoting diversity for diversity’s sake would do both the industry, and women, a disservice”.
“The focus shouldn’t be on how to attract women specifically, but rather how to further blockchain technology and to increase user-friendliness”. She firmly believes that “once this happens, other industry sectors, including those that have large numbers of women, can and will utilise this technology and many will organically enter the space”.
Chantelle de la Ray, co-founder of Australian Crypto startup Amber, echoes this sentiment, adding that adoption is often a “multiple of exposure.” She reminds me that the inspiration for Amber’s cryptocurrency micro-investment app came from her belief that lowering the bar to entry is the most efficient route to mainstream adoption.
The guiding principle then should be that adoption across the board should remain the primary focus of the industry, and moves to germinate diversity within the community should be welcomed. If the female population are currently under-represented, this may present an opportunity for new engagement, and that should be encouraged.
In an age of a drive towards greater gender equality and self empowerment, financial freedom is a powerful ally. If cryptocurrencies continue to demonstrate a means of achieving this, then as an industry we too will have a powerful ally in our drive for validity, reach and growth.