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Ignoring Women Might Kill Your Blockchain Business

Sophia Ha Ho
Last updated: | 7 min read

My best university friend — Thuong Le — is a qualified chartered accountant and senior tax manager. She has worked for various top consulting firms since graduation. Thuong is very clever with money. Since our university years, she has been whizzing around town on her motorbike with her father, finding undervalued real estates in which to invest. Thuong invests in publicly trade-stocks and has made lucrative returns, thanks to her great financial instincts.

In a recent casual chat, she asked me, “What is bitcoin — how can I invest in bitcoin?”
“You mean, you wanted to invest in cryptocurrencies?” I asked.
“What are cryptocurrencies?” she answered.

Thuong is one of the many women I know who desperately wants to have a fair share of the hot market, cryptocurrency. She is desperate not to miss out but does not know how to participate. For her, bitcoin is the only cryptocurrency, as is true for many other people who are not involved in the sphere. Despite the large number of women who are interested in this space like Thuong, the percentage of women in the field is still alarmingly low.

According to Forbes, only 5-to-7% of cryptocurrency users are women. Recently, I was in a Telegram (instant messaging application) group about a recent ICO, which has roughly 1,300 members. I decided to do a small survey to see how many women were out there. I could only count 10 based on the names and profile images.

How Gender Diversity Benefits Companies in the Blockchain Field

Funding Sources From Female Investors

There is a strong business case to have more women in the blockchain space. Female participants like Thuong could be a huge source of funding for blockchain startups. Especially now, with the funding means enabled by the underlying technology — ICOs (initial coin offerings) — this could be much easier. With the ICO market becoming more and more competitive, finding alternative sources of funds is crucial for blockchain startups.

Diversity Improves Financial Performance, Drives Innovation

Numerous studies prove that companies benefit from diversity and inclusion. Naturally, this also applies to companies in the blockchain sphere. The consulting firm McKinsey & Company recently conducted a study on 366 public companies across a range of industries in Canada, Latin America, the United Kingdom and the United States. It looked at the relationship between diversity and financial performance. The results show that companies in the top quartile of racial and gender diversity were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry median.

Diverse sets of thinking can fuel innovation. According to two American computer scientists Kathryn S. McKinley and Tracy Camp, a lack of diversity in computing creates an enormous loss of opportunity in the realm of technological innovation. Diverse teams are proven to be more creative and able to adjust to change than groups of workers in homogeneous environments. Yet, very few blockchain companies have capitalized on this powerful source of productivity and adaptability in their workforce.

Anja Schumann, who founded a nonprofit group that focuses on bringing more women into tech, thinks that, “When the environment that you work in is stable, homogenous teams might be an efficient way of operating, but when things are changing at a very fast pace, you need a team that is sensible and able to adapt to the changes. Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

Many Products Lack Female Emphasis and Features

If there are no women present, their voices won’t be heard. So, who will design products for women? What will happen if only men design the products and services women use?

For example, while I am writing, I am thinking of a situation in the U.S. wherein male members of Congress pass laws on abortion — men decide whether women should be allowed to have these procedures. I would be pleased to have men decide whether they would allow me to have an abortion only when they have gone through pregnancy and childbirth themselves. Here in the tech scene, if men design all the products for women, the situation is somewhat similar.

The consequences of this gender imbalance is visible in many areas of society in which design centers on male features and tendencies. Londa Schiebinger, a researcher at Stanford University, who has spent the last three decades studying the intersection of gender and science, had her name mistaken as male by the Google translator. This is due to the fact that the Google product is biased in favor of men and male names.
Schiebinger believes “to avoid such problems in the future, it is crucial that computer scientists design with an awareness of gender from the very beginning.”

However, without adequate amounts of women in the tech field, and specifically in the blockchain space, who will design products that take female perspectives into account? When companies develop products without considering the end-users’ perspectives, ignoring diversity harms the technology industry.

The Need for More Products Addressing Women’s Problems

Perhaps it’s a no-brainer that if there are more men in blockchain, there will be more products stereotypically targeting this demographic, such as gaming, football, etc. Since I’ve been involved in blockchain, I have been analyzing various blockchain public use cases projects, which raised funds through ICOs. Among the blockchain ICO projects listed on ICObench (an ICO rating website), there are a significant number of projects in gaming, casino and sport branches, the industries that may traditionally attract more men than women. There is only one single project whose target segment is specifically women. This is worrying and needs to be urgently changed.

Which products target women? Who is making them? Women have needs and problems to be solved, but without enough women in this space, there are not enough solutions being offered for them.

Who will develop solutions for women — to help them reduce pregnancy pain, tackle childbirth and post-delivery problems, or get back to a career after parenting? Are those problems not as urgent as getting some cryptokitties (digital cats sold on the Ethereum blockchain that may cost as much as USD 4,800)? The number of women who end up out of work after completing childbearing and giving birth is alarming. According to Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg in her book “Lean In,” 43% of highly qualified women with children leave their career altogether or have left the workforce for a period of time. This is just one example of how women are not equally integrated into the workforce and of a female-centric issue that could be a focus of new solutions and innovations.

Are Blockchain and Decentralized Technologies The Solution?

Anja Schumann founded moinworld and the Women Tech Makers Community because she “did not find a tech event where I did not feel strange — as a woman in Germany I should not feel like a minority.”

So, she founded a community and event series that are more colorful and less homogenous. It’s a world built for “discussing future technologies with men and women coming from different kinds of backgrounds that is not intimidating for beginners.”

“It is kind of a cultural movement. If you want to be a leader in today’s world, it is important to understand technologies, so you can do business in entirely new ways and it is essential to stay up to date in our rapidly changing environment,” Schumann said. She is one of the few women in the field who is working on making a positive social impact. Her blockchain conference, which is scheduled for March 2018 in the dreamy, beautiful city of Hamburg, Germany, will give leading women in blockchain a platform to discuss this emerging technology.

Vitus Zeller, a blockchain entrepreneur based in Munich, shares a similar vision. Zeller recognizes diversity as an innovation source for companies and sees decentralized solutions as disruptive technologies that have the potential to turn the world we live in inside out. Zeller founded Starwings with that vision.

Diversity is the heart of decentralized technologies such as blockchain. The core value of decentralized technologies is giving back the power to the masses; to those who would otherwise not be able to raise their voices, and to distribute a fair portion of equity to everyone who contributes. Vitalik Buterin — the founder of Ethereum and one of my favorite leaders in this sphere — constantly urges the community to use blockchain for the public good and for positive causes. Gender diversity should be one of them.