Blockchain: Mind the Gender Gap

Currently only 6% of participants in the blockchain space are women. How can we change this trajectory?

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This past year has been one of unprecedented and highly visible progress for women. Spurred by a collective need to right past wrongs and create new opportunities, empowered women have created important new social movements such as #metoo, #timesup, and #movethedial.

This is all good, but there continues to be a familiar outlier in all of this – the tech industry. High tech still remains heavily skewed towards males, especially at the top.

Of course the one thing one can say about the tech sector is that it is always changing and evolving, relentlessly driving toward what Michael Lewis called “the new new thing”.

Right now the new “thing” is blockchain.

Blockchain is best understood as the underlying technology of cryptocurrencies; it is a decentralized database which has – or soon will have – real world applications in most industries that involve large pools of data that require verification in real-time. Examples include finance and payments, healthcare, real estate, media and gaming, marketplaces and more.

In other words, it is poised to underpin much of the world’s economy.

One would have hoped that this new, emerging opportunity in the tech world would be used as a chance to break away from the boy’s club paradigm.

So far, however, that has not been the case.

In terms of workforce, this new new technology is attracting the same old old demographic – males.

Currently only 6% of participants in the blockchain space are women. Even fewer are actively participating in the actual research and development.

So how can we change this trajectory?

To find out we had conversations with over 100 women who are either in the blockchain space or want to break into it, as well as leaders and employers hiring in the industry, for practical tips. Here’s what we came up with.

1. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Don’t wait until you are sure you are 100% qualified (or over-qualified) for a role before applying. Those who apply prematurely, more often than not men, often get the roles they are not yet suited for as a result of a labor shortage in the space. Don’t be so cautious. The biggest complaint from founders and CEOs that are trying to hire for gender equality is that there are ‘no women in the funnel’. Don’t let the knowledge gaps hold you back, you will learn quicker than you can imagine on the job.

2. Be yourself.

Don’t get caught up in proving that you belong, though this is an understandable approach given the gender gap experiences of the past (and present). First and foremost, focus on doing great work and building great relationships. The rest will follow.

3. Create your own opportunity.

Blockchain is a nascent industry with little structure and few established companies with recruiters and HR departments. This means that looking for a position in the industry is mostly done through networking. The industry has no shortage of conferences and events, so get out there, meet as many people as you can, and find a place that will give you a shot. Remember that the industry moves so fast that interning somewhere for three months can feel like three years of experience.

4. Ask about compensation.

Don’t be shy and ask what people are making, and ask for the same as your counterparts. Although there is a lot of money flowing in the space, do remember that as with any industry, as a newcomer, it’s normal to take a haircut in the short term.

5. Join the community.

Join both female focused blockchain and gender agnostic organizations to find mentors and collaborators and to build networks in the industry. If 6% of the industry is female, that means 94% of it is still male. It may feel unnatural at first, but women have to find a way to participate in this male-dominated community. The more women take this plunge and set an example, the more will follow. Look for Facebook groups, telegram channels, dinners and panels to attend.

6. Beef up on education.

This is more pertinent to engineering roles, but can be applied more broadly. If you are still in school and are lucky enough to attend an institution that offers a blockchain-focused curriculum, such as UCLA or Stanford, do take advantage of this. If not, no need to despair. There are plenty of resources online. A good place to start is Andreesen’s Crypto Canon.

7. Seek and accept speaking engagements.

The blockchain industry, although notorious for its “bro culture”, is also surprisingly self-aware. The industry is actively looking for more female speakers and will often give spots on panels to up and comers. Take advantage of these opportunities to establish yourself as a leader. And make sure to pass those opportunities that conflict with your schedule to other females.

8. Read – and then write.

No one is a blockchain expert. The reality is, the industry is too new and too complex for any true expertise to have been formed. So if in all of this madness, you can be the voice that takes a complicated concept, breaks it down and shares the knowledge with others on a blog or platform like Medium, it is a sure way to gain favor with others in your industry.

9. Support other women.

This should be a no-brainer. Remember, diversity, including gender diversity empowers us all.

And, finally:

10. Start today!

Things are moving fast – women cannot afford to miss this Hyperloop speed train.

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