The fields of technology and engineering have always been dominated by men. Deloitte, for example, estimates that only about a quarter of leadership positions at the largest tech companies are held by women. Yet the world of crypto – cryptocurrencies, digital tokens, smart contracts, NFTs, and decentralized finance (DeFi) – that is powered by blockchain technology is giving a whole new meaning to male dominance. One December 2021 to study found that of the top 121 crypto companies, only five (or 4.13% of the total) were founded by women. Even more worryingly, less than 10% of the partners all crypto funds are women. It should come as no surprise, then, that the crypto space has a well-deserved reputation for having a “bro” culture – a culture that was on full display during the North American Bitcoin Conference in 2018 where all 5,000 attendees were invited. has a “networking eveningat a well-known strip club in Miami. Due to the growing size of the crypto industry, its overwhelmingly male dominance has serious discriminatory implications for women’s career opportunities in tech. But before discussing how this gender inequality can be reduced and the crypto world benefit from it, let’s take a step back and examine the size and growth of this increasingly important economic sector.
The world of crypto
The first thing to keep in mind is the new cryptography. The first bitcoin transaction took place only 14 years ago in 2009. From then until the last week of 2022, the crypto market capitalization has grown to over a trillion dollars. Fortune Magazine predicts that the global cryptocurrency market will reach $1.9 trillion by 2028. Online daily transactions in bitcoin are around $6 billion, a payment method surpassed only by Visa and Mastercard with daily transaction volumes of $30.3 billion and $16.2 billion respectively. Although the daily crypto transaction volume was down in 2022 from its 2020 and 2021 highs, it was still fluctuating between $20 billion and $70 billion, a huge market by any measure. And these transactions take place over more than 300 crypto platforms or exchanges.
However one looks at the crypto market, it is a dynamic and increasingly important sector of our economy, one in which women should play a much larger role. Increasing gender equality in the crypto world would not only open up new career opportunities for women, but also bring positive changes to crypto culture and increase its innovativeness.
The culture of crypto
Grace Chen, a veteran of several crypto companies who is now at Bitget, describes the crypto world as “the Wild West dominated by male speculators and a sibling culture reinforced by recent scandals and the market crash.” Chen notes that she had “first-hand experience” seeing how “women’s commitment and leadership [can] help [create] a more positive work environment and better product improvement. Indeed, the researchers found that when women’s participation in the first three leadership levels in a company increases to at least 30%, both genders find that this results in a “change in management cultures…”. Such a critical mass of women in leadership positions results in “closer alignment with the ideals of contemporary leadership [that] should be considered desirable.
Innovation in Cryptography
No one would suggest that crypto lacked innovation. But as Chen points out, more women in leadership positions leads to “improved product improvement.” His observation is confirmed by numerous studies which show mixed collaboration dramatically improves business results. Gallup, for example, found that mixed-sex teams performed better than single-sex teams, largely because women and men bring “different perspectives, ideas, and market information to projects.” Gallup has found that companies, teams, and individuals are more productive, creative, and effective at solving problems and coping with difficult situations when they have diverse leadership. But above all, the advantages of mixed collaboration are only fully realized if women make up at least 30% of the team or decision-making group. Indeed, with such a critical mass of women in teams, men process information more thoroughly, become more reflective and are more open-minded. Moreover, there is less “groupthink», hence less insularity and narrow-mindedness.
Bringing more women into crypto leadership
Increasing the proportion of female leaders in crypto will not be easy, but there is a way forward. In a forthcoming book Beyond Bias: The PATH to Ending Gender Inequality in the Workplace, which I wrote with my husband, we present a program that organizations can use to ensure that women’s opportunities for advancement are equal to those of men. Crypto businesses need to follow three essential steps.
Eliminate exclusionary behaviors
First, companies must clearly and decisively prohibit exclusionary behaviors, behaviors that demean women, limit their access to opportunities for advancement and networking, subject them to rude, rude or uncivil conduct and result in this whether they are discussed, interrupted or ignored when they attempt to speak. Eliminating exclusionary behaviors must be a top-down initiative. Once crypto leaders are committed to bringing women into leadership and welcoming them, exclusionary behaviors can be quickly reduced or even eliminated entirely.
Adopt discrimination-resistant personnel procedures
Second, crypto businesses must also adopt procedures for making personnel decisions that resist the influence of stereotypes and biases. Decisions about hiring, compensation, assignment of responsibilities and promotion are highly susceptible to these discriminatory influences. With the strong male dominance of the crypto world, affinity bias is a particular concern. Affinity bias is the natural preference we all have to favor people who look like us. This means that male crypto leaders are much more likely to award high profile projects to other men; socialize with other men to the exclusion of women; and providing increasingly useful advice, support and encouragement to other men. Given the power of affinity bias, it’s hardly surprising that the straight white men who run most of the big crypto companies have surrounded themselves with (mostly) other straight white men. To counter the influence of affinity bias, companies must adopt specific, objective and comprehensive strategies; criteria on the basis of which personnel decisions are to be taken. Companies may also require more than one person to be involved in making each personnel decision, with decision-makers having to explain to each other the reasons for their preferred choice. Decision-makers could also be required to write down the reasons for their personnel decisions, which would then be reviewed by another person.
Provide equal leadership guidance and coaching
Third, once crypto companies start hiring more women, it is essential that these women receive assessments, advice and coaching that are just as thorough, constructive and encouraging as those given to men. This also applies to leadership development, training and support. Companies will have to work hard to hire more women, but once they hire them, companies need to be sure that the work experiences of these women are just as satisfying, encouraging and helpful as their male counterparts.
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As exciting and dynamic as the world of crypto is, its full potential will only be realized if women begin to play a greater leadership role. But that won’t happen unless the world of crypto becomes more welcoming to women, they are not disadvantaged by an affinity bias, and they have equal opportunities to advance. It can happen – it’s just a matter of crypto companies acknowledging their self-interest in doing so.