The Crypto World Needs More Women
The technology and engineering fields have historically been male dominated. Deloitte, for example, estimates that only about a quarter of leadership positions at the largest technology firms are held by women. Yet, the crypto world—cryptocurrencies, digital tokens, smart contracts, NFTs, and decentralized finance (DeFi)—which is underpinned by blockchain technology is giving a whole new meaning to male domination. A December 2021 study found that of the 121 leading crypto companies, only five (or 4.13 percent of the total) were founded by women. Even more concerning, less than 10 percent of the partners at all crypto funds are women. It should be no surprise, therefore, that the crypto space has a well-deserved reputation for having a “bro” culture—a culture that was on full display at the North American Bitcoin Conference in 2018 where the 5,000 attendees were invited to a “networking party” at a well-known Miami strip club. Because of the growing size of the crypto industry, its overwhelmingly male domination has serious discriminatory implications for women’s career opportunities in technology. But before discussing how this gender inequality can be reduced and the crypto world obtain the benefit of doing so, let’s step back and look at the size and growth of this increasingly important economic sector.
The Crypto World
The first thing to keep in mind is how new crypto is. The first bitcoin transaction took place only 14 years ago in 2009. From then until the final week of 2022, the capitalization of the crypto market has grown to over a trillion dollars. Fortune Magazine predicts the global cryptocurrency market will grow to $1.9 trillion by 2028. Daily online transactions in bitcoin are about $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 daily crypto trading volume was down in 2022 from its highs in 2020 and 2021, it still fluctuated between $20 and $70 billion, an enormous market by any measure. And these transactions are taking place on 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, a sector in which women should be playing a much larger role. Increasing gender equality in the crypto world would not only open up new career opportunities for women, it would also bring positive changes to crypto’s culture and increase its innovativeness.
The Culture of Crypto
Gracy Chen, a veteran of several crypto firms who is now at Bitget, describes the crypto world as “the Wild West dominated by male speculators and a bro culture reinforced by recent scandals and the market plunge.” Chen notes she has had “first-hand experience” in seeing how “female engagement and leadership [can] help [create] a more positive work environment and improved product enhancement.” Indeed, researchers have found that when women participation in the top three leadership levels in a firm increases to at least 30 percent, both sexes find it results in a positively “changed management cultures….” Such a critical mass of women in leadership results in “a closer alignment with the ideals of contemporary leadership [that] should be seen as desirable.”
Innovation in Crypto
No one would suggest that crypto has lacked innovation. But as Chen points out, more women in leadership leads to “improved product enhancement.” Her observation is borne out by numerous studies that show mixed gender collaboration greatly improves business outcomes. Gallup, for example, found that gender-diverse teams performed better than single-gender teams, in large part because women and men bring “different viewpoints, ideas, and market insights to projects.” Gallup found that companies, teams, and individuals are more productive, creative, and effective at problem solving and coping with difficult situations when they have gender diverse leadership. Importantly, however, the benefits of mixed gender collaboration are not full realized unless women are at least 30 percent of the team or decision-making group. Indeed, with such a critical mass of women on teams, men process information more thoroughly, become more reflective, and are more open-minded. In addition, there is less “groupthink,” hence less insularity and closemindedness.
Getting More Women into Crypto Leadership
Increasing the proportion of women in the leadership of crypto will not be easy, but there is a path forward. In a forthcoming book Beyond Bias: The PATH to End Gender Inequality at Work, which I wrote with my husband, we lay out a program that organizations can use to ensure women’s advancement opportunities are equal to men’s. There are three essential steps crypto firms need to take.
Eliminate Exclusionary Behavior
First, firms need to clearly and decisively prohibit exclusionary behavior, behavior that puts women down, limits their access to advancement and networking opportunities, subjects them to rude, crude, or uncivil conduct, and results in their being talked over, interrupted or ignored when they attempt to speak up. Eliminating exclusionary behavior must be a top down initiative. Once crypto leaders are committed to bringing women into leadership and making them feel welcome, exclusionary behavior can be quickly reduced if not entirely eliminated.
Adopt Discrimination-Resistant Personnel Procedures
Second, Crypto firms must also adopt procedures for making personnel decisions that resist the influence of stereotypes and biases. Decisions involving hiring, compensation, assignment of responsibility, and promotion are highly susceptible to these discriminatory influences. With the heavy male dominance of the crypto world, affinity bias is a matter of particular concern. Affinity bias is the natural preference all of us have to favor people who are like us. This means that the male leaders in crypto are far more likely to assign high profile projects to other men; socialize with other men to the exclusion of women; and provide more and more helpful advice, support, and encouragement to other men. Given the power of affinity bias, it is hardly surprising that the straight, white men who lead most major crypto firms have surrounded themselves (mostly) with other heterosexual white men. To counter the influence of affinity bias, firms need to adopt specific, objective, and comprehensive; criteria on the basis of which personnel decisions must be made. Firms can also require more than one person be involved in making each personnel decision, with the decision-makers required to explain to each other the reasons for their preferred choice. Decision-makers could also be required to write down their reasons for their personnel decisions, which would then be reviewed by another person.
Provide Equal Leadership Advice and Coaching
Third, once crypto firms start hiring more women, it is essential that these women receive evaluations, advice, and coaching that is just as thorough, constructive, and supportive as that given to the men. This also goes for leadership development, training, and support. Firms will have to work hard to hire more women, but once they do hire them, firms need to be certain these women’s workplace experiences are just as satisfying, encouraging, and helpful as their male counterparts.
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As exciting and dynamic as the crypto world is, its full potential will not be realized unless women begin to play a larger leadership role. But this is not going to happen unless the crypto world become more welcoming to women, they are not disadvantaged by affinity bias, and they are given equal opportunities to advance. This can happen—it is a simple matter of crypto firms recognizing their self-interest in doing so.