Women in Bitcoin and Blockchain Tech — An Opportunity
When I first started my journey down the bitcoin rabbit hole, I never expected to be surrounded by so many women. People always seem surprised that there are a lot of women who work on various problems — whether technical, academic, commercial, regulatory, or PR — in both bitcoin and blockchain technology.
It’s been fantastic to be surrounded by such a supportive group of powerful, highly intelligent women who are tackling some of the most challenging problems the budding bitcoin and blockchain technology community will face over the coming decades. One of the things that I’ve been excited about working on is more efforts to get diversity into the spotlight — it’s still very much a man’s world, and the stats reveal some exciting opportunities for our community.
Important caveat: This post is not intended to be critical, but constructive so I hope it comes across that way. Feel free to leave critiques in the comments or send me a note at meltem at dcg dot co if you want to provide feedback or talk offline.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Just looking at the DCG portfolio of companies we’ve invested in over the last 3 years, here’s what I found (full disclosure — using mostly publicly available information from company websites, CrunchBase, LinkedIn, etc. so numbers are intended to be directional, not absolute)
- Our 67 portfolio companies collectively employ 944 people (amazing!). Of those, 163 are women. That’s 17% which is on the low end for tech, but it is much higher than I anticipated. The geometric average (mean) per company was 12%.
- 23 of our 67 companies, or over one third, employ no women at all. None of these companies have over 10 employees. This suggests women are typically not involved in the early stages of company building, which may be because:
- The most common role for women is (in order) Executive Assistant, Office Manager, PR / Marketing / Communications, Regulatory / Compliance, Finance
- There were only 4 female engineers in my sample set. Overall, there are probably about a dozen female engineers in the entire space.
- The company with the highest ratio of women employed 50% women, and it was one of only a handful of companies that employed non-white females. The second highest employed 46%. The next was below 30%.
What I see from looking at these numbers is a tremendous opportunity. We can build the community we want if we all work together to address issues at all stages of the funnel. I would love to bring together all of the leaders in the bitcoin community and identify how we can all become more aware, more proactive, and more pragmatic in building a rich, diverse community of stakeholders.
Start of the Funnel
Education is the primary tool we have to get more women into bitcoin. The MIT Digital Currency Initiative hosted a great event this summer with Girls Who Code where Tess, one of the engineers at Chain, taught middle school girls some basic bitcoin code. It was an amazing event. Code to Inspire is a great example of an organization addressing educational gaps in Afghanistan and empowering young women. Many leaders in the bitcoin community including BitFury, Overstock, and DCG supported a recent workshop. These are great examples of low cost, high impact events that create a pipeline for talent. We’re going to need a lot of talented people — but we’re also going to need to cultivate that talent by encouraging and supporting intellectual curiosity at all levels of education. I know MIT, Princeton, Stanford, and a handful of other schools are tackling this issue, but how do we as a community get more involved in the education cycle?
Based on feedback from some young women in bitcoin, I heard that at the university level, it’s pretty intimidating for female students to attend bitcoin conferences, meet-ups, events, etc. because they don’t see many people like themselves. As a recent grad student at MIT, I can also safely say that I was often the only woman in a room — pretty uncomfortable, especially when you’re from a non-technical background and surrounded by engineers. This is why partnering more experienced women who are already in the industry with younger women who may want to work in bitcoin could be a great way to support and encourage more women to learn about bitcoin, and more importantly, to stay. I’d love to think about how we could get a more structured program in place so we connect students and women beginning their careers with those more experienced. I’m sure there are great examples from other industries we could draw from, too.
The first CoinDesk Consensus Conference in 2015 saw an innovative partnership model between CoinDesk and MIT DCI, where 50 female “scholars” were given tickets to attend the conference, and had special mentorship discussions at the event. That model has been repeated several times, including at Scaling Bitcoin, the recent Digital Chamber of Commerce Blockchain Summit in Georgetown, and will take place again at CoinDesk’s Consensus 2016. I actually had a great conversation with one of the first scholars at Consensus 2015 and connected with her again at the DCC Summit, where she mentioned how impactful Consensus had been and how she’s now doing great work in the State Department (oh hey Marisol!) What could we do to expand this model beyond just one event?
This is one area where I would love to see more companies hiring young women for internships, externships, consulting projects, etc. There are always lots of short-term projects with a very specific scope that companies are working on where they could get someone young and hungry involved. In college, I spent a year working at a prop trading firm helping run analysis on methanol and ethanol, and eventually helped start a carbon trading desk (it was 2008, don’t judge). Did I know sh*t about trading before I started? Absolutely not! Did I learn? Absolutely yes. Like anything else, my boss gave me a set of defined projects, gave me feedback on the deliverables, and helped me to figure it out. It probably took up about 2 hours a week of his time, and I was totally happy to work for $20 / hr. The carbon desk I started generated $100k in profits with my first few trades, meaning I added far more value that I cost the firm, and it eventually led to an awesome diversification opportunity for the firm. How many firms could afford spending $500 to have a smart, scrappy person help them re-think a problem they’re tackling. Probably all 67 in the DCG portfolio 😀 Probably everyone in the bitcoin community. Sure, you’ll have some people that don’t work out, but by and large, helping young people who don’t look like the rest of your team grow and learn and develop their network early on is one of the most impactful things we can be doing.
I know Andreas Antonopoulos has a great anti-harassment policy that he requires for any event where he’s asked to speak, and I have tremendous respect for his unwavering stance on issues around inclusion and harassment. I love that Dawn Newton (COO, Netki) helped push for better behavior in the community at the Satoshi Roundtable in Miami last month. Bitcoin can be really unwelcoming for someone who is new to the community — people can be dogmatic and direct (which I love ❤), but it can make people fearful of asking questions or sharing their viewpoints. As a community, I think we also tend to fall into intellectual elitism where we think only people with certain qualifications or roles can contribute to conversations. That approach has led to us missing out on some opportunities to have a multi-disciplinary, constructive approach. The more aware we are of our own behavior, the more we can encourage people to participate in conversation and welcome contrarian viewpoints.
Middle of the Funnel
This is where it gets a little tricky. I don’t run a bitcoin or blockchain technology company, so I am probably not as informed as others to speak on this. I’ve built teams, but not at growth companies (I’m a failed entrepreneur times two.) Still — there is so much we could do to at least begin understanding how we can get better.
Collect and Report on the Numbers
I probably review five investor reports each week, and no investor report I’ve ever seen from a startup has any type of diversity metric. If we don’t ever think about the numbers and facts of our business and our industry, we can’t possibly expect to understand what unconscious bias we may hold and where we may need to spend more time and energy as both a company and an industry. It’s not realistic to expect a five person team to focus on hiring for diversity, but we should instill diversity as a core value of our community early on. Now that we have an industry average for female employees (17%) and a per company average (12%), can we challenge ourselves to do better? We’re all competitive people, so tracking the numbers and setting even a low bar of 30% women in industry would really differentiate bitcoin. What is we nuanced that analysis even further? It’s really hard to set goals and to track progress if we don’t understand the current state. By making reporting on diversity a standard business practice in the bitcoin community, leaders will be trained to be more aware when making potential hiring decisions because they know that this too, just like CAC and LTV, will be a metric investors monitor. There’s a proven business case for diversity — it creates added value. We should monitor just like any other business metric.
Hire for Skill, Not for Knowledge
I’m probably going to get a lot of criticism for saying this, but the bitcoin community has a really bad case of confirmation bias. Whenever I speak up about women and diversity, the guys typically push back with “we should hire based on merit. period. end of conversation.” I’m sorry, but that’s a pretty bullshit excuse. Some of the best hires in bitcoin have come from outside the industry. Emily, who heads up marketing for ShapeShift, is an absolute BOSS and she comes from a tourism and travel background. Erik Voorhees and the team at ShapeShift found her because had a really fantastic skill set, they then took the time to teach her what she needed to know, and she’s now a total pro. Saying someone doesn’t have the right skills just because they’re not a hardcore bit coiner is a sad excuse. Every single person in bitcoin was not a bit coiner at some point, yet we all learned. I think this bias also cuts way more against women than it does against men, which is a shame. There are tons of men in bitcoin who didn’t know diddlysh*t about bitcoin before they joined one of these companies or were mentored and taught by someone in the industry. I’m not sure how we overcome this bias, but I would love to hear from leaders who have hired outside the bitcoin industry. What did you find? What did you look for? How can you help others do something similar? If someone is passionate about bitcoin and eager to learn, we should welcome that person into our community!
Take more Risks
I think the mantra “Hire Slow, Fire Fast” is a great one to employ when hiring people. I know a handful of entrepreneurs in the bitcoin community who have done an amazing job hiring a very diverse team and giving people, but especially women, stretch roles. I myself have benefited from working for someone who has given me a tremendous amount of autonomy and has trusted my capability to do things I’ve never really done before (thanks Barry!). Hiring is really difficult, especially when your team is small and even one new team member can have a huge impact on your team’s culture. But by hiring only people in our network and in our existing community, we are limiting ourselves in our perspective. I’ve seen some of the best ideas come from diverse teams of people who have various backgrounds who can leverage their respective experiences and collective insights to come up with new solutions to problems. I’m not sure how some of the leaders in our industry have dealt with this, again, but I would be eager to find out what has been helpful for others and see how it can be scaled and replicated.
End of the Funnel
As you’ll see from my list at the end of this long, long post, there are TONS of females executives in bitcoin. How do people in positions of power and authority who command social, human, and financial capital use the resources at their disposal to help other women? I often think about this question, and it’s a weird situation. No one wants to be that person who is always pounding the table for other women and diversity, but are there ways that leaders in the bitcoin community can advocate for diversity without too much sacrifice of reputation/ social capital? Again, a few ideas:
When someone asks for a list of attendees, guests, speakers, contributors — what if we all tried to suggest both women and men? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen event guest lists that are all men, simply because no one really thought about explicitly trying to include women. What if we all said, the next time I get a request, I’ll spend 5 or 10 minutes looking through my contacts and suggest at least a half dozen women to recommend for any speaking role, invite-only summit, or event. What if we all made this a part of our ethos? Sure, the first dozen times it will feel like a Herculean task and a chore, but after a while, it will become a natural behavior.
I would love to see more women get publicity and recognition for what they’re doing in bitcoin. There are a handful of women who are out there, which is great, but it seems like the focus is often on male founders. How do we get a more diverse representation of bitcoin into the media? This is an issue where all of the leaders in the bitcoin community can help one another be more successful. Whenever we get asked to speak on an issue, what if we also suggested two or three diverse leaders the reporter should speak with? When asked to speak at a conference, what if we also suggested a handful of other really fantastic and diverse leaders in the industry to join us? The public perception of bitcoin is not the best, and part of that has to do with the perception of the people who represent bitcoin. There is a huge, diverse community of people who are all drawn to bitcoin for various reasons and who could speak eloquently and capably to various aspects of what they’re working on. What if we shared some of the spotlight with people who don’t look like ourselves?
Women in Bitcoin and Blockchain Tech Today
Well, I guess this is the exciting part. There are TONS of women doing really impactful and meaningful work. Here’s who I’ve interacted with over the past year, and I would love to add more to this list! I know Connie Gallippi also maintains a great list and others have published their lists so it would be awesome to see this become a crowd-sourced community document that gets updated periodically. I’ve taken a pass at turning this into a Google Doc and adding some categorization, but I would welcome edits and additions since my area of focus is pretty specific. I’m also happy to merge into whatever others are building. Maybe we should add a column for expertise? Who does public speaking? Who is willing to mentor someone? Let me know what you think.
- Elizabeth Stark (CEO, Lightning, organizer of Scaling Bitcoin)
- Melanie Shapiro (CEO, Case)
- Elizabeth Rossiello (CEO, BitPesa)
- Catherine Nicholson (CEO, Blockcypher)
- Meg Nakamoro (CEO, Shift Payments)
- Ola Doudin (CEO, BitOasis)
- Blythe Masters (CEO, DAH)
- Leanne Kemp (CEO, Everledger)
- Pamela Morgan (CEO, Third Key Solutions)
- Jessi Baker (CEO,Provenance)
- Jamie Smith (CCO, BitFury)
- Hannah Kim (CPO, Volabit)
- Amy Ludlum (CFO, BitPesa)
- Charlene Chen (COO, BitPesa)
- Dawn Newton — (COO, Netki)
- Juthica Chou (CEO, LedgerX)
- Erin Coppin (CCO, Coinbase)
- Antoinette O’Gorman (CCO, Ripple)
- Kim Petry (CFO, itBit)
- Carrie McQueen (CFO, Ciphrex)
- Sheryl Carr (Founder, QuidPOS)
- Luciana Gruszeczka (COO, BitPagos)
- Min-Si Wang (Head of Product, BitPesa)
- Lilia Vershinina (Banking, Kraken)
- Tess Rinearson (Engineer, Chain)
- Sarah Hagstrom (Engineer, ChangeTip)
- Minkyoung Jang (Engineer, Korbit)
- Jordan Kruger (Engineer, Bloq)
- Daira Hopwood (Engineer, ZCash)
- Fredrika Gyllang (Operations, MONI)
- Monica Long (VP, Ripple)
- Emily Vaughn (formerly BitPay, Gem)
- Victoria Van Eyk (VP, ChangeTip)
- Kristen Stone (BD, Coinbase)
- Moran Shaked (Head Marketing, Colu, MissBitcoin)
- Sheila James (Operations, Align Commerce)
- Nora Laitinen (Operations, Filament)
- Shilpi Kumar (Product Marketing, Filament)
- Gabrielle Patrick (Co-founder, Epiphyte)
- Karen Gifford (Regulatory Affairs & Compliance, Ripple)
- Kat Walsh (Blockstream, IP Counsel, formerly with Wikimedia Foundation and Creative Commons)
- Claire Belmont (Enigma)
- Eva Shon (Consensys, Lead UX Developer)
- Regina Scolaro (Director, BitGO)
- Elyse Giles Jupiter (Director, BitPay)
- Liya Belenska (Compliance, BitPay)
- Mina Hanczyc (Compliance, BitPay)
- Linda Wang (Director, BTCC)
- Wendy Jiang (Director, BTCC)
- Noa (Design, Colu)
- Emily (Marketing, Shapeshift)
- Kathleen Breitman (Strategy, R3)
- Maureen Walsh (Marketing, PR at ZCash, Blockstream, others)
- Martine Niejadli (Former COO, Coinbase)
- Sandra Ro (Blockchain Research, CME Group)
- Roshina Nandra (Innovation, Prudential)
- Michelle Sabins (Silvergate Bank, Client Relationships)
- Jennifer Rutley (MassMutual Labs)
- Scarlet Sieber (BBVA Open Innovation)
Investors & Advisors
- Jalak Jobanputra (Managing Partner, FuturePerfect Ventures)
- Rumi Morales (Managing Director, CME Ventures)
- Meltem Demirors (Digital Currency Group)
- Trista Van Tine (AXA Strategic Ventures)
- Jenny Fielding (Barclays Techstars FinTech)
- Alice George (RRE Ventures)
- Maria Palma (RRE Ventures)
- Arianna Simpson (Formerly at BitGo, now investing)
- Alyse Killeen (Investor, Board Advisor)
- Sheila Bair (Board, itBit)
- Susan Athey (Professor, Stanford GSB, Board @ Ripple, Chief Economist @ Microsoft)
- Mary Ann Callahan (Advisor, ItBIt)
- Ulrika Axelsson (Board, Safello)
- Brooke Mallers (Investor)
- Neha Narula (Director of Research, MIT Digital Currency Initiative)
- Chelsea Barabas (Senior Advisor, Digital Currency Initiative)
- Elaine Shi (Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, Recipient of NSF Grant for Cryptocurrency Research)
- Dawn Song (Professor, Computer Science at Berkeley, Recipient of NSF Grant for Cryptocurrency Research)
- Primeravera Di Filippi (Research Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society)
- Jinglan Wang (MIT Bitcoin Club)
- Christina Garman (Johns Hopkins)
Advocacy, Media, and More
- Robin Weisman (Senior Advisor, CoinCenter)
- Anne Shere Wallwork (Senior Counselor, United States Department of Treasury)
- Helen Wong (Federal Trade Commission)
- Elizabeth Ploshay (formerly BitPay, BitGive, Bitcoin Foundation)
- Perianne Boring (Founder, Digital Chamber of Commerce)
- Connie Gallippi (Founder, BitGive)
- Constance Choi (Co-founder, COALA Blockchain Workshops, formerly Kraken)
- Laura Shin (Writer, Forbes, Author)
- Tanaya Macheel (Journalist, American Banker)
- Melanie Swan (Writer, Author of Blockchain Blueprint Economy)
- Marguerite Driscoll (Artist, Hacker)
- Christie Harken (Bitcoin media)
- Tatiana Moroz (Crypto Media Hub)
- Stephanie Murphy (Let’s talk Bitcoin Host)
- Shermin Voshmngir (Blockchain Hub, DAO Curator)
- Ana Irrera (Writer, WSJ)