Decentralized Finance, Centralized Biases
I come from a traditional finance background where we have seen the consequences of lack of diversity. Wealth accumulated by a privileged few, gender pay gap, systems with inherent biases, and the list goes on. The fact that we are in the early stages of blockchain technology gives us an opportunity to set the right precedent and avoid making archaic mistakes.
This technology has the potential to redefine the dynamics of our society and disrupt our financial systems. It is imperative that such an enabling technology be built and represented by the diverse population it serves to benefit. Homogeneous teams run the risk creating solutions that fail to account for the needs of global users. We must do away with the “shrinking and pinking it” approach! (Bic ‘pens’ for Her, anyone?).
Women constitute 50% of the world population but their participation in the tech revolution is nowhere close to 50%. A lot has been said about the gender gap and the need to increase women’s participation in the blockchain space; however awareness alone will not bring about change. On the contrary, we are running the risk of normalizing this deficiency and accepting it as the status quo. We need to take concrete steps to break down barriers, to mentor, educate, and foster an appealing environment for women in the workplace. Several organizations are championing these efforts, and I have compiled a list of these initiatives across US. (Let me know if I missed any — I certainly hope there are even more!)
When I first became interested in blockchain, I attended meetups and events to learn more about the technology and meet like-minded people. My experience then can be very well summed up by what Linda Xie shared in this article. Though I encourage you to read the whole thing, to summarize: While no one was openly malicious at industry events, she often felt ignored (“Men would just introduce themselves to each other right in front of me”), underestimated (“People were surprised when I said anything intelligent”) and belittled (“They usually thought I was someone’s plus one”).
These experiences are not merely anecdotal but have been expressed repeatedly by women across the spectrum. I felt the need for a platform where women wouldn’t feel out of place and, rather, would be encouraged to explore this technology. I founded Women in Blockchain Boston (WiB Boston) to build a community for women to get together and establish a collaborative space for learning. In our first year we have highlighted the incredible work done by women leaders to empower others to get involved.
Inspire by example
There are so many amazing women making significant contributions to revolutionary projects, and we’ve done a poor job of highlighting their work. Instead, the focus is on their gender, rather than their accomplishments. The question asked in most panels and conferences — ‘What’s it like being a woman in blockchain?’ is irrelevant and undermines their contributions to the field. As Lightning Labs CEO Elizabeth Stark aptly tweeted:
At WiB Boston we focus on the significance of their groundbreaking innovations. Our hope is that these incredible panelists and speakers will serve as role models for younger and newer enthusiasts and motivate them to get involved. We have been lucky to host truly inspiring innovators, including:
- Sharon Goldberg — CEO/Co-Founder of Arwen, a Boston-based startup that is developing a non-custodial trading solution for centralized exchanges. She is also an associate professor in the Computer Science Department at Boston University, where she researches securing the protocols that provide many of the global internet’s core functions.
- Sandra Ro — Managing Partner & COO, UWINCorp Ltd: Unleashing Wealth in Nations. Sandra is working on an asset registry services and trading marketplace project focusing on physical commodity markets. She is the former Executive Director, Head of Digitization at CME Group. Sandra founded and was responsible for the CME’s digital assets and blockchain initiatives, including bitcoin futures and index pricing prices.
- Primavera De Filippi — Researcher at Harvard University (Berkman-Klein Center) and at National Center of Scientific Research in Paris, and author of Blockchain and the Law. She is also a member of the Global Future Council on Blockchain Technologies at the World Economic Forum. Her fields of interest are the legal challenges raised by decentralized technologies, particularly blockchain.
- Paige Peterson — User Education & Community Team Lead at Zcash. Paige has been immersed within the peer-to-peer technology world since 2011. Prior roles included mesh networking and p2p storage startups. She enjoys exploring ways to simplify explanations of complex topics, hosting crypto events and is a proud participant in the Free State Project.
- Ryan Rugg — Global Head of Insurance at R3; including research, development, and commercialization across the ecosystem of blockchain innovation. In 2017, she launched the Center of Excellence for Insurers and Reinsurers at R3 which is redefining the foundations of insurance by harnessing the power of collaborative networks, through the deployment of DLT within the financial services industry.
Empower through education
Our group aims to empower women and increase their participation in the blockchain space by fueling their education. Through our monthly meetups, we discuss the challenges and opportunities of the industry, and debate current developments offering promising solutions. WiB lowers the barrier to entry by facilitating connections to thought leaders and creating a platform for women to learn from one another. Our members collaborate and inspire each other to drive this technology forward.
Disrupting the traditional industry and replacing it with a decentralized one is not enough if we carry our arcane biases into the new economy. But the fact that we are having these conversations early on makes me hopeful. Let’s do better this time around!