We’ve got a problem…
Can you guess what percentage of Bitcoin or Ethereum holders are women? A very depressing 15 and 12 (approximately) respectively. Even more saddening is the percentage of women founders in the top 121 crypto companies — a measly 4%. Of course these appalling numbers make sense when you learn that only 9% of women say that they even understand what cryptocurrency is. There are more sad statistics coming up. Only 16% of artists creating and selling NFTs are women. While 14% of men invest in cryptocurrencies, only 7% of women do. This gender gap exceeds the gender gap in conventional investments. For example, 40% of men invest in individual stocks versus 24% women. I am bombarding you with all these numbers for one purpose — to drive home the fact that we have a problem!
Why is this a problem you ask? Do you remember the time when Google Photos was detecting African Americans as Gorillas? This is what happens when there is a lack of representation of certain segments of our society in upcoming technologies. In the words of Michelle Obama, “The difference between a broken community and a thriving one is the presence of women who are valued.”. Not only are women missing out on the financial advantages of being a part of Web3, but Web3 is also missing out from the unique contributions that women can bring to it. For the ecosystem of Web3 to thrive, it must be inclusive and diverse. It can not afford to close its door to almost half of the world’s population.
According to Medha Kothari, co-founder of she256 (non-profit organisation trying to improve diversity in crypto), “We [are] convinced that blockchain technology [is] going to fundamentally change the way our financial systems run and our societies are governed”. She continues, “So, we thought it was absolutely critical that those building these systems represent the diversity of our global population.” Medha is not the only one to hold this view. The chief people officer of Blockchain.com, Maya Miller, believes “Web3 will flourish if it’s built with diversity in mind…Industries that are represented with diversity of thought, experience, ethnicity and gender reflect their ecosystems and users most accurately.”
Let’s get to the root of it
We can’t solve a problem without understanding its cause, can we? So, why are women not participating as much as men in Web3? You might scoff at me and say, “if there is no gender equality in the real world, of course we won’t have it in Web3”. Which is definitely true. Web3 does not exist in a vacuum. Anything that is born out of a sexist society will have, at the minimum, a tinge of sexism, but is that all? Or is there more to it?
Several other factors could be behind this. Let’s make a fictitious character, Nora, who wants to get involved in Web3. What are the challenges she will face? To begin with, what are the chances that Nora comes from a technological background (given that a technical background is kind of important for certain types of participants in Web3)? Not much unfortunately. Let’s face it, there are less women in technology. According to a recent study, women constitute only 28.8% of the tech workforce. According to the National Girls Collaborative Project, in 2015 women constituted only 20% of engineering students and even less in computer sciences. We can’t have a healthy number of women in Web3 with such abysmal representation in tech in general.
If Nora is a designer and wants to participate in Web3 through her art she will have to put up her work in one of the many marketplaces. Not only are almost all the biggest NFT marketplaces owned by men, women constitute a very small percentage of the artists in these places. In Nifty Gateway for example, female artists make less than 16% of the overall artists. You must have heard of the Bored Ape Yacht Club, but have you heard of Seneca, the woman who was the lead designer? I am guessing not. The Rolling Stone documented her story on how while these NFTs went on to make millions of dollars, Seneca could only watch its success ‘from the shadows’.
Interestingly, while women are struggling to enter Web3, some men are pretending to be women and sell their NFTs as such! In 2021 the Fame Lady Squad claimed to be a collective of three women artists who were entering the world of NFTs. Using this as their selling pitch they managed to make approximately 1.5 Million dollars in a few weeks. Unfortunately, it was later revealed that the three artists were actually all male. Lastly, there is this catch-22 problem — lack of women in Web3 is itself a deterrent for more women to take part in it.
So, what can we do about it?
Where does Nora (our fictitious crypto newbie) begin? We will divide Nora’s journey to Web3 into two parts — first she will have to get educated on the topic and second she will need to find communities to work with. So let’s get started!
Staying afloat in a sea of information.
If Nora decides to learn about crypto and Web3 online, she will be bombarded with a barrage of information. I mean, there are hundreds of websites with information on crypto. But where does Nora start from? She could begin with Women in blockchain (WiB), an organisation working on increasing diversity in Web3 by education and community building. It was launched in 2017 to equip women to learn about Web3 and to be allies for one another. WiB in collaboration with She256 has created a “Beginner’s Guide to Blockchain”. She256 believes that blockchain technology will be fundamental in forming “our future financial and governance structures, and as such it’s crucial that those building these systems are representative of the global, diverse population which they intend to serve”. They provide mentorship opportunities to young adults by professionals. Along with open sourced educational material (Block-Change) for people new in the arena they also have interview series with inspiring women in blockchain. They are dedicated to developing the blockchain ecosystem as a “diverse, dynamic industry”.
SheFi is another “educational initiative and global community” that Nora can approach to “go from crypto curious to crypto confident”. Through “education, experimentation and community”, SheFi promotes women of all backgrounds. Women get to learn using the best blockchain protocols and applications. Some of the fundamental values of this community include “openness, kindness, diversity, inclusion, equity, curiosity, listening and support”. They provide courses that consist of 1 to 2 sessions of recordings, materials and guides.
Another organisation trying to bring a surge of women into Web3 is Surge (please excuse my very poor play with words). The community of Surge believes in everyone getting educated in Web3 and joining hands to construct a decentralised future. The members of Surge identified that while Web3 is developing at an unanticipated rate, women and non binary individuals are being left behind. Therefore, according to them, the time to recruit more women in Web3 is now — and I agree. By simplifying the concepts of Web3, Surge is trying to reduce the difference between the haves and have not (of crypto knowledge, not money). Surge is made of “a crypto-native, talent pool of badass women building Web3”. Surge members recognise that Web3 provides a unique opportunity to reduce economic disbalance between the genders, and therefore they find it vital to make sure that women are not left out in the Web3 frontier. Surge invites one and all female voices to engage with them.
Standing up for one another — the beauty of collaboration.
Let’s say using the resources mentioned above Nora has educated herself. Now she wants to connect with other women like her — have crypto BFFs of some sorts. Actually, she does have a BFF! BFF is a community for anyone who is interested in crypto. BFF started as a collaborative effort of over 50 leaders (of different fields). Now they are a decentralised organisation whose aim is to aid and support women and non binary people get trained, linked, and paid in crypto and Web3. AllStarsWomen has similar goals in that they unite thousands of female entrepreneurs from different backgrounds and give them access to the investment, and assets they require to thrive and excel.
This is also where Global Women in Blockchain (GWB) comes in handy. Their mission is “to bring all resources for women under one umbrella to change the world”. GWB is aiming at having one (at least) female delegate per country. GWB plans to achieve this by creating a collaborative atmosphere, supplying educational materials, bringing together a community of women in STEM and finally, by uniting all groups that support women.
What if Nora was a person of colour?
Even among women, women of colour are at a greater disadvantage than other women. Yinkore, an NFT artist from Nigeria believes she can count on her fingers the names of black women who have succeeded in being in the spotlight. According to her, the women featured in International Women’s Day panels are almost ‘exclusively white women’. Organisations like Black women blockchain council aim to bridge this gap. Black women blockchain council provides mentorship, professional opportunities and financial aid to black women globally. They also support leaders of tomorrow by providing educational resources to underprivileged girls all around the world.
Is there hope or just doom and gloom?
I have to admit that it is very promising to see the gender issue being raised at a nascent stage of Web3. It will be far easier now to bridge this gap than ten years in the future. Isabella Arnao, founder of WomenInNFTs had the following to say on this topic, “This is the first time in history that, at the beginning of a budding industry, women and marginalised communities can participate in numbers,…I don’t take that lightly. We’re Steve Jobs in his garage right now.”