The cryptocurrency world needs more women

The fields of technology and engineering have historically been dominated by men. Deloitte, for example, estimates that only about a quarter of leadership positions in the largest technology companies are held by women. However, the world of cryptocurrencies – cryptocurrencies, digital tokens, smart contracts, NFTs and decentralized finance (DeFi) – which is underpinned by blockchain technology is giving a whole new meaning to the male domain. A December 2021 study found that of the top 121 cryptocurrency companies, only five (or 4.13% of the total) were founded by women. Even more concerning, less than 10 percent of all crypto funds’ partners are female. It should come as no surprise, then, that the crypto space has a well-deserved reputation for having a “sister” 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 strip club in Miami. Due to the growing size of the cryptocurrency industry, its predominantly male dominance has serious discriminatory implications for women’s career opportunities in tech. But before we discuss how to reduce this gender disparity and how the cryptocurrency world can benefit, let’s take a step back and look at the size and growth of this increasingly important economic sector.

The world of cryptocurrencies

The first thing to keep in mind is what the new cryptocurrencies are like. The first bitcoin transaction occurred just 14 years ago in 2009. From then until the last week of 2022, the cryptocurrency market capitalization grew to more than $1 trillion. Fortune magazine predicts that the global cryptocurrency market will grow to $1.9 trillion by 2028. Daily online bitcoin transactions are approximately $6 billion, a payment method surpassed only by Visa and Mastercard with daily transaction volumes of $30.3 billion and $16.2 billion, respectively. While daily cryptocurrency trading volume declined in 2022 from the highs of 2020 and 2021, it still hovered between $20 and $70 billion, a huge market by any measure. And these transactions take place on more than 300 cryptocurrency platforms or exchanges.

However you look at the cryptocurrency market, it is a dynamic and increasingly important sector of our economy, one where women should play a much bigger role. Increasing gender equality in the cryptocurrency world would not only open up new career opportunities for women, but also bring positive changes to cryptocurrency culture and increase its innovativeness.

The culture of cryptocurrencies

Gracy Chen, a veteran of several crypto firms who is now at Bitget, describes the cryptocurrency world as “the Wild West dominated by male speculators and a bro culture bolstered by recent scandals and the market crash.” Chen notes that she’s had “first-hand experience” seeing how “women’s commitment and leadership [can] Help [create] a more positive work environment and better product valorisation.” In fact, the researchers found that when women’s participation in the top three levels of leadership in a company increases by at least 30 percent, both genders find that it results in a positive “change in management cultures…”. Such a critical mass of women in leadership results in “closer alignment with contemporary leadership ideals [that] should be seen as desirable.”

Innovation in Crypto

No one would suggest that cryptocurrencies lack innovation. But as Chen points out, more women at the top lead to “product improvement.” His observation is backed up by numerous studies showing that mixed-gender collaboration dramatically improves business results. Gallup, for example, found that gender-differentiated teams performed better than single-gender teams, in large part because women and men bring “different viewpoints, ideas, and market insights to projects.” Gallup has found that companies, teams, and individuals are more productive, creative, and effective at solving problems and dealing with difficult situations when they have gender-different leadership. Importantly, however, the benefits of mixed-gender collaboration are not fully realized unless women make up at least 30 percent of the decision-making team or group. Indeed, with such a critical mass of women on teams, men process information more thoroughly, become more thoughtful and more open-minded. Also, there is less “groupthink”, so less insularity and closed-mindedness.

Bringing more women into cryptocurrency leadership

Increasing the proportion of women in cryptocurrency leadership won’t be easy, but there is a way forward. In a forthcoming book Beyond Bias: The PATH to ending gender inequality at work, which I wrote with my husband, we set out a blueprint that organizations can use to ensure that women’s opportunities for advancement are equal to men’s. There are three essential steps that crypto firms need to take.

Eliminate opt-out behavior

First, companies must clearly and aggressively prohibit exclusionary behavior—behavior that demeans women, limits their access to advancement and networking opportunities, subjects them to rude, crude, or uncivilized behavior, and causes whether they are discussed, interrupted or ignored when they try to speak. Eliminating exclusionary behavior must be a top-down initiative. Once cryptocurrency leaders commit to bringing women into leadership and making them feel welcome, exclusionary behavior can quickly be reduced if not eliminated altogether.

Adopt procedures for personnel resistant to discrimination

Secondly, Crypto companies must also adopt procedures for making personnel decisions that resist the influence of stereotypes and prejudices. Decisions involving hiring, compensation, assignment of responsibilities, and promotion are highly susceptible to these discriminatory influences. With strong male dominance in the cryptocurrency world, affinity bias is a particular cause for concern. Affinity bias is the natural preference we all have for favoring people who are like us. This means that male leaders in cryptocurrencies are much more likely to award high-profile projects to other men; socializing with other men to the exclusion of women; and to provide increasingly useful advice, support and encouragement to other men. Given the power of affinity bias, it’s no surprise that the straight white men who lead most of the major cryptocurrency companies have surrounded themselves (mostly) with other straight white men. To counter the influence of affinity bias, companies must take specific, objective and comprehensive measures; criteria on the basis of which personnel decisions are to be made. Companies can also require that more than one person be involved in making each personnel decision, with decision makers expected to explain to each other the reasons for their preferred choice. Decision makers might also be required to write down the reasons for their personnel decisions, which would then be reviewed by another person.

Provide peer leadership advice and coaching

Third, once cryptocurrency companies start hiring more women, it is essential that these women receive just as insightful, constructive and supportive assessments, advice, and coaching as are provided to men. This also applies to leadership development, training and support. Businesses will have to do it work hard to hire more women, but once they hire them, companies need to be confident that these women’s work experiences are as fulfilling, encouraging and helpful as their male counterparts.

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As exciting and dynamic as the cryptocurrency world is, its full potential will not be realized unless women begin to play a larger leadership role. But that won’t happen unless the cryptocurrency world becomes more welcoming to women, they are not disadvantaged by affinity bias, and they have an equal opportunity to advance. This can happen – it’s a simple matter of crypto companies acknowledging their vested interest in doing so.

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