Crypto’s reputation as a boys’ club does not come as a surprise: It sits at the very intersection of tech and finance, perpetuating the legacy of “bro culture” that is coded into Silicon Valley and Wall Street. It was only in 2020 when Citigroup bank appointed the company’s first female CEO, Jane Fraser. This was a milestone in its 200-year long history and in the history of Wall Street itself, having the first woman lead one of the largest Wall Street banks.
Meanwhile, cases of sexual harassment run rampant across pioneering tech firms, as seen in the case of Riot Games, for example, where it has been implied that women simply do not belong. Just four years ago, the 2018 North American Bitcoin Conference culminated in a notorious networking event held at a Miami strip club. Though the organizers later expressed regret at their choice of venue, the story is only one of many incidents in crypto’s history of diminishing the role of women in the industry.
The perception of crypto’s proclivity toward men clearly needs rehabilitation, and the business case for this is evident. An inclusive crypto ecosystem not only broadens its appeal to a wider audience but, more importantly, helps crypto move into the mainstream. While there is no shortage of interest or talents in crypto among women, the most outspoken crypto traders and influencers speak to a male audience simply because these influencers are men themselves. In fact, CryptoHead’s 2021 list of the world’s top 50 crypto figures features an all-male ensemble — a symptom of serious gender underrepresentation via the absence of women entirely.
Numbers speak louder than words
Women still suffer from the problematic legacy of the male-dominated finance ecosystem, be it existing barriers to personal finance or in ascending the rungs of the corporate ladder. On Forbes’ 2021 Billionaires List, all 12 crypto tycoons are men. While this could be attributed to first-mover advantage, Amber Baldet, former blockchain program lead at JP Morgan Chase, believes that women are just not being publicly recognized for their industry-shaping work because of skewed media coverage.
At the same time, female-led projects are seeing less support across the board. 2021 marked the second consecutive year where the percentage of women’s VC funding shrank despite total funding levels hitting record highs.
The reality is that crypto is still a nascent industry, so everything, including HR processes, is new, while the lack of diversity further deepens the industry’s unawareness of necessary workplace policies that best support women. As the discourse on gender disparity in crypto continues to gather steam, the solution must go beyond hitting diversity quotas for the sake of it and instead focus on ensuring that women have equal opportunities and a conducive work environment, starting from the hiring stage.
Related: 10 women who used crypto to make a difference in 2021
Why empowerment at every stage is imperative
When key women executives are appointed because of their professional expertise and industry track record, it is undoubtedly an encouraging sign that the crypto industry’s attempts to narrow the gender gap are genuine. It is high time that the industry recognizes and rewards female talents instead of lapsing into lazy platitudes and cheap wins where we celebrate diversity for diversity’s sake. Women are stepping up to a variety of leadership and entrepreneurial roles in the field, and more can be done to break the stigma of women in crypto being locked into influencer stereotypes.
Representation begets representation — exposure to female figures in the industry will go a long way to encourage young women who are looking to get into the industry. But for women to be supported at every stage of their crypto careers, it is important to consider broad deep-seated gender inequalities that limit their capacities to succeed at work.
Women globally have been found to spend two to ten times more time on unpaid care work than men. This could include housework and caregiving duties focused on children, the sick and the elderly — areas that many companies underestimate. Empowering women with more flexibility and control over their working hours, for one, is only a small step for success and the nature of crypto as a global and distributed industry certainly facilitates this flexibility.
Related: Is crypto a boys’ club? The future of finance is not gendered
The key to success in the crypto industry, however, lies in realizing crypto’s promise as a social and financial instrument for freedom. It has the potential to redefine the financial industry both economically and culturally, as it is an avenue for financial freedom that can do away with age-old power structures of the traditional financial industry. Until there are more initiatives that champion crypto’s underlying philosophy as well as more women and many more communities represented in the field, it is fair to say that it is men who “simply don’t get it.”
Leveling the playing field for financial inclusion
Crypto has a lot to offer to the financially underserved and, more often than not, women are more disadvantaged than men in this arena. Women make up 55 percent of the world’s unbanked population — this means almost one billion women globally have little to no financial security, and this is a problem that crypto can help to address.
Naturally, the anonymity that blockchain technology affords and the autonomy that decentralized finance (DeFi) offers to make crypto an enticing solution to the lack of financial access so many women face. Want to make a living for yourself but societal constraints limit financial autonomy even after you are paid? Crypto can empower you to get paid in Bitcoin (BTC) like how activists Fereshteh Forough and Roya Mahboob helped hundreds of Afghan girls, who previously had little control over their finances, to reclaim their agency. Want to set up a business? Accept payment in crypto — no husband needed.
Decentralized and devoid of discrimination
All technologies are inherently neutral by design and this also applies to blockchain. It does not care about your age, gender, race or socioeconomic status. The prospect of overcoming systemic challenges and crypto’s offer of greater financial freedom and independence could not be more welcome and apt.
In fact, things are looking up with 2021 being a defining year for women investors. From crypto trading app Robinhood reporting a 369% increase in its female users, to Cardify reporting that women made up more than 15% of total cryptocurrency deposits — a marked 5.6 percent increase from their study the year before — it’s apparent that women are increasingly cognizant of crypto’s potential as a tool for financial empowerment.
Everyone stands to gain when women have financial freedom among disadvantaged communities or in boardrooms in need of more diversity. Ultimately, whether it is encouraging women to regard crypto as a valid pathway to financial empowerment or championing gender diversity in the crypto industry, the road ahead is still a long one as the industry collectively addresses the gender gap and prove that crypto is integral to the future that everyone has been waiting for.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Every investment and trading move involves risk, and readers should conduct their own research when making a decision.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Annabelle Huang is a managing partner at Amber Group, a global digital asset platform that provides a full range of digital asset services spanning investing, financing and trading, servicing over 1,000 institutional clients and a growing number of individual investors worldwide. Prior to joining Amber Group, Annabelle served as the Asia lead at AirSwap and was part of the FX Structuring desk at Deutsche Bank. Annabelle is an advocate for more women to be part of the crypto conversation. She is a mentor of the Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide (FEW) Incubator, Asia DeFi Network and Brinc Accelerator.