Women and Blockchain: Why You Should Care

photo credit:  Andre Francois , via  Unsplash

photo credit: Andre Francois, via Unsplash

Your eyes might glaze over when someone mentions blockchain. It’s a pretty abstract concept, at least to the non-technical, but it is quickly growing in importance. I had the opportunity to learn more when Rhys Lindmark, co-organizer of the ETHDenver hackathon and host of a blockchain podcast, came across GenderAvenger and reached out to talk about his efforts to make the blockchain community more inclusive.

So, why should we care about diversity in blockchain any more than other technologies? In short, it’s here to stay, and, according to PC Mag, it’s “a new immutable digital fabric remaking the internet beneath us, and you probably don't even realize it.” Yet, women’s participation in this remaking of the internet is estimated to be only 5%.

As with most digital technologies in their nascency, it’s a wild west of sorts, and that means opportunity, according to Lindmark. “It’s critical to make sure as we build the technology, we have the correct values aligned with that technology. We’re creating a new system. It’s pretty clear to me that there should be diverse perspectives shaping that system and a key part is to empower people that have traditionally not been empowered.”

Given that blockchain’s roots are in tech and finance, coming into prominence as the basis for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it’s not surprising that the field is dominated by white men. However, at its core, blockchain is built on decentralization and transparency of data and, ultimately, of power. Its foundation is peer-to-peer networking, which eliminates gatekeepers and middlemen, such as Google and even banks.

Lindmark had an epiphany after attending three blockchain conferences when he first entered the field. “I remember being at these conferences and thinking ‘wow, there are a lot of dudes here.’ In finance, there are lots of dudes, in tech there are lots of dudes, in fintech there’s even more, and in blockchain there’s even more. I was seeing the status quo and thinking that I can’t imagine this being aligned with a long-term best outcome. We definitely need more diverse voices.”

There is reason for optimism, however. Application of the technology is moving from money to every area you can think of, including humanitarian efforts. In fact, UN Women is committed to innovating with blockchain to address the issues facing women and girls, Women in Blockchain meetups are popping up all over the world, and ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings) are being touted as new way for women to circumvent the gender funding gap (venture capitalists are twice as likely to fund male-led startups) and fund projects themselves.

Perianne Boring, founder of the Chamber of Digital Commerce, a D.C.-based trade association for the blockchain industry, recently told Moneyish that “[ICOs are] not for every company, but they can allow for the democratization of ideas. There’s all sorts of companies with innovative ideas founded by people who didn’t go to the right schools and don’t have access to the VC community.”

For his part, Lindmark is aligning with groups that are doing similar work, such as CryptoChicks and Maiden, to find ways to spin up initiatives around diversity. His big question is “how can we get the world to think in this way?”

Lindmark has been intentional about creating an inclusive environment at the first ETHDenver hackathon in February and has been collaborating with a diverse team to make it happen. The hackathon has a code of conduct, 6 different workshops on identity and social impact, and includes “making the world a better place” as a judging criteria for hackathon projects. Currently, there are 25% women listed as speakers and judges on the site, 20% of the hacking attendees are women (at hackathons, the percentage of women participants is usually between 1% and 5%), and 50% from other diverse backgrounds - it's a step in the right direction. Lindmark plans to keep pushing towards better gender balance and representation of people of color and, one day soon, to get a GenderAvenger Stamp of Approval. He feels that setting the right tone and being more conscious of and outspoken about what he calls the “GenderAvenger mindset” — being aware of who is doing the speaking and who holds the power — are important first steps towards incorporating more diverse voices to shape blockchain’s future in our hyperconnected world.

I, for one, am hoping that the collaboration and transparency inherent to blockchain carry over to the communities developing it.