Cryptocurrency conferences have programmes where the number of men still heavily outweigh the number of women. But why is that?
A brief glance at any line-up of speakers will highlight a problem that’s all too common in tech and business circles – men vastly outnumber women, and it’s still accepted as the norm.
But the truth is that conferences lacking in female speakers are not as welcoming to more diverse attendees, which means everyone loses out. If all you have to offer is an endless parade of wealthy white men, then there are many perspectives on crypto and blockchain that will be missed.
“The diversity problem becomes clear at tech conferences, where there’s a stark absence of female faces,” Michelle Roberts, director of partners at Ensono, told Crypto News Review. “Having spoken at tech conferences myself, I am often the only woman on the panel – sometimes in the room – and it can certainly be daunting.”
Representation is a self-fulfilling problem when women are not able to see themselves within an existing industry, and this can have huge knock-on effects for anyone with ambitions of getting into the blockchain space, but no one to look to for how.
Roberts continued: “Unequal panels and conferences simply perpetuate the problem: women see how underrepresented they are, and presume that it isn’t the right career for them.”
Erica Stanford, cryptocurrency investor and ICO consultant, was so frustrated with the lack of variety in guests and speakers at most of the conferences that she started hosting her own. Even then, however, she had trouble tracking down enough women to make up the numbers.
Networking events are mostly filled with white men, she told us, and so she took to her extensive LinkedIn contacts book in order to hand-pick alternatives. However, when searching for blockchain in London, only about five percent – matching the perceived number across the industry – were women.
Often it’s not just a lack of thought that causes the imbalance, but a conscious decision. Back in February this year, the North American Bitcoin Conference hosted 5,000 attendees at a strip club in Miami. While it was stated that naked performances did not occur during the event, waitresses worked in lingerie and many stayed for the after party.
Jeff Scott, a participant, told Bloomberg: “We’re a bunch of dudes with a lot of money in our 20s. We like naked girls.”
The assumption that those interested in attending a blockchain/crypto conference are automatically ‘rich dudes in their 20s’ means that the needs of women in the industry are automatically ignored as irrelevant. This points to some of the more sinister implications of these male-dominated events, where ‘booth babes’ and scantily clad models are used to advertise ICOs and crypto projects.
Booth babes might sound like an antiquated idea, with many tech conferences outright banning them, but as recently as March people took to social media to reveal their continued use.
So I guess the Blockchain companies are doing booth babes at GDC?
— Will Overgard (@Will_Overgard) March 21, 2018
The old ‘pipeline’ excuse is often trotted out when the issue is challenged, and it’s certainly a complicated aspect of the industry to unpick.
“The pipeline problem as an excuse is a cop-out,” said Sharmini Ravindran, chief marketing officer at decentralised VPN blockchain firm Mysterium Network. “It’s about making the industry more open to women, and this needs to come from men understanding the social complexities of doing business in an industry where you are vastly outnumbered.”
While it can be frustrating to hear, it’s also true that there aren’t enough women to choose from when putting together an event or panel. It’s estimated that just 5 percent of the industry is made up of female investors, founders and other professionals, and this makes it harder even with the best intentions.
When women are invited to the party, however, it can often mean that they are siloed into their own panels and asked only about ‘women’s issues’ rather than to offer their expertise on crypto, blockchain and the tech industry. This is the holding pattern that tech has been stuck in for decades.
Marion Vogel, director at aeternity, told CNR about her growing realisation that event organisers were inviting her to speak on stage simply because she was a woman.
“In those moments, I wasn’t really paying attention to those statements,” she said. “All I wanted is to go on stage and talk about what I’m most passionate about. I always received quite good feedback from conference attendees – and always for the quality of my presentation and ideas. In retrospect, I think it was very disheartening and a bit demeaning to ask for my participation solely based on my gender. At the same time, all I cared about was getting my message out.
Should, then, the introduction of quotas or unofficial pressures on event organisers be seen as a positive thing because, though the intentions aren’t ideal, the result is that more qualified, brilliant women are given the chance to speak.
She added: “The crypto scene started off as a male-dominated space and probably will be this way for a while. That’s okay, but let’s also put an emphasis on not only welcoming women to the space but also on having them prove and demonstrate their skills. I believe every talented person will find a home in crypto, regardless of gender.”