Yael Rosencwajg recently had an unusual experience for a woman in technology. Speaking at an executive conference in space blocktat and Internet of Things (IoT), Rosencwajg found herself explaining the digital register system that forms the basis of blockchain technology to about 200 people, most of whom were white, CEOs males. "There was a lot they did not know," says the founder of startup Blockchain Israel Fast Company .
The difference was that the audience was respectful and deferential, despite the prevailing reality that when women are overcome in a work situation like this, several studies show that they are discussed, interrupted or simply ignored.
Rosencwajg fills it with the relative novelty of the blockchain space. The technology is only 10 years old and was initially used to record bitcoin transactions. Since then, its applications have gone from just logging bitcoins and other digital currency transfers to smart contracts and other transactions that require the security that an immutable record can provide. These applications are so new that, in another event, Rosencwajg identified an error in the slide deck of another presenter about smart contracts and was able to help him correct it before delivering it to the group.
Although Rosencwajg admits that he is not afraid to talk, even when he is the only woman in the group, he has had a lot of kickbacks in the years he has worked in technology. Not this time. "There's an acceptance that women know their stuff," he says. The news, he explains, "puts us all on the same level."
The related world of cryptocurrency unfolds with stories of "blockchain bros". A recent Bitcoin conference saw only three women out of 88 people. Another has organized official parties for strip club conferences. Yet, despite the general gender balance in cryptography, according to some measures, the blockchain itself – while also inclining to be dominated by men – events such as those of SXSW this year show that it is emerging as a space where women can enter early and change the relationship.
Not as risky as it seems
Entry barriers mainly concern perception, according to Emilie Choi. The former vice president and business development manager of LinkedIn joined Coinbase in March 2018, from a staff of over 13,000 professionals to a startup with less than 500. "It's intimidating for strangers to think about cryptic world ", she says. Not only that it is a human world, explains Choi, but that media coverage on the volatility of virtual currency prices "and the antics of certain personalities" reinforce the cryptic / blockchain myth against reality. This Choi states, it is "wrong".
A Coinbase, says that there is a more inclusive culture than other places in which he has worked. Although Choi admits that the learning curve was rapid in the beginning, there was no shortage of experienced staff who would help speed up. Furthermore, he notes, the Coinbase management team is 50% female. Making the jump from the most successful LinkedIn, Choi states: "I wanted another unrepeatable experience in a technology company." That said, he admits, "The goal is to serve a diverse base. If I had known [how inclusive Coinbase was inside and out] I would have jumped faster."
Related: Erika Alexander is using the blockchain to make journalism more inclusive
Potential in democratization
This is exactly what has attracted the lawyer Paroma Indilo works with blockchain companies. Attorney specializing in advising companies on initial coin offerings (ICO), he started getting involved two years ago after attending a conference and plunging a finger into investing in bitcoin and ethereum. "As a lawyer, I'm a bit risk-averse," he admits. But he said he spent a lot of time reading it and learned that the blockchain technology behind cryptocurrencies "had the potential to change the world economy for the better".
The way in which Indilo sees it is similar to the promise of the Internet in which all users with access have had the opportunity to be a participant. However, this democratization was not fully realized as areas with limited access prohibited the participation and growth of large technology companies. Data created on the Internet is "a huge asset essentially owned by a few companies that use it to their advantage," he says. "We do not even understand why they are doing certain things, and in many cases they compromise privacy enormously."
But blockchain can keep this promise. Simply being able to send and receive money safely and transparently has enormous implications for the people of the world. And it's not just about money, says Indilo. Opu Labs is a web application for skin care built on the blockchain. It allows users to scan their faces and get analysis on skin conditions. Indilo is not only sure about this personal information and can not be tampered with, Indox emphasizes that people are paid to get something valuable. The platform pays you if you send your data to a dermatologist, but the choice is yours to share your data.
Emmanuelle Collet, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Arianee, a French blockchain project aimed at eliminating fraud and counterfeiting luxury market has had a similar revelation. He read about cryptocurrency and blockchain while still working on the Swiss luxury watch brand Omega and completed an MBA. Collet was able to see how this had the potential to change the customer experience, especially in the Asian market. "All I was doing was bridge the gap between my studies and the luxury market, even though I had no technical background," says Collet. "I wanted to restore data control to people."
Related: Diversity in the business world really stimulates innovation, according to a new study
How to bring in more women?
from a career culture imbued with traditional bureaucracy and hierarchy, this approach has been refreshing for Indilo. "For too long I felt like I was not doing anything significant," he confesses. Now, he says, he's a passionate supporter of putting more women into the mix. He tried to educate his friends and family and his professional networks on blockchain opportunities, but Indilo says that sometimes it's enough to point out that he is often the only woman in a group of startup men. "Their consideration covered more important aspects such as funding and skills, they are not thinking about gender discrepancy," says Indilo. "But he just needs to go hand in hand with industry education."
Education is the main challenge according to Susan Joseph, co-founder and executive director of Diversity in Blockchain. He believes that the blockchain space reflects the broader technology industry when it comes to gender imbalance, and this because of lack of knowledge.
"People think they can not do it", says Giuseppe, because it is considered a "technological" job. "You do not need a university computer program," he says. "What you need is the curiosity and the ability to sift public information." There is a lot to do beyond coding, says Joseph, who is a professional lawyer. He says that currently in the industry they are willing to educate others and share their knowledge until someone asks. To encourage more women and underrepresented minorities to board the blockchain wagon, the organization is also hosting events such as the one in which they collaborated with the UN
For the more technical part, Rosencwajg organized a hackathon for Blockchain Israel who encouraged female participants to solve health care challenges and public infrastructure to address discrimination and harassment.
"Hackers are very healthy for interpersonal development, they help to increase morale and foster attention in a different work environment, especially in an emerging market," he says. In addition, Rosencwajg noted emerging behaviors through the conversations he heard. "The points of reference for men mainly concern platforms and integration, women were focused on processes and usability," he notes.
The result was rather unexpected, says Rosencwajg, but emphasized how anyone can participate. Four female students who had no previous experience with blockchain, won the first prize. Their solution will help Rosencqajg develop a comprehensive methodology for the Blockchain Israel educational plan.
Choi at Coinbase claims to have observed that the blockchain tends to attract very intellectually curious people. "The more you learn the more you will succeed," he says. And this, as Rosencwajg says, tends to level the playing field.
"The difference is when you're at the beginning of the innovation period," says Joseph. "Nothing is embedded and there are no clear winners.You can set the industry in a different way." This means that the face of the blockchain has the clear potential to be quite varied as it was built, in a way that technology could not.