With blockchain technology set to disrupt both the technological and economic world in major ways, cryptocurrency—with Bitcoin leading the pack—may very well become the catalyst by which the digital world transforms real world markets. In fact, a 16-fold increase in value in the last year alone topping out at over $19,500 per Bitcoin demonstrates the frenzied growth the cryptocurrency sector is currently experiencing. Despite this promising growth, however, cryptocurrency is also experiencing many issues the technology sector has struggled with for years, most specifically—the gender gap.
While Bitcoin users largely remain anonymous, Coin Dance analytics estimates that an overwhelming 95% of users are male, with only 5% female engagement. Why is there such a heavy imbalance between men and women within the cryptocurrency sector? What will happen to the cryptocurrency industry if this gender imbalance continues? And perhaps most importantly, what can be done to attract more women to this important field?
First gaining popularity on male-leaning websites such as Reddit and 4Chan and amongst other groups dominated by men such as PC gamers and the cyberpunk community, cryptocurrency began as a hobby that only the technologically savvy initially found interest in. Because of this early wave of men, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies had initially earned themselves a “geeky male” stereotype that may have dissuaded those from outside these niche groups—most notably women—from finding interest in the new technology. Since gaining mainstream popularity, however, the stereotype has begun to dissipate as more investors and businesses become interested in the provocative idea of a currency unregulated by any central authority—and yet, women continue to remain strikingly absent in the cryptocurrency investment scene.
The behavioral psychology theory that men tend to take more risks than women is one popular explanation for this colossal gender gap in cryptocurrency (rooted in the common belief that men are more likely to take physical and financial risks). However, this willingness towards risk-taking isn’t necessarily a positive attribute. While risk-taking can end in high success, studies show that the form of risk-taking many men ascribe to can actually make them more predisposed to investing in bubbles—or in other words, if there is a notable absence of women in certain investments, it could mean the investment will not lead to any financial pay-offs in the long run.
In order to truly understand whether or not cryptocurrency will be worth the risk, it is imperative that more women become involved as both investors and users. First and foremost, if Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies do end up stabilizing and becoming major worldwide currencies, half of the population missing from this industry will mean a decrease in the potential value of the currency in the future. Second, from a behavioral psychology point-of-view, experts argue that women possess the kind of qualities that could help assess and mitigate risks associated with uncertain investments like Bitcoin—this includes the theory that women are better communicators than men, and therefore would be able to better communicate with fellow investors on the viability of the cryptocurrency market, their analyses for any potential problems, and how best to proceed forward in a more group-oriented way.
There is good news—while the gender gap remains large, women have slowly but surely begun to fill it in. With the relatively recent advent of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)—which is the means by which funds are raised for a new cryptocurrency venture, similar to Initial Public Offerings (IPOs)—women are seeing a new promising avenue by which to enter the cryptocurrency game. In fact, in 2017, four of the 30 largest ICOs were led by women, with two of these women-led ICOs among the biggest initial offerings ever. Similarly, Coinbase Inc. reports that 46% of their hires in 2017 were women or employees of diverse ethnicities, and many other startup ventures and currency exchanges are beginning to report higher numbers of female hires as well. While the increasing number of females in cryptocurrency is encouraging, nevertheless there is much work needed to be done to make cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies—and Silicon Valley as a whole—much more inclusive at a faster rate.
Fortunately, there are several ways in which the cryptocurrency industry can become more attractive and welcoming to women. First, increasing efforts to expose more young girls to technological fields such as cryptography, coding, and other computer-based skills has the ability to not only help increase female participation in blockchain and cryptocurrency industries in the future, but also the technology sector as a whole. Similarly, increasing financial and business literacy in young girls is extremely beneficial in providing young women with the skills needed to enter any investment or finance pathway they desire, including cryptocurrency. Second, introducing Bitcoin technologies to more female-inclusive industries—such as using Bitcoin to purchase items from an online retail store, or using it in conjunction with social media—would also increase interest in women from around the world. And last, spotlighting women in important positions within the cryptocurrency industry would not only have the ability to provide role models for any women interested in entering the market, but also demonstrate to men in the industry that there are in fact women present within the industry—and they are already making major waves.
Ultimately, while cryptocurrency is presently quite male, women from around the world are working hard to turn this boys’ club into a viable, global, legitimate and inclusive currency. Cryptocurrency’s ability to shape the world economy can only happen with the inclusion of women.