Bitcoin isn't just for boys: Why cryptocurrency needs more women

Bitcoin isn't just for boys: Why cryptocurrency needs more women

For many people, fighting their way through the maze of financial jargon can be a challenge. As much as we hate to admit it, there’s probably a reason that why the world of top-level finance is controlled by a select few. But for the whizz-kids with the financial and technological know-how, there is a whole new universe just opening up - the modern equivalent of the gold rush, with the internet as the wild west - and for those who get it right, there are big bucks to be made. Welcome to the world of cryptocurrencies.

For those of us not “mining” cryptocurrencies (and yes, that is the official term), they’re are essentially just lines of complex code generated by a computer, to which monetary value is attached. Unlike with regular money, there is no physical form; instead they work through peer-to-peer transactions based in cryptography. Operating away from the centralisation of banks or governments, bitcoin can be stored offline and although investment is still considered risky, their value has skyrocketed in recent times.

At the time of writing, one Bitcoin - the most well known and frequently used cryptocurrency - is worth $16,445. But, as with any financial system, it seems the wealth is not being shared as equally as it could be: while the digital currency economy is now estimated to be worth $460 billion, it is believed that less than four per cent of those engaged with it are female. So why are women missing from this industry? And does it matter?

A selection of bitcoin tokens overlayed on dollars Credit: Pexels

First, a little background. Bitcoin first came about in 2009. It was initially written off as a fad, and was once associated with sites on the dark web, owing largely to the autonomy that it provided. Rooted in chat rooms, originally using the software of gaming nerds, and invented at a time when even fewer coders were female, the majority of the earliest adopters of this new financial system were, unsurprisingly, male. Today although the picture is changing, it is still the case that globally less than 12 per cent of coders, on which Bitcoin is so heavily dependent, are female.  

This lack of female programmers has undoubtedly contributed to the gender imbalance affecting cryptocurrency, but it also creates a catch-22 situation, where some women feel discouraged from challenging it or immersing themselves in this world. So let's make one thing clear: just because someone on a team doesn't shout loudest, that doesn't mean they're not the most talented. This hesitancy cannot be helped by reports of women being sidelined by the assumption that they play supporting roles - even Meltem Demirors, an advisor to the World Economic Forum, recalls being mansplained to about how cryptocurrency works, whilst delivering the keynote speech on the subject at a world conference.

A quick glance in Bitcoin forums will also show you how this also functions at ground level: “just ask yourself: do they need bitcoins in the kitchen?” wrote one contributor to a forum around women in the industry. Another wrote: “Most women aren't smart enough or tech savvy enough to be into Bitcoin.” This, of course, is total BS. In a 2016 study, researchers from the University of North California found that coding contributions written by women actually tend to be accepted and approved more frequently than those written by men - but only if the creators hide their gender. It translates then that if cryptocurrency is to reach its full potential, more women need to be actively encouraged its ranks. Writing off the talents of half of the population on the basis that they have a vagina seems short-sighted at best.

The absence of women from the cryptocurrency frontier contrasts with a world financial system just starting to shake off the clutches of the proverbial old boys’ club, with the number of women in senior financial roles creeping up year-by-year. That is not to say, however, that epic women in cryptocurrency do not exist. Among those leading the way for women in the cryptocurrency world is Galia Benartzi, co-founder of Bancor, which raised $150 million in June alone:  “We have an opportunity to rebuild the financial system,” she explained to Bloomberg. “Are we going to do it with all guys again?” 

She’s got a point - if cryptocurrency is to be truly global, as it is intended to be, then omitting half of the world’s population from it, intentionally or otherwise, is basically falling at the first hurdle. To rebuild the financial system online without women, is simply to do it beyond the reach of efforts toward parity and equality. Less than a decade old, cryptocurrency is still, despite its huge reach, in its infancy; the quicker women get involved, the less likely this is to happen.

A woman using a laptop Credit: Pixabay

They say that money makes the world go round, and even beyond issues of female equality and the desire to make the financial system representative of the many, is the matter of economic spending potential. With more retailers than ever accepting Bitcoin as a legitimate form of payment, including giants such as Expedia, and more women than ever in possession of disposable income. Arianna Simpson, an early-investor in cryptocurrency and advocate for women in the sector explained how everyone stands to benefit from greater female involvement: "The Bitcoin ecosystem really needs women in order to thrive," Simpson said. "In the U.S. alone, they control anywhere between $5 [trillion] and $15 trillion in annual spending power, which is huge. It would be a shame for both women and for Bitcoin not to leverage that potential."

At the end of the day the truth is clear: if the cryptocurrency world is to continue to thrive, if the bubble is to avoid bursting, then the power of women as coders, inventors, entrepreneurs and spenders needs to be harnessed. And despite the generous helpings of girl power being dished out by Demirors, Benartzi and Simpson, and others amongst their ranks, at the moment, this hasn't happened yet.