Sexism in the blockchain industry: How one of the most advanced industries promotes an outdated view of women in the work space
A bit over a year ago I made my final decision to leave Uber after a few years. At the same time I started getting involved in the crypto space and found my next job.
It’s safe to say that over the last 15 months, I have met a ton of people and made two tons of experiences in the blockchain industry. And there is one experience I keep making over and over — and it’s not a good one. A while ago, I read an article by Laurie Penny: Four Days trapped at Sea with Crypto’s Nouveau Riche (Long read, but worth it!). Reading through it, I felt all sorts of feelings. Rage, disgust, joy, disbelief — but most of all, I felt understood. I sent her an email, actually. And I couldn’t find any other words than:
“It’s like you vomited everything out that I have been thinking for months and it landed right there on my screen. Raw, direct, honest and at the same time brilliantly written.”
Detour to my past
Before blockchain, I worked at Uber for some years. As most people know, shit hit the fan when Susan Fowler published her article on the toxic and sexist bro-culture at Uber. What followed was complete mayhem and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it, because my own experiences were different. Up to that point, my Uber experience had been great and I was even promoted to one of only a handful of seniors (at the time) in EMEA. I hated how external people started pitying me for working at Uber. I hated how the media twisted and turned every detail in a way that made Uber seem like it was the worst company in the world. Even though, compared to most Swiss companies, Uber actually went to great lengths to prevent such situations. Think employee resource groups, mandatory anti-discrimination and -harassment trainings etc. Clearly, it was a start –but not enough.
I, myself, had never perceived the culture as toxic or that sexist (not saying there weren’t any other problems though). But I can only speak for myself. Outside of Uber, on the other hand, I made a lot of bad experiences. Meetings with Swiss bank representatives, insurance companies, event organizers. Damn, that’s a whole different story. I’m glad Susan Fowler published that article. Because it forced management to take the situation seriously. It doesn’t matter that my experiences were different. What matters is that the bad things that happened, came to the surface and were dealt with. What I am trying to say with this little detour, is that I have seen a lot when it comes to that topic. I went through many trainings and sessions, educated myself about it and had countless conversations with many women –and men. I thought I had seen it all, but then crypto happened.
The notorious sexism in the blockchain industry
During my time at Uber I gained a lot of experience and confidence. I’m not as shy as I used to be, feel more comfortable speaking up when something is wrong and know what I can and can’t do. When I joined the crypto space I started attending many conferences and meetups more or less around the globe. It helped me building an industry network and learning about the technology and the space. While I am grateful for many moments and people I had the honour to meet, I also developed a big big problem with the industry.
That experience I mentioned earlier. The one I kept making over and over: Patronising, discriminating, sexist, arrogant, sometimes powerful, often rich men. I think there are two types of bad men in the space:
- The nobodies, the self-proclaimed thought leaders, bitcoin specialists, innovators, visionaries, ICO advisors… you name it. And they are really good at bullshitting and making everyone (not only women) understand that they’re worth less if they haven’t bought their first bitcoin in 2011 — the latest.
- And the other men. The rich ones, who have found a new playground in crypto where they can feel important and execute power over other people. Mainly power over women, of course. What makes it even worse, is that they often pretend to be supportive of women in the space. I mean, as long as they are hot, wear tight dresses and don’t disagree with them.
For some reason, these two types of men seem to make for the majority of men in the space (my perception). And they foster a culture that is truly toxic and dangerous. What happens if these men run an industry, is what Laurie Penny described so brilliantly in her article. So, I don’t have to go into much more detail here.
It’s truly astonishing that — of all industries– the blockchain industry is struggling so much with this. I mean, isn’t it all about progress, innovation, transparency (nope, not talking about shirts here) and democratization? I’m really having a hard time understanding why misogyny, sexism and discrimination are so widely spread in this industry. I assume it’s the explosive cocktail of the wall-street-meets-burning-man vibe. People feel powerful and important enough to think they can get away with anything under the disguise of free love, trust and transparency. Even when everyone is watching. “We’re changing the world together.” In this industry, for many, women have been demoted. Demoted to a role, where all they have to do is please the men around them. Be pretty. Be nice. Be quiet. Don’t disagree. Wear high-heels. Giggle at men’s jokes. Admire the men. Oh and do marketing, but don’t think you’re smart enough to contribute beyond the creative little female playground that is marketing. Welcome to the world of booth babes, sexy hostesses and long-legged panelists with nothing to show except for a tight body and a pretty face. Did everyone forget what we learned about equality over the last decades?
What I expect of the industry
- Women in Blockchain Panels: In the future, I hope we will see more all-female panels, without the organizers labeling them as “all-female”. I hope it will be the norm, which doesn’t have to be pointed out as if it was a warning: “You know, it’s a women in blockchain panel, so it might get a little emotional/strange/unprofessional/superficial/cat-fighty/[insert negative adjective describing women in business]”
- No more Manels: I hope we will see less manels and more mixed panels. Not just adding more women. I want to see more diversity in general.
- Less Excuses: “You know, we’d love to have more women in the team/on stage, but it’s just so hard to find them. There are just not enough out there.” YES, it is a male dominated space. But I’m not even asking for 50/50. I’m asking for a fair representation and that starts at around 30%–40%. I’m asking recruiters and event organizers to do a tiny bit of extra effort to reach more women and find the right woman for their team or event. It’s not that hard.
- More courageous Men: It might not sound like it, but I am well aware that there are a lot of very supportive men out there. Heck, I know and work with many of them! I hope, more of these men will move on from whispering about inequality, sexism and discrimination to speaking up about it. Loud and clear. I hope more men will become true allies by making their voice heard and educating their male peers in the space.
- More courageous Women: Yes, I’m absolutely calling out men in this article, but I also strongly believe that my own gender could be more proactive in pursuing equality in this industry. If you’re a woman in the space, speak up when you see sexism or discrimination. Educate your male (and female) colleagues about the topic. Go to events and meet more women and great men in the space. Promote great female speakers. Help your male friends find the right (maybe female) fit for their team, when they’re hiring. And most of all: Stay strong, when you hit a wall.
Recognize and acknowledge the line
In my close friends-circle, we make fun of each other. We insult each other. We burn each other. We make dirty jokes and we say things you could never say publicly. (You probably do the same amongst friends.) So no, I am not uptight, old-fashioned or too sensitive. The difference between a close friends-circle and the industry is the level of the relationship. People who know and respect each other, can say and do almost anything to each other because there’s a mutual understanding of the situation. And friends know each other well enough to know how far they can go and where to stop.
Many industry acquaintances often don’t seem to notice that important line. They don’t read their counterpart. They don’t notice when she starts feeling uncomfortable. Or when a comment is inappropriate or unprofessional. They don’t notice when they take it too far. They go as far as celebrating themselves for crossing lines. Because for some reason, in this space, we forgive men for inappropriate behaviour. For being assholes. For objectifying women like it’s the old age. Is this what Wall Street was like before the crash and are they now all here in this space, reliving the good old cocaine & girls times?
Being an ally by just treating everyone the same
While I truly expect more from men (and many women) in the blockchain space, I also want to acknowledge that there are allies out there. The men, who prove to everyone that being an ally isn’t that hard. Not just by standing up for us, but by seeing the world as we do. By truly seeing and treating women (and everyone else) as equals, without even making a fuss about it. Just by being normal. In my opinion, these are the true feminists and supporters of women, even though the term “feminist” enjoys quite a negative connotation these days. I wanted to tag you all here, but you know who you are.
Going the extra mile to make a difference
If you’re looking to hire women for your team, search for great advisors or need some more competent female speakers for your event –please reach out to people in your network and take the extra 30 minutes to do a bit of research. Or reach out to me. I’m more than happy to help. I will also add you to some great Telegram groups, where you can meet some people, which will be more than excited to introduce you to the right women.
Just googling “Women in Blockchain” will also help moving in the right direction. Wait, let me do that for you: There you go.
Right now you have to go the extra mile to make a change, but I’m convinced that extra mile will turn into extra inches and then one day disappear.
The biggest blocker I keep encountering is self-doubt. Even as I’m writing this article, I’m already worried about reactions. Because I know how sick many men and women are of discussing this. We’ve heard it so many times, that it already started getting annoying. But that’s not a reason to stop talking about it and stop looking for solutions. I have spoken up about this a few times in the past (in a calm and composed way. ← look at me, justifying myself again) and half of the time the feedback I get is not positive. I’m too emotional, too sensitive. Uptight. “You don’t understand”, they say. “It was just a joke”, they laugh. But I guess, in the end, this post is also a bit about pushing myself out of my comfort zone by publishing something here on Medium and not just complain about it to my friends, colleagues and allies. ;)
If you’ve made it this far: Thank you for reading and thank you for listening. I might feel some frustration at the moment, but I know that things will change for the better. There are many great people out there, working towards the same goal. We’ll get there.