Cultivating Diversity, Inclusion and Humanity in the Crypto Community

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The crypto community is an incredible one – composed of some of the most genius, disruptive, category-creating technologists, innovators, and evangelists in the world. I feel honored to work alongside some of these gifted founders and investors as they work (as we say at CoinFund) to build the new internet. But despite how promising our industry has become, I’m worried.

Margaret Gabriel is Head of People & Talent at CoinFund.

It’s true that women have been woefully underrepresented in traditional finance. According to Vanguard, roughly one in seven investment professionals working on active U.S. equity funds from 2008 to 2021 were women. Among named portfolio managers, only about one in ten were women. Last year, New York Life released a depressing study that showed that 48% of women receiving financial advice felt pushed out or patronized by the very people (mostly men) hired to help them.

Data shows that crypto culture is, from a gender perspective, repeating some of these patterns. The crypto workforce is increasingly homogeneous and male dominated, as is its thought leadership. And so, I’m worried that an industry with so much promise of driving equity and individual freedom might end up excluding and thus failing women. As we plunge forward into another year, buoyed by a bull market, I constantly ask myself: how do we (CoinFund included) make sure the crypto rocketship doesn’t become another boys’ club?M

I want to be clear, 9 out of ten times, exclusion isn’t calculated or intentional. I don’t think that male crypto founders sit in a room, twirling their mustaches while crafting ways to block women from joining their teams, companies, and conversations. The insularity within the crypto community most likely stems from similar origins to that of big tech and traditional finance – less young women study these courses before they even enter the workforce. We become less exposed to crypto and its communities and unintentionally excluded from the conversation as a result. If we’re not already “in the industry,” we become less attractive candidates to the standard crypto founder.

But, homogenous teams aren’t just bad for culture – they’re bad for business. Isolar teams can unintentionally hinder user adoption. I think about the textbook example of a bunch of right-handed engineers designing the iOS YouTube app that produced upside-down videos for left-handed users. It’s almost a certainty that those developers weren’t diabolically building a product to exclude the left-handed – they just didn’t see the world that way. Similarly, it’s really hard to build a product women will find and use if there are no women on the team building it.

Crypto is built on tenets of equity, decentralization and ownership. It promises to upend how we as humans have traditionally done things – how we’ve banked, exchanged money and information, shared our data, proven our identities. Why not consider disrupting how we’ve traditionally worked? Back-to-office mandates by institutions like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan disregard the diverse needs of individuals, especially those of working mothers and parents.

These types of blanket mandates and centralized approaches are as outdated as money orders and writing a check. It’s imperative that companies recognize and address the outsized disadvantages these rules create for working mothers specifically. I’d like to understand how a mother who has to walk away from her screaming toddler at 7 a.m. to get to the office and hit her three days-a-week-in-the-office quota, only to have a full day of Zoom calls (a real story), is a more “productive” employee.

What I love about crypto is that it’s global and the market nevers sleeps – it forces us to realize that old ways of working (come into an office, stay there from nine-five, go home) just doesn’t make sense for our industry. But that doesn’t mean structures that have typically hurt working mothers will vanish with office mandates; I’ve overheard discussions with crypto founders about shortening parental leave to save costs, and a close friend of mine (an operations leader in crypto) was recently laid off during her maternity leave. We can do better for women, and we must do better.

Crypto is the fastest-moving, most quickly evolving industry I have ever worked in. The rate at which new trends peak and fall on crypto twitter and the pressure to stay relevant is borderline overwhelming. One of the downsides of moving at the pace of innovation is the tendency to leave people behind, to join at all costs the “people in the know” and forget that the job of a category creator and a leader is to bring people along with you.

Part of my responsibility at CoinFund is to help our firm and our portfolio companies hire amazing, talented people. In the past year, I’ve noticed a trend that candidates “must know and be obsessed with crypto,” and if they haven’t “fallen down the crypto rabbit hole” (a phrase I’ll happily never hear again if I can help it), they’re just “not a fit.” We must be careful here, as this type of quick sorting will mean many high-potential female candidates, who are not yet in the industry, will continue to be kept out of it.

Here’s why gender disparity in crypto at this time, in 2024, really matters. The current reality is that women build significantly less wealth than men on average. An analysis by Vanguard of its retail accounts found women’s account balances held 22% less on average than those of men, despite men and women having the same average length of account ownership (about 13 years).

This disparity widens in investment contribution plans – men were 44% higher. So, despite similar participation rates and length of account ownership, men just simply accumulate more wealth. And this has massive implications for men – think how much greater the financial freedom, the flexibility to explore career paths and entrepreneurship, to invest in, say, do dedo assets.

Fortune Magazine predicts the global cryptocurrency market will grow to $1.9 trillion by 2028 (daily online transactions in bitcoin are about $6 billion). We have work to do to ensure women participate meaningfully in this investment class, because if they don’t, the gender wealth divide in crypto could compound and compound quickly. We face the potential of women as a whole missing out on material financial gains of an entire investment class (and investing early matters). The research out there varies, but studies point to about 37% of global crypto owners identifying as women (up from 21% in 2021).

Fortune 500 crossed a milestone in 2023, with more than 10% of businesses on the list of America’s largest public companies having a female CEO for the first time in history. And although we must celebrate progress we must also recognize this means 90% of those CEOs were men. Along with this, even fewer women of color lead Fortune 500 companies, with only two black female CEOs among this cohort.

Since stepping into this role, the question I get the most when discussing the topic of gender dynamics in crypto is: “What advice do you have for women who are in the industry or who want to break into it?” My response: “Why aren’t we asking men?”

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