Startups are still largely male dominated, and men consistently draw the lion’s share of funding. Drawing on Pitchbook’s figures, Fortune reported that “Female Founders Got 2% of Venture Capital Dollars in 2017.” A shift in the funding paradigm could effect a shift in that ratio, and cryptocurrency may be the way to achieve it.
In an emailed communication, Natalia Karayaneva, the CEO and founder of Propy, a blockchain-powered real estate startup, explained how crypto opens up opportunities for women, particularly in a very male-dominated tech industry. She said that the ICO (initial coin offering) boom ($5.6 billion raised in 2017 and $1.17 billion raised this year) and the open-source nature of the crypto industry creates the perfect opportunity for women. (For more on blockchain's influence on industry, see How Blockchain Is Changing the Way You and I Do Business.)
Three Advantages of ICO
Karayaneva listed three major advantages ICOs offer women:
1. “ICOs bring ideas – not identity – to the front.” In contrast to “the traditional funding process,” that depends primarily “on personal connections, ICOs gain public confidence through published white papers, attracting funding based on thorough research, technical implementation details, and deployment plan.” That means that a business proposal can be assessed according to the “value to the potential of the idea, not just the people behind it.”
2. “ICOs empower female founders to raise funds on their own.” As “ICOs are open to retail investors,” they make it much easier for “smaller, female-led companies” to raise the funds they need on their own without having to undertake “the expense and heavy regulations of IPOs.”
3. “More women in blockchain will level the tech playing field.” As a result of increasing access to funding, there are fewer barriers for women to take leadership positions, which should result in less of a gender gap.
Building on Blockchain
A real-life example of a woman capitalizing on such opportunities is Mary Saracco. She is the co-founder and chief investment officer at Ubanx. Though she is only 28, she already built up extensive financial experience working as an investment banker at UBS, investment analyst at the World Bank Group, and chief financial officer for Zeppelin Solutions, a blockchain security infrastructure company. (Blockchain can be used for more than just business. Learn more in Why Data Scientists Are Falling in Love with Blockchain Technology.)
In a phone interview, Saracco said that in the male-dominated financial industry, she has been the only woman on the team in most of her jobs, the only exception being her position at the World Bank Group because that agency makes a point of striving for gender parity. Women in C-level roles are still rare, and Saracco attributes that to “unconscious bias.”
Nevertheless, she believes that women can overcome the obstacles that have hindered them in the past by remaining persistent, finding mentors and capitalizing on ICOs. Saracco declared that it brings “opportunities to the masses.” While million-dollar investments remain the province of “financial sharks,” those who have been barred from funding now have the ICO option.
In her view, “Blockchain was created to bring power back to the people,” and women, in particular, can use it to assume control of their own finances and leadership of companies. Saracco is launching her own company’s platform this August with an ICO.
Women's Advancement in Crypto
But what of the possibility of bias in the crypto industry itself? Drawing on my own recollection of the bitcoin scene back in 2013 where a CoinDesk event was about 75 percent male, I asked Propy's co-founder, Denitza Tyufekchieva, if there has been any improvement. She answered in an email:
“Back in 2013, it was still [the] early ages for Bitcoin and the decentralized technologies, most of the people involved were researchers, cryptographers, miners or early adopters from the gaming & gambling Industry, or Silk Road users.” But now that five years have elapsed, the “ecosystem [has] evolved tremendously.” Among the contributing factors to that advancement are Ethereum’s introduction of smart contracts and the creation of the first dApps.
“Consequently, a lot more entrepreneurs, including women got involved in the sector,“ Tyufekchieva explained. She noted that she has not experienced gender discrimination in the industry and observed that at this year’s CoinDesk’s Consensus, that there was close to a “50/50 male/female ratio” among the 8,000 attendees and close to that among the speakers.
Her impression jibes with a Bloomberg report on the increasing representation of women who are gaining ground in the industry and have become “more visible as speakers at crypto conferences.” Propy is one of the contributors to that visibility. Tyufekchieva said, “We are [a] female-led company and we have been speakers and guests to 40+ Blockchain conferences for the past year.”