Since the introduction of bitcoin in 2009, blockchain technology has been heralded as the great democratizer because of its ability to enable parties to transfer value directly without the need for middlemen. In the last decade, blockchain technology has evolved and entered the mainstream. But has it lived up to its promise to become the great equalizer? For example, have women and minorities coalesced around the technology in great numbers?
“Not so much,” says Susan Joseph, Executive Director of Diversity in Blockchain Inc. (DiB), a non-profit, committed to creating equal, open and inclusive opportunities in the blockchain industry. “And that’s a challenge,” she confides.
Joseph, an attorney and blockchain consultant with her own firm, SusanJosephLLC, co-founded DiB in 2017 along with blockchain powerhouses, Anna Ashurov, Senior Director, Anheuser-Busch InBev; Shawnna Hoffman, IBM Global Cognitive Legal Leader; Michelle Ann Gitlitz, Global Head of Blockchain &Digital Assets for Crowell & Moring LLP; and Joshua Ashley Klayman, U.S. Head of FinTech and Head of Blockchain and Digital Assets, Senior Counsel, at Linklaters LLP; to make sure that blockchain is inclusive. Paramount in that mission is to ensure that others who traditionally have been underrepresented have a voice in the blockchain technology sector as it develops.
According to Ashurov, because of its decentralized nature, blockchain technology can empower regular people (including underrepresented groups) to grow and accumulate wealth. As a result, she explains, “we have a responsibility to encourage diversity, break barriers and force a conversation.”
Klayman adds, “We are among the first wave of blockchain and digital asset professionals, and there will be more. This space is nascent. We have the power to create a thriving and truly inclusive digital economy.”
DiB released today its blockbuster report, The State of Diversity and Inclusion in Blockchain which examines the inclusiveness of the sector and provides a baseline for future assessments. The report considers diversity and inclusion across all strata of society, including government, academia, conferences, and enterprise and, not surprisingly, finds less than stellar results. The report’s founding sponsors are elite global law firms, Linklaters LLP and Crowell & Moring LLP. “This inaugural report is significant because it highlights certain improvements the industry can make and identifies steps that can be taken to ensure increased representation of women and diverse talent in the industry,” says Gitlitz.
The report concludes that, although blockchain technology has the potential to bring in to the fold whole groups of individuals who have traditionally been under-represented, that is, by and large, not happening. Statistics highlighted in the report show that inclusion in the blockchain industry reflects other technology and financial services sectors, generally.
The report highlights the lack of women-centric blockchain and crypto venture-backed startups. To wit, of the 378 venture-backed crypto and blockchain companies identified between 2012 and 2018 globally, only one had an all-female founding team, and only 31 (8.2%) had a combination of male and female founders.
The state of inclusiveness in academic settings is just a little better. A recent CoinDesk study that surveyed top university programs in blockchain in the U.S shows that at the top ten universities listed, twenty percent of the professors/faculty are women.
Joseph notes the existence of a congressional blockchain caucus that is bipartisan and largely male. But, she suggests “we are still early enough in the development in the technology to change the trajectory to allow for the inclusion of women, minorities and others who are typically under-represented.”
Klayman, who also heads up the Legal Working Group for the Wall Street Blockchain Alliance, offers that after a long crypto-winter, high-profile companies and ambitious projects have begun to breathe new life into the emerging blockchain and digital assets space, and the broader digital economy. “This is a critical time for diversity to be front of mind – because we are shaping the future of technology right now” she says.
Hoffman adds that, “with a technology as globally significant as blockchain, the importance and benefits of a diverse workforce are magnified. Blockchain is on pace to impact every human.”
DiB has found support in Representative Maxine Waters Chair of the House Financial Services Committee. She too recognizes the importance of having an inclusive technology sector, as well as the risks of leaving out swaths of society in the development of blockchain technology, artificial intelligence and fintech. To that end, she asked DIB to prepare a report on Project Libra’s potential. DIB delivered such a report to the Committee that discusses both the Project’s potential and its diversity and inclusion implications. The report was entered into and made part of the U.S. Congressional Record during the Congressional hearing at which David Marcus testified.
“Change won’t happen unless others recognize the importance of inclusion,” says Joseph. “This is the first of what will be an annual report. If you can measure something, you have the ability change it.”
DiB seeks to ensure that the blockchain sector is inclusive and diverse. This is a worthy goal with a lot at stake. But it can only happen with leadership and a focussed strategy. DiB brings thoughtful leadership to this important issue. To make change, we need a conversation. DiB’s report gets the conversation started.