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The tide of gender inequality is blockchanging

Blockchain offers a rare opportunity to empower the individual, to ensure that all voices are heard, valued and respected as equal.

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WHEN I first began researching blockchain, I was instantly convinced of its potential to transform the technological landscape. However, it was only when I began to work in the industry that I realised blockchain's potential to transform our social landscape as well. It is a platform of potential, a clean slate on which anyone - regardless of gender, race, or circumstance - can make their mark, place their stake, and plant their flag. As lack of diversity and gender inequality in the workplace continues to remain a globally contentious issue, preoccupying leading figures from International Monetary Fund chief Christine LaGarde to Melinda Gates, the expanding blockchain sector offers a real chance to usher in a new era of inclusion and equal opportunity.

Gender inequality in the workplace is not a new phenomenon. Despite the leaps we have made in industries such as technology, finance, science, communications and health care, how we organise and empower our workforce within these sectors has not seen equal levels of advancement. In 2018, we still have not shattered that proverbial - but tangible - glass ceiling. Women continue to be significantly under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics STEM fields, despite the fact that 66 per cent of girls aged 6-12 are interested or enrolled in computing programmes - a number that dwindles to just 4 per cent by the time they reach university. In return, low turnout results in unequal representation among the upper echelons of tech - women account for only 13 per cent of startup founders and hold a mere 11 per cent of senior leadership roles in tech companies.

However, on a far more disturbing level, this atmosphere of "brogramming" and "Boys Clubs" is presenting other issues of gender inequality - issues of harassment and suppression by leading industry giants. These recent protests serve to highlight an industry that, despite significant developments, continues to promote a tradition of patriarchal values and a male-curated, male-orientated, male-dominated culture. This is damaging on many levels - from employee safety and morale, to company reputation and, most importantly, the balance sheet.

Dedicated to disrupting traditional hierarchies, blockchain offers a rare opportunity to empower the individual, to ensure that all voices are heard, valued and respected as equal. It empowers us to revolutionise the world as we know it, to reshape traditional power structures, to redefine the communities that govern our industries, our economies and our laws, and thus help introduce a new era of true equality, inclusion, and diversity. Furthermore, with its key principles of transparency and decentralisation, it epitomises the very thing that the technology industry is lacking. This is the power that we can harness to create a new world of opportunities, building a system that can accommodate everyone, regardless of sex, creed, or background.

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Asia, in particular, is one such example of how women can overcome gender-based barriers in the workplace and how blockchain can be an important instrument in catalysing this change. While it was reported in April this year that women held only one in four positions at managerial level and higher in Asia, women are using the transformative potential of blockchain to subvert these outdated standards. Creating conferences, meet-ups, and initiatives that unite women to be both heard and seen at all levels of leadership in the blockchain industry, female leaders in Asia are proving that possibilities can become realities. Furthermore, traditional factors that have deterred women from progressing in tech have not affected entrepreneurs in China and South-east Asia, where experts claim that female tech entrepreneurs tend to be more confident.

However, it will take a concerted effort from all actors in the space to bring the desired levels of change to international platforms. According to Coin.dance, more than 91 per cent of bitcoin community engagement and participation comes from men, with women only engaging at 8 per cent. It is well known that a diverse workforce frequently leads to better outcomes, especially in a knowledge-based economy. Effective teams combine average ability with a complementary diversity of perspectives and expertise. It is likely that increasing the representation of women will have a multiplier effect on economic growth, increasing innovation, and improving responses to rapid change. In turn, the characteristics of organisations that make them welcoming to women often make them successful at innovating.

This lack of female representation is not due to lack of ability but rather the combined effect of limited awareness and an industry with an off-putting, male-dominated image. In an Illuminate survey of over 800 investors and entrepreneurs, it was reported that investors viewed women as being disadvantaged in most of the top success attributes needed to build a venture-backed business, particularly in having "networks that provide access to advisers and capital". Sixty-seven per cent of male investors and 100 per cent of female investors believed that men were more likely to have such connections, proving that both men and women are influenced by this image of business as a man's world. The old cliche "if you can't see it, you can't be it" rings true as women, unable to see themselves reflected in work environments and excluded from business networks, do not believe they have a community framework to support them in success.

We need to do a much better job at revolutionising power structures to change this, and ensure equality and diversity are not just badges of honour and bumper stickers. We need these values to be embedded into the fundamental frameworks of business - from CEO to intern - so that those young girls who become discouraged from pursuing STEM careers can be inspired and empowered by a system in which they are represented - and invested in - at all levels of industry. Those driving the blockchain sector forward can and must ensure that our employees and future employees see a world in which they feel that they can play a leading role in ushering in a new era of transparency and efficiency.

Progress in this regard is intrinsically linked to education. The more we decentralise and share information, the more we can hope to build a diverse, informed, and inclusive blockchain community. Providing forums for learning and educational initiatives can tackle this very issue so that every individual is equipped with the necessary confidence and skills to make the blockchain dive that little bit easier. And, as I have been privileged to see in my work, the power of education in enabling female involvement in blockchain is enormous.

One of the best parts of my job is attending blockchain meet-ups and connecting with other women in the space who are not only forging their own careers but are instrumental in shaping the space itself. These are the legacy makers and game changers who will be the ones to define what this industry is, what it can do, and what it will look like in years to come. These women are the proof that change - real and irrefutable change - is not only possible but is actually occurring. With the blockchain revolution firmly underway, championed increasingly by women, the time for hope has never been better, and the time for action never more necessary. With momentum on our side, we can begin to build a sustainable, diverse "Workplace of Value" - a workplace where a female voice is not an anomaly but the status quo. A workplace where all contributors are valued, included and supported. Equally.

  • The writer is tech evangelist at Lisk, the public blockchain platform that allows users to develop decentralised blockchain applications