Crytpo-Community And Traditional Tech Industry Makes Slow Progress In Diversity (#GotBitcoin?)
Industry stakeholders say the crypto and blockchain space is becoming more racially diverse as the technology spreads across the world. Crytpo-Community And Traditional Tech Industry Makes Slow Progress In Diversity (#GotBitcoin?)
Financial inclusion is often cited as a reason for the pursuit of crypto and blockchain innovation. With gatekeepers monopolizing the global financial scene, several disenfranchised demographics have seen themselves cut off from viable channels of economic prosperity.
Crypto and blockchain products are increasingly opening up international payment corridors, ensuring the democratization of global economics. Other platforms are creating solutions aimed at solving long-standing developmental issues in historically disenfranchised regions such as Africa. As an intrinsically open ecosystem, crypto and blockchain innovation continues to spread to different corners of the world, and organizations in the industry tend to have a global workforce with team members of diverse nationalities.
Amid the push for economic and technological self-actualization comes the need for racial diversity and inclusion, especially within the context of the current political climate. With matters concerning racial bias and discrimination dominating social discourse across the globe, perhaps it is time for some introspection about how the crypto industry stacks up within the broader tech and financial services sectors.
Racial Bias And Discrimination In Silicon Valley
Amid the overwhelming uproar that accompanied George Floyd’s death, organizations across the world added their voices in support of racial equality and the eradication of race-based discrimination. Crypto and tech companies also joined in publishing messages of solidarity with the Black community in America. In a conversation with Cointelegraph, Jay Hao, the CEO of crypto exchange platform OKEx, added to the ongoing conversation surrounding racial inequality:
“There is deep inequality and injustice in many parts of the world when it comes to the color of a person’s skin. This is something that runs very deep in society but I am very hopeful that we will start to see a change and that we will be able to live in a more just world where the color of your skin is irrelevant.”
In the past, racism scandals have rocked United States tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, among others. Apart from discriminatory practices, these incidents have also involved retaliatory measures against employees who speak out against workplace bias. Back in 2014, Silicon Valley companies began publicly publishing their workforce demographics. In the six years since then, data released by these companies shows little by way of improvement in diversity and inclusion.
Technology should be neutral, but the reality as it exists today paints a different picture. Despite being governed by codes and algorithmic logic, tech inventions can be seen operating in ways that signal acquired biases. For example, it has been reported that some automatic soap dispensers for handwashing are configured to not detect darker skin tones. Speech recognition tech can function improperly with certain vocal inflections common to particular ethnic groups.
Jacky Alcine, a software engineer, discovered in 2015 that Google’s image recognition algorithm was classifying pictures of Black people as gorillas. Amid the furor that followed the revelation, Google simply blocked image recognition functionality for pictures of gorillas without doing much to solve the underlying problem.
Whether these algorithmic biases are deliberately the result of the prejudices held by instrument designers or are simple errors is a matter for debate, but eliminating them is one of the core hurdles being faced in the field of machine learning.
Is The Crypto And Blockchain Space More Or Less Diverse Than The Tech Industry?
Given the fact that the tech and financial industries feed into the crypto space, it is perhaps a given that the latter will exhibit a similar culture to the established realities of the former. In a note to Cointelegraph, Stephen Richardson, the vice president of product strategy at Fireblocks — a crypto transfer network platform — stated:
“I would say that at this moment the diversity and inclusion in crypto would be a 6 on a 10 scale. While I believe the crypto community is a relatively open community, there are not a significant number of women and underrepresented minorities in crypto leadership positions (look across the biggest exchanges, technology providers, and financial institutions). This is very similar to the general tech and financial services industry.”
According to Richardson, the talent migration from the tech and financial services sector into crypto mostly contains the traditionally represented demographic, and any major improvements in diversity and inclusion for the crypto space have to be driven by similar changes in the broader tech and financial establishments. In a conversation with Cointelegraph, Herbert Sim, a serial tech investor and the founder of Crypto Chain University, offered a more optimistic assessment of crypto’s diversity:
“Unlike other tech and financial markets, the cryptocurrency one sees an immense distribution among people of various age, nationality, and gender. The recent statistics show that the number of women trading digital money surged by 40%, and cryptocurrencies spread 4 times faster in developing countries than in developed ones. A decentralized nature of blockchain works well in practice giving equal rights to everyone regardless of financial or national factors.”
Faith Obafemi, a blockchain lawyer at Future-Proof Intelligence — an internet-native company advising on emerging technologies such as blockchain and cryptocurrency — also offered further insight, telling Cointelegraph that the “space is more diverse and inclusive,” adding:
“Perhaps, this can be attributed to the fact that fundamentally, crypto and blockchain have the main goal of eliminating barriers to inclusivity. Also, there are under-represented people spearheading some of the top projects in the space. And they’ve got significant support from the community. This does not negate the fact that more still needs to be done. Example, taking deliberate steps to eliminate systematic and unconscious bias.”
In a perfect system, meritocracy should drive the tech industry and, by extension, the crypto space. Indeed, having the best talents working on creating cutting-edge solutions will only help to quicken the relentless march of progress. The presence of discriminatory or exclusionary practices either deliberately or as a byproduct of implicit bias runs contrary to the ethos of meritocracy. However, anecdotal and factual evidence exists to suggest that such prejudices come up across several facets of the tech and financial services space.
According to Obafemi, implicit bias can form a significant roadblock for people from minority groups in the crypto space, as people of color often have to navigate the initial assumption that they are ill-equipped for the job based solely on the hue of their skin. In the broader tech scene, this prejudiced view also extends beyond the hiring cycle into daily interactions with the tag of “diversity hire” often in close accompaniment.
Bias in “badging” is a common complaint of Black workers at tech firms, with the practice demonstrating an insidious message that certain people are not welcome or do not belong in the industry. In response, some people from minority groups in the technology and financial services spheres engage in code-switching — conscious acts aimed at conforming to the unwritten, unspoken “culture fit” of these industries.
Funding for projects is also another issue for those from minority groups, and according to Richardson, this problem is an extension of the reality in the broader technology and educational institutions, adding:
“In general, the crypto space like the tech space is driven by a group of technology/alumni networks and investor access (think top university alumni, incubators, VC firms, etc.), and generally minority representation is historically low in these spaces. Until recently there has not been a concerted effort towards investment dollars and mentorship resources specifically targeted towards technologists and entrepreneurs that come from underrepresented minority groups, and I am not sure that this sentiment/effort has reached the conscience of leaders within the crypto space.”
However, Fireblocks’ Richardson declared his hope that the current global awareness of racial injustice might spur major stakeholders to drive the needed change. Speaking during the third edition of the Cointelegraph Talks Series series, Anino Emuwa, the founder of advisory firm Avandis Consulting, argued that industry leaders were integral for driving any improvement in diversity and inclusion. For Sim, skin color plays an insignificant role in the crypto space, adding:
“Thus far, I would not say that there are visible racial prejudices in the world of blockchain and cryptocurrencies. If there are any discrimination or inequality in this market, it is not about skin color, but rather about geopolitical factors, or, more specifically different attitudes of governments to cryptocurrencies and their stricter regulation.”
Obafemi also offered a similar argument, stating: “Most people only care about the value you can bring to their project. Keyword: MOST. It matters not to them whether you are a woman or a person of color.” She went on to add: “The rest find it surprising to see a woman who understands blockchain. They expect men to be more knowledgeable.”
What About The Pipeline?
Tech and financial services enterprises need to turn a profit, and this requires a continuous stream of talented individuals to create innovative solutions. The same reality exists for the crypto space, and any talk of diversity and inclusion should extend to the talent pipeline.
Indeed, the next generation of workers needs to include more people from minority groups to help in improving overall representation figures. On this note, organizations in the crypto and blockchain space are developing educational content to get more young people interested in tech.
OKEx’s Hao remarked that top firms in the industry should only care about talent: “There are no real barriers to entering the space. Top crypto leaders look to hire top talent for their companies, whether that is male, female, people of color, white people, etc,” adding: “We all face the same challenges, which is increasing awareness and education in general.”
For Hao, efforts at improving the diversity of the crypto and blockchain space need to include initiatives aimed at incentivizing young people into pursuing careers in computer programming: “More educational courses and masters are appearing all the time in blockchain and crypto and I think this is also important.”
As reported by Cointelegraph on multiple occasions, several crypto and blockchain companies such as Binance and OKEx are developing learning content for the community. Earlier in June, peer-to-peer crypto exchange Paxful announced plans for online Bitcoin classes across Africa. CoinDCX, an Indian crypto exchange, also recently launched a blockchain-based educational platform.
Diversity In The Context Of A Global Crypto Community
Amid the decentralization of knowledge to cover more places around the world is the desire to see entrepreneurs create solutions targeted at unique issues in their respective communities. From Nigeria to Kenya and even South Africa, young people are leveraging blockchain technology in areas such as rural electrification, agriculture, identity management and money transfer, among others.
Indeed, Africa’s young population is reportedly taking to crypto and blockchain technology. Data from Google Trends shows Nigeria as having the highest search interest for Bitcoin in the world, with South Africa and Ghana also in the top five.
In the United States, initiatives such as Black Girls Code are also trying to get more underrepresented people into the tech pipeline. These organizations are even trying to solve multiple racial and gender diversity issues by encouraging young Black girls to take up interests in fields such as computer programming and STEM education.
With blockchain also becoming more global, it is perhaps important to examine the concept of diversity away from the borders of Silicon Valley, as the internet provides the base layer for the propagation and dissemination of knowledge, spreading technological innovation across the world. According to Hao, the open-source nature of crypto and blockchain innovation is driving global participation and fostering greater diversity and inclusion:
“I think that because the crypto space is so new and so much of the technology and programming languages are able to be learned online open source with no cost, it makes it easier for more people to enter when compared to the broader tech industry.”
Within the context of a global technological movement, terms such as “minority” tend to lose any real meaning. In a multiracial society such as the U.S., it is perhaps relevant to examine the level of diversity and inclusiveness. However, outside of the U.S., people from different backgrounds and ethnicities are participating in the expanding crypto and blockchain landscape.
In many of these places, these new entrants are navigating difficulties that stem from inadequate technical education and poor internet access. For Grey Jabesi, the host of the podcast Hardc0re Crypt0, the onus is on passionate and driven individuals to excel in the industry:
“This is a new industry with infinite opportunities but one has to be curious, creative, and self-starting because nobody is going to hold your hand, it’s not a 4-year degree program. You just need a Do It Yourself attitude and anyone can do that.”
Uncovering The Reason Behind Female Crypto Influencers’ Instagram Bans
Female crypto influencers speaking out about gender disparity in the crypto space were banned on Instagram — who’s to blame?
Female crypto influencers that have spoken up about gender inequality in the blockchain space have recently had their Instagram accounts removed. Cointelegraph previously reported that three female crypto influencers — Rachel Siegel, Lea Thompson and Catalina Castro Lagos — were mysteriously removed from Instagram following Siegel’s comments on Twitter about the underrepresentation of women in the crypto community.
The remarks from Siegel were made in response to Binance only including one woman (herself) as a nominee for their global influencer awards. Lagos was one of only two women to be in contention for the award for the Latin America region.
Siegel, better known as CryptoFinally on social media, told Cointelegraph that backlash from the crypto community began in June of this year following a video she posted on Twitter regarding gender disparity. “I received an extreme amount of backlash from the crypto community for making this video. People started viewing me as an angry feminist,” she said.
After posting her video on women being underrepresented and even harassed in the crypto community, Siegel began to livestream regularly with Thompson (GirlGoneCrypto) and Lagos (TechWithCatalina) to discuss cryptocurrency and blockchain developments. Siegel explained that backlash from the crypto community eventually settled down when she began to focus strictly on the news.
However, numerous negative remarks were made following her video regarding Binance’s decision to nominate just one woman for its global influencer awards and only two women for their Latin America influencer awards. Siegel said:
“There are many women in the crypto space with influence, so when I heard these numbers I pointed out the gender discrepancy. We are looking at a global scale of women in crypto and saying that out of the entire world, 25 people were selected and I was the only woman with enough merit to make it on the global list. This points to a much larger problem we have in this space when it comes to representing women.”
Binance co-founder, Yi He, told Cointelegraph that there were actually a total of 18 women nominated for the Binance influencer awards. However, Siegel was nominated for the Binance influencer award by a community vote, along with other regional influencers like Kaká Furlan and Carol Souza — hosts of the UseCripto YouTube channel — as well as Dovey Wan and Anthruine Xiang. As Yi He said:
“The influencer nomination and selection process are fully driven by the community, not both the community and Binance team as it was originally reported by Cointelegraph. Additionally, the community-nominated and community-voted influencer awards have limited slots. For example, Miss Bitcoin (Mai) is an important part of the crypto community who has led impactful philanthropy efforts in Japan; there are many great influencers and women leaders in our space who may not have been represented for awards that are limited in categories.”
Yi He further noted that Binance respects the point Siegel made on Twitter, noting that Binance will ensure more diverse nominees and influencers while balancing their community-driven votes.
Is The Crypto Community To Blame?
While Binance’s influencer awards are purely community-driven, this could further highlight Siegel’s thesis that gender discrimination is very much present within the crypto community. Siegel explained that she does not blame Binance in any way for the nomination process, noting that community voice in the blockchain space is extremely important.
However, Siegel did note that the crypto community has exhibited inappropriate behavior toward women over time, a point that could be connected with the recent Instagram ban of Siegel and three other female influencers.
Shortly after posting her video on Twitter regarding the Binance influencer awards, Siegel’s Instagram account was banned. Oddly enough, Thompson’s and Lago’s Instagram accounts were also removed that same day, on July 6.
Yet according to Siegel, this wasn’t just a coincidence. She thinks someone or a group of people reported all three women’s accounts to Instagram in hopes that they would be taken down, as Siegel explained:
“I think that someone in the crypto community mass reported all three of us. Instagram has a very bad backend for when it comes to these reports, meaning that if enough reports are made, they will automatically ban users. Instagram would be the easiest place to perform an attack like this, instead of on Twitter for instance.”
Siegel also explained that comments have been made across social media platforms that show users making negative and sexually harassing remarks towards women in the crypto space. For example, on the bulletin board website 4chan, there is an inappropriate comment posted underneath a photo taken of Siegel alongside Ethereum co-founder, Vitalik Buterin.
Siegel further noted, “There has been quite a few comments on my recent tweet from people saying they want to get female influencers like us banned from social media.”
Interestingly, another woman influencer in the crypto space, who recently did a live stream with Siegel, Thompson and Lagos, also had her Instagram account taken down on July 6. CEO of the Bitcoin Center in Miami, Eryka Gemma, told Cointelegraph that Instagram won’t let her log into her account anymore. Gemma originally received a message from Instagram saying that her profile had been disabled for violating community terms.
On July 7, Gemma received another message from Instagram saying that her account had been disabled for “pretending to be someone else.” This is strange considering I did a livestream with Siegel, Thompson and Lagos the week prior,” Gemma remarked. Meanwhile, a now-deleted account stated that the 4chan community was responsible for inciting the bans:
Siegel, Thompson and Lagos’ accounts were also removed for impersonation. Due to the fact that all four women had their Instagram accounts removed on the same day for the same reason gives Siegel and the other women reason to believe that members from the crypto community organized an attack in response to recent remarks on gender discrimation. At the time of publication, all four women’s Instagram accounts are still down. Siegel commented:
“This is less about losing our accounts and more about the notion that this is an unfair attempt at silencing women in blockchain. Additionally, it’s not about influencers being deserving of respect, but about human decency in our industry. Absolutely nobody deserves to be harassed and attacked to the extent of which I’ve seen online in our community.”
Ensuring Women Have A Seat At The Table
A recent report from CoinMarketCap revealed the number of women in the crypto space increased by 43.24% during the first quarter of 2020. In addition, a study conducted last December by Grayscale found that 43% of investors interested in Bitcoin are women, up by 13% compared to 2018.
While it is uplifting to see new statistics showing an increase of women in the crypto and blockchain space, the community must be inviting toward women to ensure this number grows. Yi He from Binance explained that hiring female executives is one way to make sure that women’s involvement grows, noting that women make up about 40% of the workforce at Binance, many of which are executives like her.
In addition, the enterprise blockchain space also appears to be attracting more women. A recent diversity survey conducted by Hyperledger found that 13% of survey respondents were women. In 2017, only 5% of women participated in the same survey.
Senior technology architect at Accenture, Tracy Kuhrt, gave a lecture at Hyperledger Global Forum 2020 entitled, “Letting Go of Your Unconscious Bias,” with diversity and inclusion being major talking points. Kuhrt told Cointelegraph that the enterprise blockchain space in particular is vested in diversity:
“We all have a part to play, big or small, in increasing the diversity within the enterprise blockchain space. It could be something as simple as making someone feel welcome and encouraging them to participate, to mentoring and acting as a role model. It’s difficult to be what we can’t see, and for that reason we must prioritize expanding who is in the blockchain community.”
As for Siegel, who has been involved in the crypto community for a few years now, she expressed excitement for the direction in which the space is heading. “I believe in standing tall for diversity and inclusion, and having these conversations is important. I’m glad that we’re doing it,” she said.
Income Inequality: Can Bitcoin or Other Cryptocurrencies Fix This?
Despite the benefits of crypto being in the hands of the few, the current crisis may be a harbinger of change.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced economies to a halt and stretched the central banking system. Central banks have been printing money on a scale like never before, which makes the 2008 financial crisis pale in comparison. Over $2 trillion dollars were printed to stabilize the markets and increase liquidity.
Back in 2008, Bitcoin (BTC) was created in reaction to these quantitative easing programs as an alternative to fiat currencies and the traditional financial systems. Where governments can print money at will, a numerus clausus asset class is attractive as an inflationary hedge.
In 2008, the financial crisis began with disruption to the United States real estate and financial markets, only spreading to the financial and real economy in the rest of the world after a certain time delay. The COVID-19 outbreak is different in that it exerts a more radical and abrupt effect — first an economic upheaval by putting the real economy out of action immediately and completely, and then culminating in a financial crisis.
Central banks globally have printed trillions in the first wave of COVID-19, with many more expected to come. Airbags have been deployed, whether it be direct deposits for the survival of individuals or new loans for the survival of businesses.
A large amount of liquidity has been injected into monetary systems, with a sizable portion of it finding its way to the equity markets. The same will eventually happen to the crypto markets, but that hasn’t happened yet.
The birth of guaranteed income is a result of central banks fighting the crisis with financial instruments — Bitcoin played no part in it. In fact, a hard money system, like what gold was during the great depression, can be detrimental during times of acute crisis. The market crash of 1929 became the economic depression of the 1930’s by way of a monetary transmission — gold was simply held as a store of value.
Crypto market participants should be familiar with the supply-and-demand dynamics causing the current equity markets rally.
After all, there are neither economic asset-backing nor earnings models in the crypto realm — prices are driven purely by market supply and demand. With the influx of new money fueling demand in the equity markets, what we are witnessing is the inflation of financial assets, and a floating of the haves, combined with deflation of economic assets, and a needed rescue of the have-nots.
Modern monetary tools are flexible, swift, broad and powerful — it is logical that they are being deployed.
The arguments we often hear from the Twitter peanut gallery that “Bitcoin solves this” are just misguided if not financially illiterate. In an age of abundance, paradoxically, Bitcoin simply does not and cannot deploy emergency funds to avoid starvation and civil unrest.
To argue in a time of public suffering for hard money almost appears to be one of ignorant if not malignant sociopathy. Forget that Bitcoin isn’t money, much less hard money. Instead of tilting at central bank windmills, crypto would do well to focus on what it does well — as a speculative store of value.
Bitcoin’s resilience, in this regard, will become more evident when the COVID-19 dust settles. Cryptocurrencies have held their own on the aspect of wealth preservation and growth, but their benefits have traditionally been limited to the fortunate few who already have exposure. That is, however, changing.
With all the liquidity entering the markets and the finite number of Bitcoin, market participants have been increasingly bullish on the crypto — it’s just market number logic. We will likely witness a surge in money flows into crypto markets, similar to what we saw in the equity markets. This is narrowly financial — cryptos did well amid a financial panic.
On a higher level, open-source blockchains are possibly philosophical constructs to the future of data, personal data, voting data and medical data. Today, we focus on investments and banking. Stablecoins offer downside protection, others offer very volatile growth, and some others are hybrids of the two.
What can crypto do? It can serve as a transnational store of value, offering both downside protection and upside potential, and it does that well. Does it solve the economic and financial crisis unfolding? No. Crypto is an epiphenomenon on the world monetary stage. It may one day take center stage if it sheds its illusions and keeps executing.
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