Feature Story

How blockchain can help women advance in tech and beyond

by Melissa Jun Rowley

Blockchain may be a game changer for women looking to make their mark in the tech industry.

Blockchain may be a game changer for women looking to make their mark in the tech industry.

Women working in blockchain may do more than cash in on the relatively new industry, which can permanently record and verify two-party transactions. They're on the cusp of shaking up the notion of the tech industry as an old boys club. While the original intent of blockchain innovation was to record bitcoin transactions, a number of organizations use its underlying technology to ensure transparency and accountability, and the tech is just new enough to allow women to easily enter it.

Amanda Gutterman, CMO of the blockchain specialist firm ConsenSys, says her company is making it a point to create blockchain opportunities through its leadership designations and meetup groups.

"[With blockchain] there is no secret door to knock on," says Gutterman. "If a woman decides today that she wants to become a blockchain developer, or learn to code in Solidity, the Turing complete programming language associated with the Ethereum blockchain [a blockchain distributed computing platform that has smart contract functionality], she can get started immediately. If she is interested in a job in this field, where fast-growth is outstripping blockchain expertise, her skills will instantly be in high demand."

How can blockchain elevate women in the developing world?

Blockchain and bitcoins can play an important role in terms of empowering women in the marginalized communities Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, where a mere 5% of the population has internet access, women and children being a fraction, Digital Citizen Fund founder Roya Mahboob is providing digital literacy training for young girls that includes blockchain and cryptocurrency education. Mahboob aims to build 40 free Internet-enabled classrooms across the country within the next five years. So far, her organization has built 11 computer labs and two media centers, trained 10,000 students, and connected more than 55,000 students.

The Digital Citizen Fund team also has plans to create an online maketplace for women and girls who have started their businesses through the fund's financial literacy program to sell their products online. Mahboob says bitcoins will be one of the payment exchange systems.

"Blockchain and bitcoins can play an important role in terms of empowering women in the marginalized communities," says Mahboob. " It's helping them to transfer money faster in a secure way and lower cost. They can keep their money in their mobile phones or computers without having to worry about their cash being stolen by thieves or taken by family members. In a country like Afghanistan, due to the security and cultural challenges, women in some areas aren't able to open a bank account. So blockchain is very important."

SF-based entrepreneur Toni Lane Casserly agrees. As the co-founder of the blockchain and fintech publication CoinTelegraph and partner at BitNation, a blockchain powered jurisdiction, Casserly is the Blockchain Expert in Residence for Singularly University

Casserly sees blockchain could create a world of new opportunities for third world countries. "I believe that many of the world's problems centering around education and poverty in developing countries could be solved with women in control of capital. However, the current financial system doesn't provide access for almost three quarters of the world's population, most of whom are dirt poor and largely women. For the first time in history, blockchain technology can provide that access to anyone, regardless of gender, race or country."

Will blockchain become as important to society as the internet?

It's helping them to transfer money faster in a secure way and lower cost. Genevieve Leveille, CEO of AgriLedger, is harnessing  blockchain to act as an incorruptible source of truth for co-operatives of small farmers. Because blockchain provides traceability, it allows the supply chain to function better.

Leveille says blockchain has an opportunity to be "even more revolutionary than the internet" as long as it gets itself to standards.

"Without standards blockchain will be the wild wild west," she says, but with proper standards that all could change. "The internet gives marginalized people the ability to communicate. I think blockchain will give them not only the ability to communicate, but also to be ensured that they can authenticate themselves in ways that we can't right now."

Irra Ariella Khi, CEO of VChain, which produces software as a service ID verification for storing documents, says she's excited about the non-financial applications of blockchain.

"It's simply a better way of keeping records, for provenance and accountability in any process," she shares. "I believe record keeping is one of the characteristics that defines a civilisation, and it will be defined by blockchain for our generation."

Regarding blockchain as a niche for women, Khi says she doesn't think the technology has any "gender-specific opportunities."

"To me, competence wins over anything, including gender," she shares. "But I have noticed that many of the top non-financial blockchain companies have female CEOs. Perhaps it's a growing shift towards increasingly ambitious women succeeding in tech at large rather than just blockchain. I hope this holds true for both my own and my daughter's future."


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