“Satoshi is female” was one of the more pervasive slogans at Consensus 2018, the world’s largest blockchain conference that saw thousands of crypto-believers descend on midtown New York for a packed, three-day meet-and-greet last week.
Satoshi refers to Satoshi Nakamoto, the still mysterious creator of Bitcoin who has never been identified but who, nonetheless, is credited as the founding father of cryptocurrency, or a digital form of money, and blockchain, a public and uneditable system for recording transactions. Both developments are hailed by their evangelists as potentially revolutionary technological tools.
As crowds packed Manhattan’s midtown Hilton to listen to leadingtechnology figures such as Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and the cryptography pioneer Bailey Whitfield ‘Whit’ Diffie, the question of Satoshi’s gender was purely symbolic. But it was also understood by many attendees: blockchain should not simply perpetuate the white male tech nerd stereotypical worldview of Silicon Valley.
“We think cryptocurrencies should be built with a different system and values in mind,” said Nyla Rodgers, the creator of the Satoshi Is Female group. “Silicon Valley is completely run by men. Women only receive 2% of venture capital funding so their ideas never rise to the top. We’ve been living with a very one-sided view of the world.”
The expression of a male-led crypto world is already self-evident. The frothy, unstable cryptocurrency sector is dominated by images of Lamborghinis – “Lambos” – and “going moon” as cryptocurrencies surge in price.
Cryptocurrency and blockchain has already received bad press for being overly gendered and insufficiently woke. In February, the North American Bitcoin Conference wrapped up 10 hours of speeches by inviting 5,000 attendees to what it called a “networking party” in a 20,000 sq ft strip club.
To women in the crypto sector attending Consensus, there’s no time to lose if blockchain technology isn’t going to follow the same path as Silicon Valley.
A recent study found that while there was improvement in the number of women in the industry in the wake of several sexism and discrimination scandals, the participation of racial minorities was worsening.
“Blockchain has only been around for 18 months so we, as women, can help define what the culture looks like at the beginning,” said Rodgers who is raising money to fund women-led tech groups, many in the developing world, through her charity Mama Hope. “The urgency is there for women and minorities to create a system that actually values them.”
On the first day of New York’s crypto-week, the entrepreneur Cindy Chin held a seminar Women on The Block with the express purpose of creating a sense of inclusion in the blockchain world.
“We think there’s an opportunity to change what has really been an all-male space,” Chin says. “We want to be part of the conversation, we want to drive the leadership, to be part of the deal-flow and we want to be invested in … we want the money!”
Certain women are already gaining recognition, among them Perianne Boring, founder and chairwoman of the Digital Chamber of Commerce, billing itself as the world’s largest trade association representing the blockchain industry.
“Blockchain is an opportunity for women to participate,” said Sheri Kaiserman, who was Wedbush Securities Inc’s head of equities when she published the first Wall Street analysis of Bitcoin’s value. She now heads a blockchain investment and advisory fund Maco.LA, she said she’s found the blockchain sector broadly welcoming to women.
“Women have a lot of opportunities in this space to really pave the way and take ownership of a lot new projects. Because it so new we, as women, can really make a lot of headway and progress in changing the future,” she said.
Matthew Roszak, founder of Bloq, one of the fair’s major sponsors, said the technology’s current lack of formal structure was also its advantage in terns of gender and racial diversity.
“The complexion of blockchain, its decentralized nature, the fact that its so multi-disciplinary, attracts not only women but a more diverse group of people,” he said. “That’s not just an aspiration but a reality.”
At Consensus, the African-American investor George Ewang said he saw some opportunity for minorities to help shape the emerging technology. But, he said, there was still a hangover from the lack of diversity through the first wave of the tech revolution in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
“Technology has historically been unreceptive to people from other backgrounds and pushed them away, its been hard for those people to now come into crypto-land.”
The advantage of crypto, he said, was the decentralization of the technology that allowed people to invest and participate from within their own societies. With education and encouragement, Ewang said, he’d overcome his reservations.
“Crypto is open-minded. It’s not just a Silicon Valley thing anymore. It’s people from all over the world. Not just Caucasian men.”
But clearly considerable hurdles remain. A review of 1,450 digital coin offerings published by the Wall Street Journal on Thursday found investors had poured more than $1bn in 271 coin offerings that included plagiarized investor documents, promises of guaranteed returns or in some cases missing or fake executive teams.
Moreover, there’d been speculation that New York’s Blockchain Week would help bring stability to the cryptocurrency valuations by conferring the interest of mainstream financial firms in the sector.
But instead of pushing the price of Bitcoin back above the psychological $10,000 mark, that coin and other leading digital currencies, including EOS and Cardano, tumbled. The market dropped by more than $30bn overnight, from $408bn to $377bn.
Nor did it help that Vitalik Buterin, creator of the Ethereum cryptocurrency, announced that he would not attend the $2,000-ticket event. He slammed Consensus organizer Coindesk for overcharging: “I refuse to personally contribute to that level of rent-seeking,” he posted on Twitter.
But that could not dull the overall spirit of many attendees. Rosario Pabst, a representative of platform ZenCash, said she believed the blockchain sector would steadily throw off its rogueish reputation.
“‘Lambos’ and ‘going moon’ just shows the immaturity of the space and where it started,” Pabst said. “Right now you have to hold onto your pants, it’s still unstable. But if you have bright ideas and hard-working you’re going to succeed.”
Satoshi Nakamoto, Pabst added, could be female after all.