The New York State Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) is launching an initiative to promote diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the banking and crypto industries.
According to an industry letter published by NYDFS Superintendent Linda Lacewell on Thursday, under the initiative the department plans to collect and publish data from New York’s regulated banking institutions, non-depository financial institutions and virtual currency service providers that reflects the diversity of their corporate boards and management.
The issue of diversity in the crypto industry made headlines last year against the backdrop of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, when the CEO of the U.S.-based cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, Brian Armstrong, announced the exchange was taking a stance against employee-driven social activism. Within a month, 5% of its employees accepted a severance package. Later in the year, the New York Times published a lengthy report revealing racist and discriminatory treatment of African American employees in the company followed by another report that claimed the company paid women and minorities well under the tech industry average.
Having considered a number of possible actions, the NYDFS determined that publishing management diversity data is the best way to support the finance industry’s diversity efforts, Lacewell explained in the letter.
“Given the limited availability of banking and non-depository financial institution-specific diversity data, making that information public will allow companies to assess where they stand compared to their peers and raise the bar for the entire industry,” Lacewell said.
The letter also said the data will be collected in the fall of 2021 via a survey, and its results are to be published in the first quarter of 2022, categorized by the type of institution and other factors.
NYDFS stepping in
In Thursday’s letter, Lacewell made it clear that applicable financial institutions will be required to participate in the upcoming NYDFS diversity survey.
“Under Banking Law §37(3) the Superintendent may require any banking organization to make special reports to her at such times as she may prescribe,” the letter said.
The letter explains the DSF will collect data from New York-regulated banking institutions with more than $100 million in assets and all regulated non-depository financial institutions with more than $100 million in gross revenue.
The revenue threshold does not appear to apply to crypto entities, but the diversity survey will also seek to collect data from all authorised virtual currency service providers including “BitLicensees” and virtual currency trust companies, according to the letter.
All qualifying institutions will provide data “related to the gender, racial and ethnic composition of their boards or equivalent body and senior management as of December 31, 2019 and 2020, including information about board tenure and key board and senior management roles.”
A timely response
The NYDFS letter, which included diversity statistics for institutions in the banking and crypto industries noted that female participation in the cryptocurrency community is very low.
“The percentage of women in the sector, including developers, investors and interested individuals, usually hovers between 4% and 6%,” the letter said, citing data from crypto statistics and services platform CoinDance from 2018.
That figure has since improved slightly: In 2020, engagement in the bitcoin community by gender was 86% male. The letter adds that 92% of venture-backed cryptocurrency and blockchain companies founded around the world from 2012 to 2018 had a founding team that was entirely male, compared to the tech industry standard of 82% for that same period.
On Thursday, as the NYDFS letter was published, the Black Women Blockchain Council (BWBC) a global benefit organization that aims to improve inclusion in the industry, announced it has partnered with ConsenSys to launch a global initiative to train 500,000 black female blockchain developers by 2030.
According to Olayinka Odeniran, founder of BWBC, of the small number of software developers who are specifically focused on blockchain, a smaller percentage are part of the African diaspora, and an even smaller percentage are females.
“We wanted to increase that number because we believe that being able to participate as a creator, as opposed to a consumer, is going to greatly benefit our community,” Odeniran said.
According to the new partnership, BWBC and ConsenSys will be launching specialized programming for black women in blockchain by 2022. The details of the training programs and courses are still in the works, Odeniran said.
Odeniran commended the NYDFS for taking steps to hold institutions accountable for what they say.
“While the public statements from Regulated Banking Institutions and Regulated Non-Depository Financial Institutions in support of DEI initiatives are significant and necessary, it is time to act on those words and make good on good intentions to begin to achieve real change,” the letter said.
As BWBC’s own initiative takes shape, Odeniran is not sure how the industry will respond to the diversity survey.
“I think it's a good attempt. Now, whether or not organizations will take it seriously, that's up to those organizations,” Odeniran said.
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