Women Are Being Shut Out Of Web3; These Women Are Building Anyway

While only 13% of Web3 startups include a female founder and women represent just 27% of the top Web3 startups’ workforce, these women remain as determined as ever to shape our digital future.

AccessTimeIconMar 8, 2023 at 2:45 p.m. UTC
Updated Mar 9, 2023 at 7:29 p.m. UTC

While women continue to make up a significant portion of active Web3 users, there aren’t enough women building in Web3 due to structural and social barriers.

According to a recent study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and diversity-focused innovation studio People of Crypto Lab, only 13% of Web3 startups include a female founder, and women represent just 27% of the top Web3 startups’ workforce. In comparison, women in large tech companies hold roughly 32% of jobs. In the financial services sector, women start on equal ground but get squeezed out over time, holding half of entry-level positions but only 19% of C-suite roles, according to research by Deloitte and McKinsey.

“I’ve been fighting sexism, racism and homophobia since I was six years old,” said Alicia Cepeda Maule, co-founder and CEO of Givepact, a fundraising platform that enables nonprofits to accept crypto payments. “As a ‘non-technical’ Afro-Colombian female founder of a Web3 company, all the odds are against me. Black women receive less than 1% of [venture capital] money,” Maule said.

Maule says that she tends to enter professional arenas with the understanding that she must work harder than men, and often with fewer resources. “The stakes are even higher,” she said. “I have to perform at 100% and overdeliver in every single pitch and interaction that I make for the company.”

The BCG study backs up Maule’s observations, finding that Web3 startups founded by men raise almost four times more capital than those founded by women.

Despite the challenges, women around the world are still choosing to participate in Web3, the newest frontier of tech and finance combined. Some – roughly 7%, according to the BCG study – have founded companies. Yet, women are largely isolated from leadership positions and venture capital opportunities, making it difficult to participate equally in foundational conversations that will determine Web3’s standards.

Many women in the industry recognize this peril: “There's not enough of us, said Bozena Rezab, co-founder and CEO of blockchain-based mobile gaming platform GAMEE. Rezab argues this moment is a “great opportunity” for women to consider Web3 as a career.

Ahead, we spoke to women across Web3 sectors about why they are pursuing a blockchain-based career and how they continue to build around the obstacles presented.

Focus on making positive changes

Gender bias presents itself across digital and real-world industries, leading many women to expect inequality in professional settings. “There is probably always going to be some level of bias or stereotype to overcome, not necessarily only related to gender,” said Rezab, who explained she tries to ignore such encounters by focusing on her goals and performance. “I am focused on results,” she said.

Some women find it helpful to focus on the fact that Web3 attracts entrepreneurial professionals who appreciate innovation. This combination of traits can foster an open-mindedness not always welcome in traditional finance or tech startups. Web3, therefore, may appear like an environment that is comparatively more equitable, despite what the data suggests.

“Compared to the traditional side of finance, people are more helpful here,” said Beryl Li, co-founder of play-to-earn gaming network Yield Guild Games (YGG), adding that “as an entrepreneur, you create your own culture.”

Li, who works with multiple women on her team at YGG, describes feeling comfortable and supported in her role thanks to intentional hiring, recruiting and partnership practices. “I work with incredible women who’ve been very helpful,” said Li. “You need to look for people who actually respect you and compliment your skills.”

Web3 investor and Ola Guild Games co-founder Clara Bullrich describes this strategy as creating a “bubble of trust.”

“What I found effective is to focus on my work and to be reliant on what I can change, as opposed to whatever is outside of my control,” Bullrich said. “I am trying to create and promote that mindset among others around me.”

Find a supportive community

Community is at the heart of Web3, and finding a supportive and like-minded network of professionals and peers is important for all builders in the space.

“Web3 centers and thrives on community,” said Maule. “You can have a great product and tons of investment, but if you don’t center your community, you won’t go as far.”

Devon Martens, principal blockchain engineer at the non-fungible token (NFT) platform Sweet, appreciates the in-real-life conferences, meetups and events that bring women builders across the world together. “There are active movements in order to support women in crypto,” she said. “That feels good to me.”

According to the BCG study, the proportion of women who speak at Web3 conferences is three times higher than men, a statistic that suggests women are growing in visibility at Web3 conferences, which may be an important first step in achieving true equity across leadership and founder roles.

Maule also appreciates the numerous organizations and women-led communities that promote education and diversity in Web3. She recommends that newcomers familiarize themselves with groups including SheFi, Web3 Familia, Black@, Boys Club, Blu3 DAO, H.E.R. DAO and Friends With Benefits.

Fill technical roles in a male-dominated field

The BCG study showed that women founders are more likely to launch Web3 startups in creative and social segments, although technical roles are still dominated by men. Just 12% of technical roles in Web3 are filled by women, representing less than the number of women in technical roles across other STEM fields.

Still, blockchain is what Maggie Love, founder of the global education community SheFi, once described as “inherently feminist.” The idea of a borderless, permissionless financial network where anyone – regardless of their credit score, occupation, experience level or net worth – can participate, is more inclusive than the traditional finance (TradFi) industry, making blockchain development a worthwhile skill for women to learn.

Martins says she began learning Solidity, a programming language for writing smart contracts, by watching free videos on YouTube. She explained that traditional coding boot camps may cost up to five figures in tuition, but thanks to the growth of Web3, blockchain education is often crowdsourced and free.

“Occasionally, a chain will sponsor a course for people to learn,” she said. “You can also start with just YouTube videos. [The channel] Eat The Blocks has some free ones, and they're also a relatively low-cost boot camp.”

Lisa Seacat DeLuca, senior director of engineering at the decentralized domain service Unstoppable Domains and former IBM executive, shares Martins’ perspective: “These days with everything being open source, you can see examples of other people's contracts,” she said. “I think it's easier to onboard in Web3 than it is in Web2. As far as software engineering and the talent you're looking for, it's very similar.”

DeLuca, whose portfolio includes over 800 patent applications and who was recognized by IBM as one of the most prolific inventors in the company's history, wrote her first smart contract over Christmas in 2022.

Foster collaboration in Web3

Each of the women interviewed for this article stressed the importance of collaboration in Web3. Like any healthy ecosystem, collaborative work environments are strengthened when more points of view are represented.

“It’s not just gender,” said Leah Callon Butler, director of blockchain consulting firm Emfarsis. “We need diversity in terms of race and ethnicity, culture, religion, age, sexuality and so on.”

DeLuca agrees: “You could have a bunch of women in the room, and you're still missing out if everybody's got the same mindset and are approaching the problems in the same way,” she said.

Although representation may be the first step, the workplace must also be conducive to healthy and productive exchanges between those with differing perspectives. The BCG study outlines five measures that can help address the gender imbalance and foster a more inclusive workforce among Web3 companies. These measures include prioritizing data that represents diversity across company departments and leadership levels, including women and non-binary people on investment teams, designing accessible brand experiences, building supportive environments and shaping regulation that champions diversity, equity and inclusion of all types.

“When we lack diversity, we have fewer perspectives to draw upon, which means that challenges are not fully understood, opportunities are overlooked, and the solutions we develop are less robust,” said Callon-Butler. “The more diverse we are, the more angles we can see the world. Ultimately, this is better for everyone.”

As Web3 continues to shift and grow, women have the power to usher in a more diverse and inclusive space that can represent the ideas and values of a broad range of communities.

“Women are natural leaders and organizers, and soon we will represent at least half of crypto holders worldwide,” said Maule. “There is no Web3 without us.”


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Megan  DeMatteo

Megan DeMatteo is a service journalist currently based in New York City. In 2020, she helped launch CNBC Select, and she now writes for publications like CoinDesk, NextAdvisor, MoneyMade, and others. She is a contributing writer for CoinDesk’s Crypto for Advisors newsletter.

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