Crypto’s Gender Disparity: What Can Be Done About It? 4 Women Weigh In

Crypto sits at the intersection of two male-dominated industries: tech and finance. I was asked to moderate a panel for the Amber Group with four leading women in crypto to discuss the role of gender in the crypto industry and what can be done to bring more women into the space. Panelists include Mia Deng, partner at Dragonfly Capital; Amy Zhang, vice president of sales at Fireblocks; Alexis Gauba, cofounder at Opyn; and Annabelle Huang, partner at Amber Group. Show highlights:

  • how each panelist got into crypto, what it is they do, and which company they work for
  • why women have been somewhat reluctant to speak on crypto gender disparity in public
  • what the main obstacles to bringing about better gender diversity in crypto
  • whether the crypto space is harder to break into than traditional finance for women
  • how gender issues in the U.S. are different than in Asia
  • why more women have begun trading cryptocurrencies and how to increase that interest
  • which crypto explanations are most effective for female friends
  • why there are so few female crypto co-founders
  • good hiring practices for bringing more women into the space
  • advice for women trying to break into crypto 

Thank you to our sponsors!

E&Y: https://ey.com/globalblockchainsummit 

Crypto.com: https://crypto.onelink.me/J9Lg/unchainedcardearnfeb2 

Kyber Network: Dmm.exchange 

Episode Links

Panelists

Mia Deng

Amy Zhang

Alexis Gauba

Annabelle Huang

Miscellaneous

https://www.wsj.com/articles/women-step-up-trading-in-bitcoin-other-cryptocurrencies-11619179200

 

Episode Transcript

Laura Shin:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to Unchained, your no hype resource for all things crypto. I’m your host, Laura Shin, a journalist with over two decades of experience. I started covering crypto six years ago and, as a senior editor at Forbes, was the first mainstream media reporter to cover cryptocurrency full-time. Follow Unchained on Twitter @Unchained_pod, where you can find all sorts of content ranging from my weekly newsletter to updates on my upcoming book and a whole lot more.

Today’s episode is a panel I moderated for Amber Group on power women in crypto. The four speakers are executives in crypto who were happy to discuss the role of gender in the industry, what explanations a most effective for bringing in women, and good hiring practices for bringing more women into the industry. Panelists include Mia Deng, partner at Dragonfly Capital; Amy Zhang, vice president of sales at Fireblocks; Alexis Gauba, co-founder at Opyn; and Annabelle Huang, partner at Amber Group.

For those of you watching on video, you may notice that we are all wearing white. The organizers asked us to wear white as a symbol of inclusiveness across traditional finance and crypto. No matter where you are listening, this will be an interesting show on a topic that many women in the industry speak about privately, but not openly. 

EY:

Today’s episode is sponsored by EY Blockchain. Ernst and Young is committed to supporting the integration of the world’s business ecosystems on the public Ethereum blockchain.

Crypto.com:

The Crypto.com App lets you buy, earn and spend crypto, all in one place! Earn up to 8.5% interest on your Bitcoin and 14% interest on your stablecoins – paid weekly! Download the Crypto.com App and get $25 with the code “LAURA” – link is in the description.

Kyber Network:

Kyber’s Dynamic Market Maker, DMM, is the first DeFi protocol designed to adapt to market conditions to optimise fees, maximise returns, and enable extremely high capital efficiency for liquidity providers.

Laura Shin:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to this panel, put on by the Amber group: Power Women of the Next Generation from Traditional Finance to Crypto. We have four different panelists here, and we’re going to start with each of them telling us how we got into crypto, what their company does, and what it is that they do. Amy Zhang, why don’t we start with you?

Amy Zhang:

Hi everyone. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m super excited to share our experiences and talk about women in crypto. My name’s Amy. I run sales for Fireblocks in Asia. Fireblocks is a technology company that provides secure digital asset transfer infrastructure and custody infrastructure for over 250 clients, from crypto hedge funds to OTC desk to exchanges. Most recently, we were a technology provider-vendor selected for some of the larger banks in the industry as well. So really, my goal at Fireblocks is to drive revenue for us in the APAC region, start relationships with partners, and deliver products to allow them to continue to build a bigger business in the digital asset space.

Before Fireblocks, I ran sales for a company called Diginex. That was my first role in crypto starting in 2018. At Diginex, I helped them to grow their exchange trading custody fund to funds business.

Prior to that foray into crypto, I used to be a sales trader at Deutsche Bank, where I serviced institutional clients. My kind of move and foray into crypto started when I was at Deutsche. I looked at my colleagues and looked at where they were, and I thought to myself that I didn’t want to be any of them ten years from now. So I went out and ventured out looking for new opportunities, and crypto became one of the industries that drew my attention. The rest is history.

Laura Shin:

Great. And we also have Annabelle Huang.

Annabelle Huang:

I’m very happy to be here as well and to be able to chat with a lot of my old friends. I knew Amy from Deutsche Bank, who was a senior analyst, and also Mia, who was at Amber and now is one of our investors. Then a lot of the new friends that I made, so I’m very glad to be here with you guys. Hi, my name is Annabell Huang. I am a partner at Amber Group. We’re a global leading crypto finance service provider servicing institutional and individual clients globally. We help our clients buy and sell crypto, with their have borrow/lending needs, or asset management needs in crypto. We help them across basically all of the crypto finance needs. We service a lot of the crypto native funds and institutions as well as a lot of the people who are new to crypto, especially after this bull cycle this year.

So it’s been a very fun ride. Before Amber, I was at AirSwap, at the decentralized exchange built on Ethereum. That was my first foray into crypto. That was in 2018. I was at Nomura, where, similar to Deutsche, I was doing FX and rates structuring related roles. And that’s where I met a few of my Carnegie Mellon alums in New York who were were telling me about this decentralized finance and how we’re able to really automate a lot of the processes that we’ve seen in traditional finance into a smart contract on this new public chain. And that, to me, is really marrying finance with technology and really revolutionized finance as we know it. So I decided to give it a shot and just cannot turn back ever since.

Laura Shin:

And Mia, we have Mia Deng as well. 

Mia Deng:

Hey, everyone, it’s awesome to be here. I’m Mia, and I’m a partner at Dragonfly. We’re a global crypto venture fund with a presence in Asia and the States. Dragonfly invests across the sectors in crypto. So we have centralized financial infrastructure, like companies like Amber. Opyn is also a DeFi, which is a big focus area of ours along with DeTech and NFTs. I particularly head up our investments in Asia with a focus on China. Before Dragonfly, I was a founding member at Amber. I joined them when there were six people in Hong Kong and Xinjin, and that was my foray into Asia’s crypto landscape, and I really saw how that connects to the broader crypto market. 

The founding thesis of Dragonfly is that crypto is a global market from day one. We need to have a deep understanding of both East and West, and that’s how Dragonfly comes in the middle. Before crypto, I actually came from a tech background. I was a product manager at Mobike, which is a bike-share, unicorn company in China. I think that experience taught me how, for internet companies, the room left for innovation is actually quite limited. The incumbents, like the giants, kind of control the user data, and crypto seems like the perfect way to turn that around.

Laura Shin:

Great. And finally, Alexis Gauba.

Alexis Gauba:

Hey, I’m Alexis, I’m excited to be here. So I’m the co-founder of Opyn. We are building a decentralized options platform on Ethereum. So for the first time, anyone anywhere can create or trade an option on any ERC 20. I’ve just been super excited about crypto and DeFi for a while now and very thrilled to be in the space. Kind of before Opyn, I was studying at UC Berkeley and then dropped out of school to do Opyn. But while I was at Cal also started she256, which is a 501-C3 non-profit focused on diversity in crypto. That’s been absolutely amazing to work on as well. It honestly just started as a conference, and seeing the response of the community was incredible. Since then, we’ve built it into a full non-profit, and we have a mentorship program that’s matched over 900 people from over 40 countries, which has been really cool. We’re working on some studies to capture tangible data on diversity inclusion in the space and a lot more initiatives. So very excited to be here and excited about everything that’s happening in space right now.

Laura Shin:

So when the organizer for this reached out to me about this panel, I was excited to do it because, for years now, I have been in these different chat groups, discussion rooms, and Slack room for women in crypto. They have a lot to say on this topic, actually, but surprisingly, if I would try to do a show on it or write an article on it or whatever, people generally wouldn’t actually really want to discuss it publicly. So I was curious to know why it is that you all were willing to do so and whether or not you thought it was a good thing to discuss it publicly. I think in the case of a lot of these other women that declined, many of them would rather only talk about their work. What is your perspective on that issue?

Amy Zhang:

I mean, I can go first here. I think a lot of times when you’re working in an industry that might be perhaps male-dominated, you want to really focus on your work and remove the focus on you being a woman because you don’t want to call attention to it. You want to be treated equally, right? So as such, you really push for valuing my work, but really, I think a lot of times, you do want to talk and speak out about it because there is perhaps inequality in certain industries when it comes to being a woman in the workforce. We have unique challenges that we want to be able to share and communicate with each other. 

Annabelle Huang:

I share the same feeling. I guess both of us came from the traditional finance space as well, and that was a very white male-dominated scene. When I first joined, I almost felt the need to blend in — to be a bro so that I could be treated equally. On the structuring desk in New York, there was just me. My former MD probably never had a woman on his team before, so he didn’t really know even how to deal with me almost. He’s like, can I just tell you as it is? I’m like, yes, yes, we’re all professional people here. And so I think there’s a little bit of that. 

There are a lot of women in crypto chats. I feel like there are a lot of issues that we feel strongly about, at least when we talk to each other. I always find it so inspiring to get a group of women together and talk about the work we do. It’s just inspiring because there are not that many of us in this space. But then there is the fear of us, perhaps, making it as a way to call attention to ourselves or to get any unfair advantage, but I really don’t think it is. I think it’s just opening up a platform for us to chat together and hopefully encourage more women to come, so we have a community just as a lot of the men would have their fraternity organizations of the likes in finance.

Mia Deng:

I would just add on to that. Crypto is like the intersection of tech and finance, so it’s two super male-dominant industries. So you get crypto, it’s like even more so. I think the rationale for me is quite straightforward. I think if we hold a thesis that crypto is going to be adopted by the entire humanity and it’s 50/50 split by men and women, then the process of designing this tech and really getting it to mainstream adoption, we need that representation. I think right now that representation is heavily skewed, and I think that we carry that mission to at least balance it out a little bit.

Laura Shin:

And Alexis, as the founder of she256, do you have thoughts as well?

Alexis Gauba:

Jumping off of what everyone already said, our goal for crypto is for it to serve the whole population. How can we serve the whole population if the people building aren’t representative of the people we are to serve? So I think it’s incredibly important to get more people in this space. I think it is inspiring to see that other people have done it before and that there are real struggles or real difficulties. Everyone is focused on getting through it. Everyone here is incredible at what they do and focused on their work, but at the same time, is also open to having these conversations and bringing people in. And so I think that is really important.

Laura Shin:

What would you say are the main issues when it comes to this general topic of women in crypto? Obviously, one is simply the fact that there are many fewer women in crypto than there are men — it’s not anywhere near gender parody. So there’s that, but maybe there are other issues. What do you guys see as kind of the main issues or main things that you would want others to know about this topic?

Annabelle Huang:

I think the fact that there are so few of us and we are underrepresented gave the outside world the impression that this is a space only for men because it is very — it can be very demanding. It’s a 24/7 market. For anyone who wants to be in this business, it is physically and mentally demanding, but it doesn’t mean that women should be discouraged from joining. I am making a point of hiring more women on my team and even just at Amber in general. A lot of times, even at a candidate level, you don’t see a lot of female applicants. I just feel like maybe they feel dissuaded from the start. There are a few women at Deutsche and Nomura, or even just at Carnegie Mellon, who have reached out to me saying that it’s just so great to hear your voice on these platforms and making me feel like I can also be part of it.

I want all of us to be able to tell them that maybe it’s not easy, just as it’s not easy to do anything well. But then being a woman is certainly not a disadvantage. It’s not a disadvantage in itself. I think crypto should be very inclusive. It really should represent a more diverse background when companies building products or building infrastructures or anything in the space. We need to hear both sides of the story.

Amy Zhang:

Another thing is crypto — most crypto businesses today, maybe with the exception of a few, are still startups, right? And I think a lot of the decisions you have as a person to join a startup company is… they don’t have a huge HR department that has well-rounded processes when it comes to like dealing with issues. In the traditional bank, these are all done. You could go in knowing what your insurance would be like and all of these custom benefits that you get. You don’t have to go through this battle again, versus when you’re in a startup, you have to not only do your job, but then you have to know the fact that there might be potential of discrimination. What do you do? I think a lot of times these women think about these problems in their head a lot where they’re like: how do I want to manage my risk, my career, and what’s the most optimal way for me to succeed? They evaluate the risks associated with joining a new industry that is predominantly dominated by a group of people. Again, these are startups. So all these risks compound together. I feel like the problem might not be as apparent, but if you break it down into different layers of the industry that we operate in, the result is that there are just fewer women in our industry working.

Alexis Gauba:

I think it goes pretty broad. Like Mia mentioned earlier like crypto is the intersection of tech and finance. Societally on a larger scale beyond just crypto, women are often dissuaded from going into tech or finance or don’t learn about it at a young age. Just anecdotally, so many of my male friends started investing or getting into the stock market and stuff like that way before my female friends ever did. They had completely different risk tolerances and different conceptions towards it. That’s not to say that women can’t: women can, like all these people are doing incredible. All my friends are investing now, doing incredible things. Just like at a young age, their teachers, their parents, their friends, weren’t telling them, hey, like you should check out the stock market, you should learn how to do this the way their male peers were getting that kind of encouragement.

It’s kind of a broader, like socialized thing at a younger age where it’s, okay, crypto is the intersection of these two things. How do we say: you’re welcome here, and we’re going to teach you. Like you can come into here, and you can ask questions, and we’re going to help you answer them. I didn’t know what an order book was until I started looking into crypto. I didn’t know any of this stuff. And so I definitely was learning it on the fly.

Laura Shin:

And Mia, did you want to add me? 

Mia Deng:

Yeah, I think there’s really a lack of like…. where I would love to see change…. I think she256 is doing great things about bringing women together. When you find role models, you want to find those with who you can relate with. I think right now, there is very little visibility of these role models or just people you can reach out to that already in the industry. And I think that’s why having a very clear theme, like a panel like this, or she256 is really giving like that kind of beacon basically for more women to like reach out to.

Laura Shin:

And so since we did mention she256 a few times, Alexis, I did want to ask you: what did you feel were your big takeaways from that initiative about the main obstacles were to bring in more diversity to crypto or you know, what you think maybe are the best ways to overcome those obstacles? 

Alexis Gauba:

Absolutely. I think that’s a great question. I think one insight that I’ll point to that’s pretty interesting. We ran a beta of our job board last year. The majority of the postings on the job board were for senior-level positions. A lot of the folks who were coming in from our community were either more junior or didn’t have experience in crypto. It was hard to find a match of companies that were willing to like put in the investment to train up people, to get them to whatever level — versus looking for like senior talent out of the gate.

The definition of senior might be missing different perspectives or missing different things that these people bring to the table that might not be in that job description. What we’ve done for that job board beta, and then now the job board that’s going to be launching this year, is put together a set of guidelines that companies can look to to help them improve their practices and help them open their job descriptions, to bring more people in the door and see how those people can add specific value to their company. That’s one anecdote that I’ll point out that happened recently that I thought was interesting. 

In terms of how people can get involved, I think the one really cool thing about the emergence of DeFi and governance is that it’s really made this playing field very accessible. You can go in with an anonymous identity, ask your questions, and no one even has to know who you are. You can join groups like she256, where you can connect with other people. You can start making pull requests, asking questions, contributing on forums. People are usually very willing to answer questions, which is something that I really appreciate about this space. I think it’s always incredibly helpful to have those like-minded communities and places where you feel comfortable asking questions, even with your own identity, without having to go make an anonymous account to feel comfortable. 

Laura Shin:

We did discuss how a lot of other industries that relate to crypto also are known for being more male-dominated. Annabelle and Amy, since you both have that background in traditional finance, I was curious to hear your take on how the two compare in terms of what it’s like to be a woman in either of these industries, traditional finance or crypto — is it different or is it the same? How are you finding it?

Amy Zhang:

I think it’s actually different in a way. We went from banking, from an industry where in the last 20, 30 years has went through a massive shift in culture. If I was a trader on wall street 30 years ago, I think my experience will perhaps be very different than I had now. A lot of the issues I think you do get to see have been resolved more so. Within traditional finance, there’s a lot of these women’s groups, and there’s a lot of support in the organization. There is mentorship because they are larger organizations. With me joining the trading floor at Deutsche, yes, I noticed visibly that I was one of the few women who were there. But it wasn’t as though I felt like I’m on an island by myself, and I have to kind of figure out everything on my own. There’s a lot of resources being there to help you. 

I think when it comes to crypto, partially because it’s new, partially because these are startups, coming in, I didn’t get the same kind of resources. You have to figure a lot of it on your own. You have to talk to your managers and speak with HR and figure out what I need to do. I think that’s difference number one between traditional to the world we operate in. I think part two probably is also different. Again, crypto is also very tech-driven. I think with trading, it’s mostly… there’s capital markets. I think tech culture, maybe Mia can speak to a little bit more, but like it’s also unique tech culture that we also have to operate in within as well.

And I speak to a lot of times the product managers who are women within crypto, and they deal more similarly to what they used to deal with in the tech industry. Which is how do I make sure my voice is heard? How do I get my male peers to respect me? It’s actually very interesting because the industry that we operate in and there’s both sides of the coin where I think come from like a trading seat, you feel like, I need to hang with the traders and be more broey. And there’s that perspective. I think if you look at it from a tech perspective, then it’s actually very different from a cultural perspective.

Annabelle Huang:

I would echo what Amy just said. I think that’s also because we were in… I guess I was in New York at Deutsche versus Amy was in Hong Kong. Maybe there were also slight cultural differences too. Because in New York, it is very, I would say, very politically correct when it comes to a lot of the things gender-related. So there are even like… they would make a point to give you all of the support groups. And there are a lot of like women’s association that you can join. So you definitely feel like, okay, this is a topic that people talk about. And obviously, with the whole Me Too movement, there’s different backdrops, but then it is the gender topic. A gender issue is very top of mind for a lot of people in the US. Versus in Asia, I guess culturally it’s different. Inequality level is perhaps different between genders in Asia more so — at least that’s how I feel.

So I think that there’s also that aspect of it. Crypto, for sure, I think, because most of us are in startups. I remember when I first joined, there is physical checkups, a benefit for everyone. There are so few women, I don’t think OBGYN was even included. That didn’t even cross their mind. It’s funny, but then it’s also serious. That just means for us who are early in the space, we have to do more work together, hopefully, to build a better baseline for a lot of women that come after.

Laura Shin:

So earlier, when you were saying that you felt like the gender issues in the US are different from in Asia, how so? It wasn’t clear to me which direction.

Annebelle Huang:

I think it’s just more talked about in the US. People understand that there is gender inequality. They accept it, they acknowledge it, and then people are doing things or at least trying harder, I feel to address that. Versus in Asia, there is more inherent gender inequality that’s more rooted in a culture, perhaps. It’s more accepted. People don’t talk about it. People kind of expect it. Like if you’re a woman like here in Asia, when I try to do business, people are saying, you know, are you an assistant? That’s the default assumption. It’s hard to climb out of that. You have to go further. You have to work much harder to prove that no, I have a seat at the table and perhaps deserve more so than you do. So that’s just some extra hurdles that we have to overcome.

Laura Shin:

That’s definitely not good if people just assume that because you’re a woman, you’re an assistant. That’s actually really bad.

Amy Zhang:

I think the goal here is not about Asia versus the US or whatnot. But I think also it’s a lot of social pressure too. It’s not just like business pressure. It’s like, people will look at you and be like, oh, you’re getting old enough. Like, do you have a husband? Are you getting married? There are all these expectations of you in Asia, specifically, more so than in the US. And that adds to your overall decision-making. We talk about why are we having these conversations? And a lot of it’s also social pressure. You have friends, families, influences that have maybe a more traditional way of looking at things. And yes, of course, we all can fight against it and perhaps find our own identity. But the current is going against you. You constantly have to swim upwards, and it’s tough. I think that’s probably why, at the end of the day, you combine many different things, including the difficulties to face professionally and then the difficulty facing culture and the influence you have to deal with from friends and families. And that’s why we’re having these conversations today, right? Why is it harder, and what can we do to address these things?

Laura Shin:

I have noticed that, and this is now just almost getting into cultural differences, which is not that exact topic, but I have noticed sometimes if I deal with foreigners from Asia, they will ask me questions that are quite directed about some of these things that are quite specific to women. Somehow just being a woman makes them want to be nosy about that. But anyway… One thing I did want to ask, though, is we’ve kind of been talking in the abstract about what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry. Do any of you feel that it’s been a hindrance or that you’ve experienced any discrimination, or is it just something that is more subtle? What has your experience been of being a woman in crypto when most of the people that you work with are men?

Amy Zhang:

So maybe I have a really good example of this. I have a friend of mine who recently came up to me in the industry and said, ‘Hey, I just started a new job, and I’m pregnant.’ I was like, ‘wow, congratulations! I’m so happy for you. I’m super excited. Oh my God.’ Like all of these things. And she was like, I’m worried about telling my manager. I was shocked, right? I had never considered this in my life. And I was like, you should not feel bad, and you should not feel sorry. That’s something that really kind of hit me the first time in a while where I was like, oh, you do have to think about these things differently. Maybe because I’m not in the stage in my life where I am thinking about that. That was something as an example. But maybe this is not specific to crypto. Maybe it’s just in general women in the workforce. But that’s an example where I think lots of women have to think about these things being like, oh, what’s my timeline look like? I’m out of commission: what does that mean?

Mia Deng:

I think the there’s this like expectation of you that, okay, you’re a woman so you must be good at dealing with people or you must have really good soft skills and you add a different touch to the team that you’re a good additional thing to have. Sometimes the sort of emphasis of your skillsets that they see is like because you’re women, you’re more empathetic and et cetera. While that is all true, but then that could sometimes be the focus of what they expect out of you. I think that kind of creates this like reinforcement loop that psychologically could be difficult to break out of.

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Laura Shin:

So we’ve been discussing women working in crypto. Yet there’s also plenty of other ways to get involved in the industry. The Wall Street Journal recently reported about more women taking up crypto as kind of like a trading hobby. They reported that one in four customers who traded crypto so far in 2021 on the Robinhood app are women.

However, they did say that fewer women trade crypto on Robinhood than trade stocks and ETFs. And then they also noted the statistic that over the last couple of years, eToro said that the number of female crypto traders in the US on its platform has increased by half to about 20% of all users in the US. These, frankly, in a way, actually are better numbers than I’ve seen in the past. So that is heartening. Yet, obviously, given that women are 51% of the population, it’s nowhere near their numbers in the general population. What do you think is the cause for the increase in the number of women? What do you think we can do to get more women interested in crypto?

Annabelle Huang:

I think there are more women in this space, perhaps, or more people in general, because the infrastructure has become more mature, and there are more regulated venues where you can trade where people feel safe and secure about their assets, about where they’re trading. Crypto has become a lot more mainstream than the last cycle four years ago. I think that’s just a general trend. Perhaps and again, not trying to stereotype here, but perhaps women would be slightly more risk-averse than a lot of the men who are perhaps more inclined to trade riskier things on new platforms. But now, because there are a lot of these better-known names in this space, like Robinhood or even Coinbase, that just went public, I think they gave people, in general, a lot of faith in this industry. 

I think more women are perhaps drawn into the industry and feel like it is safe and okay for them to start trading. I think among the younger generation, the Gen Z’s and or even whoever comes after, I think for them, maybe it’s just really embracing a new form of asset class in truly digital form just as a lot of the things are used to in their life now. Living, talking to friends on Zoom, and making payments in digital format. So I think perhaps for them, as a generation, it’s just more accepting — no matter for men or women, they are willing to try this out. We also launched a retail facing app last year. So within six months, we’ve gotten significant traction, and just looking at the data, it is quite interesting. I think for us on our platform, a third of the users are female. The age group, the majority of the age group is within 30 years old or younger. So I think that perhaps is playing to the thesis.

Laura Shin:

Interesting. And is your app focused on the Asian market?

Annabelle Huang:

It can be accessed globally. We started with very simple functions where people can buy and sell Bitcoin, Ethereum — the major tokens, and then they can earn yields on it. People in Asia, North America, and Europe can access it.

Laura Shin:

I’m curious because I was going to ask if you feel that there’s a difference in the gender imbalance in Asia when it comes to just general interest in crypto versus in the West.

Annabelle Huang:

I’m not sure about gender. But I feel like, if anything, perhaps the level of participation in Asia is more so than in the West. When you look at Japan, Korea, a lot of Asian countries, the crypto adoption level is much higher. I think in Korea, people traded more crypto in volume than in the Korean stock market. I think more than a third of the population, the entire Korean population, holds crypto. That is just something that is very different from the US.

Laura Shin:

Yeah. Okay. But you’re not sure if that extends to a greater percentage of women in Asia being interested in crypto than in the US. Does anybody know that?

Annabelle Huang:

I’m not sure.

Laura Shin:

And nobody else is as aware of what that number might be? No. Okay. Cause that would be kind of interesting to look at.

Annabelle Huang:

Yeah, for sure. I’m going to take a look later. At least on our platform.

Laura Shin:

And so, for you, with your friends, cause I personally have tried to do this with my friends and I will just tell you that equally between the male and female friends, the lack of interest in crypto is the same. I will say my best friend, who’s a woman, read a draft of my book, and then she actually did become interested in crypto. So I kind of got one convert. A funny story I have about this is that I was hanging out with a male friend… and this was during the whole SushiSwap/Uniswap saga. And I tried to tell him this story, which to me was like the most exciting thing that like had happened in the last few weeks or whatever, and tried to explain it with all the drama. He kind of laughed a fake laugh and then changed the subject. Clearly, I didn’t get him interested.

So for you, when you were talking to your non-crypto friends, whether it’s men or women, but you know, we’re mostly talking about women. I was just curious. Do you find that there are any certain explanations or pitches or descriptions that work better with your female friends to get them excited or interested? Or do you find that there are maybe certain themes or topics that they gravitate more toward, like decentralization or a new financial system or control over your data or something else? What have you found to be an effective way to get women interested? 

Alexis Gauba:

What I’ve found most effective is to literally just send them some crypto and just have them try stuff out. And it’s been so interesting. I did this with my little sister, who was 11 years old at the time. I sent her some ETH. This was like a couple of years ago. And she went and traded that ETH for DAI on a Uniswap. And then after that, she got the UNI airdrop, and she’s now this 11 year old with the UNI airdrop. She can like buy all the candy in the world. And so then she’s going and telling all her friends like, oh my God, I traded on this decentralized exchange, and I got like this token for it. And now all her friends are like downloading MetaMask. And so just the act of sending someone a little bit of crypto and then feeling the magic themselves and then encouraging their friends and their circles is what has absolutely worked best for me.

Laura Shin:

Wow. I love that story. 

Mia Deng:

 I have a lot of art friends, and a lot of them are actually girls. I think recently with NFTs, that’s the major thing that they’re like, okay, I don’t know, Mia, what do you do all day? What’s this crypto thing? I don’t care. And now it’s like, oh, suddenly there’s a new medium of creation of creating a new form of art. And they’re like, wow, tell me how I can make art out of this. All of them are like VR artists, AR artists, and it’s been super cool to see that. Actually, recently we launched a new NFT platform called the TR Lab with some of the really awesome female collectors. So we have Xin Li-Cohen, she’s the deputy chairwoman of Christie’s. And also Wendi Murdoch from Artsy.

Amy Zhang:

I think it also depends on age group. A lot of my friends in my immediate circles are getting to this point in their career where they’re making a lot — meaningfully more so than what they were when they were much, much younger. And they’re thinking of like how do I manage my wealth? What do I put my money in? So the conversation has changed. Back then, it was how to pay my student loan? What to do about taxes? Now, it’s more about like, okay, well, I have more disposable income. How can I invest? What are the ways I can take control of my finances? I think a lot of my female friends are taking more of an active role in this because they know like financial independence is super important for them.

They’re more interested in learning about, you know, what is this thing? What is this Bitcoin thing that you talk about all day long? And they’re like, what does that mean? So they’re more interested from that perspective. But I think that comes to the medium of like distribution. I definitely like to notice that if you’re sending crypto to your friends, it’s the easiest way to convince them. They can download a mobile app on their phone. Like they don’t have to go through the tedious process of onboarding, perhaps. They are much more interested very early. And then you explain the risk and the processes and things like that. For those, that’s worked out well from just like a fundamental investment perspective. 

Many male friends are more interested in the financial instrument. They’re interested in the instrument elements of this asset class rather than just like the underlying. So it’s like, how do I trade options? And how do I do the same thing I use to connect to these interactive brokers? Like they’re thinking more of like trading this versus my female friends and thinking more of as a form of like earning yield, how to invest in underlying stuff in general. So I think there’s a bit of a difference in approach as well. Maybe, perhaps most of my guy friends are in finance. They understand this more. So that’s something I noticed across my two friend groups.

Annabelle Huang:

Most of my finance friends, no matter male or female, they are looking into it as perhaps, is it worth it for me to allocate a little bit within my portfolio? What is that gonna look like? And they understand the risk-reward profile of this new asset class. They’re very open to it. I also have some friends in art and entertainment, and the draw for them is NFTs. And a lot of them are asking me, oh, how do I issue one for the work that I’m doing? Or a group of artists or YouTube stars want to launch something their own, and how do I get started? So I think it really depends on what they do and how blockchain, in general, relates to their actual interests. If their interest is in art, in fashion, or content in general? Or is it in a more finance-driven field? I do think blockchain — there’s so many different applications that live on it. I’m sure there is something for everyone. And, for me, I haven’t seen that it’s particular to men or to women. I think as long as they find something that’s relevant to what they love doing, and then they just want to jump into it.

Laura Shin:

I’m finding the same that now with the NFT thing, this is the first time I can get my real friends involved because most of them are creators of some sort. They’re kind of interested and like, oh, what’s this? So we’ve talked about your personal experiences, and we’ve talked about kind of general people taking this up as a hobby. But one other thing I want to talk about was, you know, Alexis, you’re a co-founder of Opyn and, as somebody who is often looking for different people to interview, I have noticed that there just really aren’t that many co-founders in this space who are women. And I think it’s kind of even a smaller percentage than there are women in this space in general. And so this question isn’t just for you, Alexis, it’s for anybody to discuss, but why do you guys think that even when it comes to co-founders that it’s an even smaller percentage who are women than of just women in general in crypto. I think for me, what I find a little bit confusing about that, is also just the fact that crypto right now is this kind of total open space where things are being built fresh. And so it’s not like there’s super established things — people can go out and kind of create new stuff. So what’s your theory about that? What do you also think are maybe some of the best ways to encourage more women to found new projects? 

Alexis Gauba:

I think that’s a really good question. I feel like it’s a kind of a general thing across startups. It is definitely a riskier thing to do. Like even when I was dropping out of school and deciding to do this, there was definitely a whole thought process that went through my head about, like what’s the worst that can happen. And once I was like, the worst that can happen isn’t that bad — like I go back to school. It felt like a lot better and like something I could do, but definitely, getting over that risk was something for me. And I totally agree like crypto is this minefield right now in this vast open space. 

I think the more we can encourage people to take risks and be like, hey, society’s not going to punish you for taking that risk. You’re going to learn something; it’s going to be a ton of fun. People are going to be on that journey with you. The more we can spread that narrative as opposed to like, oh, it’s this like a whole big thing. Like, no, you’re starting something fun with your friends. You’re gonna have a good time. I think maybe that could help peel away the layers of it being intimidating or super risky and try to make it more accessible. The other thing, frankly, is like people just being able to have the funding to do that. Like my co-founder Aparna got the Thiel Fellowship. We got a grant from MakerDAO. So we were in a position where we were able to like do these things, which was really great. Right now, a lot of these protocols have larger treasuries, and they are using them to give out grants, which is really great. And so it’s an opportunity for them to enable more people to take that jump and take that risk.

Amy Zhang:

And I think a lot of times, we look at things as the Bible. We look at things as like the results. The result is we’re seeing fewer women as co-founders in crypto as men. But if you ask yourself why that happens, actually, it goes way before that, which is, I want to start a business and need co-founders. So where can I find strong co-founders who have got experiences in this industry, which is less, to begin with. So I’m a female, I want to select other co-founders. If I select one co-founder that’s male, that’s 50/50, and if I select two co-founders, then 1/3. So there’s like that byproduct of starting a business. And then the question is, okay, well, if there are fewer people in the industry… it all goes down to how can we get more women in the industry to work, therefore building a talent pool of co-founders potentially to partner with.

Then like how we can grow and see results change. Because yeah, like, you know, you’re starting a business, you want it to be successful. And you’re not really thinking about like, maybe I want to have an all-female strong team that can go and have like all-female co-founders. You’re thinking like, how can I make sure that I bridge the skills that I don’t have to have a successful business, and you look at the selection pool, and it’s a reflection of the industry. So I feel like that could also be one of the observations that you see. And this goes to most of the topics we’re talking about today, right? It is you look at the results, and it’s a reflection of it’s tough — you have to be more proactive to try harder to get it corrected.

Laura Shin:

So speaking of that, there were a couple of different comments earlier made about hiring. A few people made the observation that there aren’t as many candidates or maybe that sometimes when there are female candidates that maybe they’re more junior. Although actually Alexis, when you said that, I wondered if it’s that… does she256 kind of have just a younger membership than like another type of organization?

Alexis Gauba:

Yeah, we definitely do have a younger membership. Like I imagine, if it’s folks coming from traditional finance that have a lot of financial experience, we’re looking at a completely different ball game. But yeah, she256, in particular, does have a younger audience.

Laura Shin:

Regardless, just when it comes to hiring, what do you guys think would be some good practices to help bring more women in or to have more strong female candidates for any position that you might be hiring for?

Amy Zhang:

So I’ve thought about this a little bit more before. I think as a hiring manager, you have to be more patient and really understand that maybe the candidate on paper in front of you may not have been exposed to the same opportunities as their peers. Therefore, if you look at things like tenure, how long they’ve worked in certain industries, what job title they had previously, or like work experience have they been given… on paper, it might seem like, oh, this candidate is better. But really, I try to personally look at what specific contribution they’ve made during the specific time that they were there. And like just trying to just speak to them. If I interview a female, I ask them a lot more questions, or I’m like tell me about your experience at that time.

I can delve a little bit deeper instead of just judging a resume so blatantly because maybe again, like resumes are just combinations of experiences they had previously. And if you already know that the industry has issues around like getting more women or maybe they may not have the same experiences as other candidates, for whatever reason, then I try to find out more characteristics about them rather than just looking and judging them on a piece of paper. That means I have to commit more time to do that, and I think I’m willing to. So that’s one thing I found to be helpful. And another thing obviously is just doing more things like this. Speaking out more and getting more people out there and talk about this topic more so people feel comfortable that, hey, listen, you know, Amy, someone who’s pro this topic and she’s very adamant about it. And then maybe they want to apply for Fireblocks. I don’t know, but anything I can do to help.

Annabelle Huang:

I’ve spoken to Amy on this subject before multiple times as we’re just chatting about our struggles in hiring in general. For me, I think a lot of female candidates feel better, more assured when they see more women on a team or even like a female leader of the team. I think that gives them some confidence, I suppose. And so I think I start with having a more diverse team to begin with. If you have an all-male team in an all-male company, then you’re saying, hey, we care about women’s issues a lot. Then that kind of seems a bit strange. But if you already have a very balanced and diverse team, then they will feel more inclined to join in the first place. And then also just I think it is on us to really be their mentor.

And then making a point to tell them that they will have the support and the mentorship you’re looking for. I think it should be important for everyone, not just for female candidates or for the women in this space — for everyone who is looking to continuously learn and grow. So just making a point that we tell everyone that. So I think that’s at least how I feel while I’m trying to build the team — a very global team as well. My team is in Korea, in Japan, and Hong Kong, maybe in Europe and North America soon. How do you also balance the cultural differences? And different genders all in one together? So I think that it’s challenging, but it’s something that I love to work on to make sure that we have the right team, the right talent. That should be both men and women shouldn’t be discriminating against anyone.

Laura Shin:

And any other thoughts on how to hire and maybe draw in more female candidates from other industries? I will have to say, there are certain companies that I feel in crypto are quite good at this, but frankly, they’re also extremely well-funded. And so I think they have the time to kind of like look at a lot of different resumes of people in adjacent industries and bring them in. I was just curious if there are any other thoughts you had on it because I do feel like, as we mentioned earlier, since crypto is a totally new space, that there are probably tons of women in adjacent industries who have skills that are transferable, who would be amazing hires. But it’s probably going to be on the employers to seek them out. So any tips on finding and persuading them to jump into this new area?

Mia Deng:

I think the crypto culture looking from the outside could seem like this is just nerdy and meme-y on Twitter. And it could seem like a little bit like not what most women find really relatable. So again, I think it goes back to my point earlier is about increasing visibility and also telling the narrative of crypto in a more concise and friendly way. And I think for that, I think platforms like she256 are awesome. And actually, recently, I’m also thinking of putting together a class on crypto and also wanting to bring in female guest speakers, basically telling the narrative crypto by all women in a simple and concise way. And so hopefully, that would attract more talent to participate in this industry.

Laura Shin:

So since I imagine a number of people who are listening to this show, or this panel, are people who are either interested in working in the industry or are already working in it. And so, what is your advice for women in the crypto industry to find their footing and make their way up? 

Alexis Gauba:

This is a really good question, and we’ve been thinking about it a lot at she256. I’m definitely going to just plug to she256.org because it’s got a ton of resources for this exact thing. There’s a Discord community where you can ask lots of questions. There’s the job board where you can find tangible jobs. There’s a beginner’s guide, which goes through step-by-step really good resources to start with. And so I would say, start with the beginner’s guide, hop into the Discord, ask lots and lots of questions, and then jump in. Choose your favorite protocol and do something to help contribute. You know, that could be as small as commenting on a governance proposal, which is actually a pretty big deal cause those proposals are what make all the decisions for the protocol — or just using it and giving feedback. Protocols love getting that kind of feedback. And that helps you learn and start to find your footing, find what you’re passionate about.

Mia Deng:

I’m always happy to be a resource. So if anyone’s on the show, feel free to DM me on Twitter or send me an email. I’m always happy to chat. And then the class I was talking about earlier… I think it’s a bull market, it is busy times, but I think it’s worthwhile taking the time to put out good content for people to digest because crypto goes cyclical, right? And every cycle, it’s a good time to attract new talent in. And if we are able to widen that funnel and make that on-ramp easier for people to either just buy crypto or participate in the industry, that would set up a great grounding for the next generation and the next wave. And I think, looking across, we’re already seeing improvements. Like all of you guys and back in 2017 like, we were just getting started. And so look, it’s been only two or three years, and I think we’re making really great progress. So I’m very optimistic.

Amy Zhang:

I think we spent a lot of time today talking about the difficulties, but I think the biggest best thing to do is talk about the good things of why we all do this in the first place, right? Most crypto industries are 24/7, sure. But also you have flexible working hours, right? You meet great people who are risk-takers and then really are like the best in their field and come out and have interesting ideas. Your job will not bore you. It’s the fundamental thing I try to tell people all the time. It’s an exciting industry that is growing. You are at the forefront of innovation/technology, and you’re disrupting all these great things. Yes, of course, it will be challenging. And there’s things we can do to help, but fundamentally, I think the message I hope everyone could receive is, you know, the risk is worth it, right.

At the end of the day, you go home. You go to sleep at night. You feel like, I feel proud of by the work I do. I’m happy with what I’m contributing and met great friends. And this is the thing about crypto that is so different than traditional markets. Like my clients, my competitors, my peers are like my actual friends. Cause we just fundamentally understand each other on the same level versus in traditional markets, I would never go hang out with my competitors the same way I do now. So I think that’s really great. That’s probably the most exciting thing also about what we do. There are resources out there to support you, but, fundamentally, I think if there’s one thing to focus on, it’s just no matter the risks, at the end of the day, if you do take the plunge, you start, people will help you. And it’s always easier than you think to get through this.

Annabelle Huang:

Very well said, Amy. I think for anyone to succeed in this field is somebody who really believes in it. And I think for people who actually enjoy it, it can be challenging. It can be demanding, but we’re all in it. I wake up every day loving the space because there are so many things happening, so many new things. I always say there’s never a dull day in crypto. Things will happen. And there’s so much innovation coming out of the space, and I am in a field with the brightest minds. I just feel so lucky. I hope more people will feel that way. For the women out there who are thinking about this, like Amy said, right, it’s perhaps not as risky or crazy as you think it is. We’re all here to be your resources. I hope we do more of this to get a much bigger community and to just make a stance and say that we are here, we’re your resource for anyone else who wants to join us. I think that’s an important message. At the end of the day, if you aren’t just in the space and then you should give it a shot. I mean, the worst case is not so bad.

Laura Shin:

And earlier, when Amy said you would not be bored, I second, that you will not be bored. It’s definitely my favorite thing about crypto. That’s why I can’t imagine covering anything else ever again, because I’m just enthralled pretty much every day, and I love it. 

Our video cut out just when I was about to wrap up, so I just want to thank the panelists again for discussing a topic that many others are not willing to discuss publicly and also for their great ideas in getting more women interested in crypto and bring them into the industry. 

For more information on Amy and Fireblocks, Annabelle and Amber Group, Mia and Dragonfly, Alexis and Opyn, check out the show notes for this episode. Unchained is produced by me, Laura Shin, with help from Anthony Yoon, Daniel Nuss, and Mark Murdock. Thank you for listening.