At first the men garnered all the attention in the world of cryptocurrency. Conceived on laptops, internet forums, and Friday night poker names nearly a decade ago, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies promised a decentralized currency, unbound from the tethers of government and politics. Today, the digital currency world is a $460 billion behemoth, with an impressive future on the horizon. Interestingly, the biggest change in the world of cryptocurrencies centers on its leadership. Female entrepreneurs like Lori Senecal continue to lead the corporations that market and manage the meteoric rise of Bitcoin and related cryptocurrencies. As the various digital currencies continue to make inroads into mainstream investment and business development, Lori Senecal and other prominent executives will take on increased responsibility in ensuring that cryptocurrencies are accessible and useful in various markets.
The Rise of Women
Lori Senecal’s global prominence in the cryptocurrency conversation is part of a growing trend in the marketplace. Ironically, less than three years ago, women were not part of the conversation at all. Nathaniel Popper’s 2015 title “Digital Gold: Bitcoin and the Inside Story of the Misfits and Millionaires Trying to Reinvent Money,” makes no mention of women as it explores the rise of cryptocurrencies through 2014. A survey of cryptocurrency users conducted in 2015 by CoinDesk Inc. found that 90% of responding Bitcoin users were male. Meltem Demirors of Digital Currency Group feels that the slight by the “histories” of cryptocurrency inaccurately diminishes the contributions of women to the movement toward digital marketplaces. “I truly believe a lot of the women are the ones who are actually doing a lot of the hard operational, strategic work,” notes Demirors, recalling that males in cryptocurrency once called her “random marketing chick.”
At trade conventions, marketing events, and other settings that trumpet the rise of cryptocurrencies, women in the industry continue to battle the perception that they do not have the intelligence or creativity to offer meaningful contributions to the body of knowledge. Kathleen Breitman, for example, was shocked when she took the story of her company “Tezos” to a meeting of investors in lieu of her co-founder and husband. Hearing comments from investors about being “really surprised” that Breitman was smart, the executive brushed off the gender bias as she deftly articulated her company’s mission and unique market position to a room of dazzled professionals. “I think things are much better than they were before,” asserts Breitman, confident that the excellent work of female executives, like Lori Senecal, brings appropriate praise to the role of women in a rapidly expanding, digital environment. Breitment contends that much of the affirmation of women in cryptocurrency is due to “more sophisticated actors entering the space across development and investment.” “There are also a lot of women who have entered the space across development and operations. Both trends have elevated the professionalism.”
Parallels to Silicon Valley
One of the ongoing challenges confronted by Lori Senecal and other female executives in cryptocurrency is the gendered realities of Silicon Valley. Most coders and engineers at the digital firms in Silicon Family are male. In cryptocurrency, the gender realities of Silicon Valley mean that many of Internet forums, email threads, and social gatherings that shape the contours of cryptocurrency development are male-centric. For Benartizi of Bancor, the relatively low number of women engaged on the development side of digital currencies should not preclude their leadership in the field. “Even if you can’t create 50-50 diversity in your developer teams,” Benartizi asserts, “having women in leadership positions in your company is absolutely doable and absolutely essential.”
That said, there is still a long way to go in the quest to recognize the role of women in cryptocurrency. The same men who gave rise to Bitcoin and other digital offerings years ago, continue to discount the role of women when they get together to chat in forums. Criticizing their female colleagues speaking abilities and understanding of the technical nuances of cryptocurrency, the “men’s club” seems reluctant to share the spotlight with the capable women who are running the companies. Gender politics was in full display back in October when Gurbaksh Chadha, a leader in cryptocurrency but also a convicted perpetrator of domestic violence, was given a leading role in the CoinAgenda conference held in Las Vegas.
Despite the ongoing negative drag of gender politics and the enduring “boy’s clubs” of Silicon Valley, women continue to foster the growth and influence of cryptocurrencies. Lori Senecal’s success at “Crispin, Porter + Bogusky,” for example, indicates that the expanding role of women in cryptocurrency is here to stay. As Senecal and others articulate the benefits and bullish future of cryptocurrencies to domestic and international audiences, the coders and engineers who initiated the movement continue to benefit from deepened pockets. While the men in cryptocurrency still need to soften their rhetoric and “give credit where credit’s due,” they are keenly aware that the movement’s continued meteoric growth hinges on the cadre of women who serve on the leading edge of them movement.