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Mind the gap: Fixing the female deficit in Web 3.0

Despite some recent progress, the Web 3.0 industry is still coming up short on women’s participation, says NEAR Foundation chief Marieke Flament

Despite Web 3.0 technology’s promise to bolster inclusiveness and equality, the industry is still lacking in diversity overall, and in women in particular. According to a study by crypto education website Crypto Head last year, only 5% of all crypto entrepreneurs are women.

“I think that bias is everywhere (across the Web 3.0 space). We don’t even realize what we’re sponsoring or showing … If you look at the amount of capital that’s been flowing into the industry, and if you look at the composition of the teams who are actually investing that capital, there are very few women who are investing that capital. And there are women who are absolutely exceptional. But we need more like them,” said Marieke Flament, chief executive of the NEAR Foundation, which is partnering with Forkast on the inaugural Women in Web3 Changemakers 2022 list, an initiative to acknowledge women’s contribution to the industry.

According to Flament, one of the things that hold women back from Web 3.0 is a jargon-filled approach to the space and a lack of role models — problems that the NEAR Foundation and Forkast are seeking to tackle.

“Every time I speak with women who are trying or thinking to get into the space, the first thing they say is, ‘Well, I’m not an expert.’ I hear that over and over. I wouldn’t call myself an expert. I’m not an expert, but nobody is an expert, honestly,” She says “You can’t be what you can’t see.’ (But) by having role models, we can start saying, ‘Yes, it’s okay. Yes, you can come in. Yes, you can participate’ … I think that’s where actually having the women in Web3 Changemaker List, things like that, is really important. 

Given the potential and rapid development of Web 3.0 technology, closing the gender gap is not only a shout-out to women in the sector who are working against the odds, but necessary to secure a future of inclusiveness and equality in the industry.

“Technology is a massive enabler, and it’s fantastic. But actually, if you don’t have diverse and inclusive team building, the next generation of technology — all the biases that we carry as human beings, whoever we are — are actually going to be translated into new technology … If you look today at Google, for example, Google is, like, 95% of search in the world. But if you look actually at the workforce that’s been building that, or even, like, the algorithm and who’s developed the algorithm, it’s fair to say that there’s a huge amount of biases that are built into that. We cannot let that happen for Web 3.0.

Watch Flament’s full interview with Forkast Editor-in-Chief Angie Lau to learn more about biases in the crypto space, the barriers for women in Web 3.0, and what to expect in the coming Women in Web3 Changemakers initiative.

Highlights

Inclusiveness matters in Web 3.0: “Technology is a massive enabler, and it’s fantastic. But actually, if you don’t have diverse and inclusive team building, the next generation of technology — all the biases that we carry as human beings, whoever we are — are actually going to be translated into new technology … If you look today at Google, for example, Google is, like, 95% of search in the world. But if you look actually at the workforce that’s been building that, or even, like, the algorithm and who’s developed the algorithm, it’s fair to say that there’s a huge amount of biases that are built into that. We cannot let that happen for Web 3.0.

The power of paragons: “Very often we don’t shout enough about the great women that we see in this space … You cannot be what you cannot see. And so, actually, role modeling and not being shy about it, but shouting about it and showcasing what’s been happening is, I believe, crucially important, so that more women can come in. How many times in a day do I hear, ‘Oh, I cannot join. Maybe I should not. But if a woman is doing it, maybe I can.’ That’s exactly what we need to break through. This space is still not open enough. It still is very jargony. And actually, by showcasing that anyone anywhere can participate, I really think we can make a change.”

No one’s an expert: “There’s almost this facade of the jargon that’s being talked in the crypto space that it feels not inclusive and it feels like you cannot get in. And every time I speak with women who are trying or thinking to get into the space, the first thing they say is, ‘Well, I’m not an expert.’ I hear that over and over. I wouldn’t call myself an expert. I’m not an expert, but nobody is an expert, honestly … I hear a lot of women who say, like, ‘Can I get into this space? Will I understand? Can I really learn?’ It’s absolutely possible to learn. And we need to also be humble enough to say, like, ‘We don’t know everything. We’re also trying to figure it out.’”

Women in Web3 Changemakers: “It is actually an initiative whereby we want people everywhere in the world to nominate the best women in Web 3.0 that they know — the changemakers, the women out there who are focused on creating a better new world, focused on creating sustainability, focused on innovating, focused on basically inclusion and leveraging the influence that they have to create this better world with the technology that we have … And what we want to do is to get to a list of the top 20 of these women and showcase them, because very often you cannot be what you cannot see.”

Beating other biases: “The bias is not necessarily just men and women, but the bias can also be cultural. How many times do we see teams who pitch, whose English might not be necessarily perfect, which is also why one way at the foundation that we invest is not necessarily just the foundation investing, but also having regional hubs who themselves are much more attuned to the local nuances and will understand better how to spot local talents, because local talents can take any shape and form … When you ask someone to pitch in a language that’s not theirs, then there’s already a barrier that you’re putting there … And because investment today is still done through assessing the human capital … removing those barriers as much as we can is extremely important.”

Transcript

Angie Lau: “Old boys’ club” — that’s what the world of finance and investing is often called, and the data certainly supports it. According to a McKinsey report, all-male teams snagged 85% of venture funding in the U.S. in 2018, compared to a measly 2% by all-female founding teams. Now, unfortunately, the picture doesn’t look very different in the blockchain world, either, where there’s a stark gender difference in crypto ownership and investment.

Welcome to Word on the Block, the series that takes a deeper dive into blockchain and all the emerging technologies that shape our world at the intersection of business, politics and economy. It’s what we cover right here on Forkast. I’m Editor-in-Chief Angie Lau.

Well, today we’re going to be breaking it down and talking about how women will be the biggest changemakers in Web 3.0 with Marieke Flament, CEO of NEAR Foundation. Marieke, it’s such a pleasure to talk with you today, because for both of us, this issue is near and dear to our hearts, and we’re both doing something about it. But I’m going to let you tell the audience what we’re doing. Web 3.0 women changemakers. It’s really exciting.

Marieke Flament: Well, thank you so much for having me here. And yes, as you say, this is something that is dear and close to our hearts. And we’re partnering to announce Women in Web3 Changemakers. So what is it? It is actually an initiative whereby we want people everywhere in the world to nominate the best women in Web 3.0 that they know — the changemakers, the women out there who are focused on creating a better new world, focused on creating sustainability, focused on innovating, focused on basically inclusion and leveraging the influence that they have to create this better world with the technology that we have.

So with this initiative, we’re announcing that we’re opening up for nominations, and that we want you — anyone, whomever you are — to nominate the women you know, who are actually trying to create that better world. And what we want to do is to get to a list of the top 20 of these women and showcase them, because very often you cannot be what you cannot see. And so it comes and it starts with actually showing the great work that’s being done by amazing women in the Web 3.0 space.

Lau: And here’s the thing. Why is it so important that we do it? And in fact, it’s still very important that we actually look out for those of us who are in this space and doing great work.

Flament: Yeah. So it’s very important for a couple of things. Number one, technology is a massive enabler, and it’s fantastic. But actually, if you don’t have diverse and inclusive team building, the next generation of technology — all the biases that we carry as human beings, whoever we are — are actually going to be translated into new technology. And so, more than ever, it’s a duty, actually, when we’re so early on into creating a space to include and to make sure that we can have diverse and inclusive representation of every view to create a new technology that’s really going to be showcasing that.

If you look today at Google, for example, Google is, like, 95% of search in the world. But if you look actually at the workforce that’s been building that, or even, like, the algorithm and who’s developed the algorithm, it’s fair to say that there’s a huge amount of biases that are built into that. We cannot let that happen for Web 3.0, and therefore it’s actually fundamental to have a call out to do that.

The other thing I’d say is that very often we don’t shout enough about the great women that we see in this space. And I go back to what I said in the introduction — you cannot be what you cannot see. And so, actually, role modeling and not being shy about it, but shouting about it and showcasing what’s been happening is, I believe, crucially important, so that more women can come in. How many times in a day do I hear, ‘Oh, I cannot join. Maybe I should not. But if a woman is doing it, maybe I can.’ That’s exactly what we need to break through. This space is still not open enough. It still is very jargony. And actually, by showcasing that anyone anywhere can participate, I really think we can make a change.

Lau: I want to talk about the work that you’re already doing at NEAR Foundation. It provides equity and non-equity funding and grants for projects that aim to build a scalable and inclusive future. To your point, philosophically, how does that actually happen in a very equitable way if the majority of those developers don’t reflect, actually, the equality of the world?

Flament: Yeah. So that’s exactly what we need to break through. So, sometimes when you actually have the possibility, let’s say, to invest — whether it’s actually equity or non-equity funding — you need to look through applications in an inclusive way. What is this building for? And not necessarily as a foundation, I think we have a unique position also to think through what is it that we believe we can invest in that will create a better, more inclusive ecosystem? So we do look at that. Therefore, the composition of the teams was actually looked at. Also, grant funding and the voting mechanism we have on that — making sure that that’s also inclusive and open, which is a process that we’re continuously, constantly refining. But preventing from having always the same, let’s say, bias of looking at things in a certain way, I think is really, really important.

Lau: Do you think that bias exists right now?

Flament: I think that bias is everywhere. We don’t even realize what we’re sponsoring or showing. So I think across the entire Web 3.0 space, there’s still a major bias. If you look at the amount of capital that’s been flowing into the industry, and if you look at the composition of the teams who are actually investing that capital, there are very few women who are investing that capital. And there are women who are absolutely exceptional. But we need more like them, because otherwise we’re still going back into the same loop, into, like, one way to look at things. 

And actually, the bias is not necessarily just men and women, but the bias can also be cultural. How many times do we see teams who pitch, whose English might not be necessarily perfect, which is also why one way at the foundation that we invest is not necessarily just the foundation investing, but also having regional hubs who themselves are much more attuned to the local nuances and will understand better how to spot local talents, because local talents can take any shape and form.

Lau: That is so innovative. Not many people actually think about that — that the cultural nuances are sometimes as important to identifying potential bias, and removing that is actually really super-powerful.

Flament: Yeah. Think of it yourself. Sometimes you’re on the phone with someone who’s English might not be perfect. But I know that for a fact, like, I’ve been lucky enough to be brought up in different languages, and actually you don’t think or you don’t appear the same way if it’s not your mother tongue. So I think when you ask someone to pitch in a language that’s not theirs, then there’s already a barrier that you’re putting there. If you can remove that, and if you can actually say, ‘Okay, maybe you’re from Ukraine, and what if you actually pitch and have people who are from the same language as you, then they’ll be able to actually decodify, and you see a different person through that.’ And because investment today is still done through assessing the human capital, therefore removing those barriers as much as we can is extremely important.

Lau: Blockchain technology is supposed to be gender-, race- and country-agnostic. Like, we all know that Web 3.0, it’s supposed to be such an inclusive world, yet a report released last December showed less than 5% of crypto founders are actually women. That’s a pretty disturbing stat.

Flament: Yeah, it is. So you have that 5% of crypto founders, less than 5% of crypto founders are women. The other stat, which I also still think is shocking, is that less than a third of wallet holders are women, and so that’s a problem. So, two things that I think here we need to tackle.

One is the jargon. I hear it so many times. There’s almost this facade of the jargon that’s being talked in the crypto space that it feels not inclusive and it feels like you cannot get in. And every time I speak with women who are trying or thinking to get into the space, the first thing they say is, ‘Well, I’m not an expert.’ I hear that over and over. I wouldn’t call myself an expert. I’m not an expert, but nobody is an expert, honestly. And if anyone tells you that they’re an expert in such an innovative space, they cannot be an expert. So, I think the way we’ve been formatted, the confidence and all that comes through. But even in an industry like ours, there is so much jargon that actually needs to be tackled.

So, the stat you mention, I think is shocking, and I think that’s where actually having the women in Web3 Changemaker list, things like that, is really important. Because if we can showcase whatever those women are doing or building, if they’re doing something to help move the needle, then it’s really important to be able to maybe put them in front of investors if they have needs for investing and to start talking about that, to say, like, ‘Yes, that exists. And those use cases are there, and there is also funding that is needed there.’ And again, back to ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’ By having role models, we can start saying, ‘Yes, it’s okay. Yes, you can come in. Yes, you can participate.’ And also sharing stories. I hear a lot of women who say, like, ‘Can I get into this space? Will I understand? Can I really learn?’ It’s absolutely possible to learn. And we need to also be humble enough to say, like, ‘We don’t know everything. We’re also trying to figure it out.’ So it’s a part of that story.

Lau: The story is so important because the narrator has to understand all audiences. And for women, I’m mindful that if we know 90%, we won’t raise our hand because we’re missing the 10%, whereas our male brothers — 10% (are, like), ‘I know 10%. I will raise my hand because I will figure out the rest of the 90%.’ How do we then bridge that gap, within even ourselves, to also recognize that maybe this is a bridge that we can help other people bridge by sharing the stories of changemakers who are innovative and inspiring to bridge that gender divide?

Flament: Yeah. And I think it’s exactly what you say. Where are the stories? How can we actually showcase? And that’s why here we’re aiming to do [things] in partnership with you, showcasing those wonderful women that exist out there.

I think there are other things that we can do and we have to do. Education is absolutely fundamental. So, what are the programs, and actually what are the content and the material that we can create that enable people to really, truly get in? And again, that’s why I’m so passionate about the work that you’re doing, which is like helping decodify, helping understand, and helping make sense of the world that’s going on out there. So, education is a very big pillar.

And the last part, I’d say, is really, like, usability. We do have work to do as an industry to make sure that the technology that we create is usable, is actually simple. And that’s where I’m really excited about NEAR. Because when I think of NEAR as a protocol and as a technology, we are simple, we are usable, whether it’s for end users or whether it’s actually for developers. So, doing these three things combined together, showcasing the stories, enabling, actually, people to see what’s possible, educating with simple content, and then enabling very simple user interfaces, I think that’s the recipe for starting to change and move the needle.

Lau: You’ve also spent a few years in the industry and all your time in the crypto world. Tell me about that experience. Do you feel that ‘crypto bro’ culture has been highlighted as one of the things that don’t really serve the industry well? What have your experiences been, and how did you address it?

Flament: Yeah, well, I’ll tell you, I think the space has changed quite a bit from when I was first in the space at the end of 2015, early 2016, when I worked for Circle, which was much more niche and actually less known. And I remember perfectly going to conferences and feeling completely out of my depth, because I was the only woman at the conference, and also because if you ask a question, then it was very much like jargon put back at you, which makes you feel stupid. And then you don’t feel included and you’re, like, you don’t want to be part of that.

When I actually considered joining NEAR, I went to NEAR Con last year, and I was just blown away by the community, by how inclusive and open and diverse and just different it was. It was artists, it was musicians, it was politicians, it was lawyers… It was, like, you had people who were very deep in DeFi (decentralized finance), but whomever you were speaking with, people were very open and inclusive and saying, ‘It’s okay. I can explain to you. This is what I do and can we try to make sense of it all together?’ And I don’t want to preach for our own church, but I will because I think there’s something unique in that community, in creating a community that’s actually open and inclusive. And so I’m very hopeful because I do see that today. The NEAR foundation itself — I think over 35% of our team are actually women. It’s not perfect yet, because we definitely need to get to a balance, but we also like helping move things. And again, role models — sometimes it feels weird to have to say you’re a role model, but we are role models, so we have to actually showcase and say like, ‘It’s okay, please join us.’ So, I’d say there is still a bit of that. I do still feel it when I talk to certain external partners. I think it’s starting to change. I think we have a lot of work, but I’m hopeful we can change that, and if anything, this initiative should help us get on the right foot forward.

Lau: Look, I remember when you were at Circle — you were its first CMO. It was also the first company to sign the Fintech Charter to achieve a 50:50 gender split in the sector. It was a Women in Finance Charter. And do we need something policy-driven like that, or do we need something more? And I note that even at NEAR, where it’s so innovative and progressive, you’re still at 35%.

Flament: Yeah. Well, I think through my career, I’ve evolved on quota. I think when you’re young and optimistic, then you think, ‘Oh, we don’t need quota.’ And then when you actually grow up, then you think, ‘Oh, my God, this is not moving.’ So we do need, like, a hammer and to say this is not ok. Signing the UK Women in Finance Charter was fantastic. It was obvious that we had to do it and we were setting up the team, so it was actually easy from the start to say, like, how can we actually think through that and achieve that, at least in Europe, which was the first territory where we started.

I think it helps because it puts it on the agenda the topic. It also starts saying, like, ‘We have to talk about it and this is not ok.’ It needs to be finely balanced, because you don’t want to be the woman that’s brought on because you’re a woman — like, none of us want that. So, it still needs to be like the best talent that is brought out there, but with a real conversation on, ‘Is our culture inclusive? Are we doing everything we can to make sure that we are actually enabling women to thrive in the environment that we are bringing?’ So, you’re raising a great point. Do we actually need to have much more of a policy angle? What we’re doing here is a great start, but it’s a softer approach to actually tackling it.

Lau: It needs to be a double-pronged, triple-pronged, multi-pronged approach, that’s for sure. We’ve been focusing on the lack of gender diversity, but let’s talk about solutions, as well. Marieke, I can’t tell you how many times I really stare with confusion when somebody says, ‘Oh, I can’t figure out how to get more women onto this panel. I can’t participate in something that’s a “manel”. There are women out there.’ I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that. And yet I would say actually 50% of the guests that we’ve had on Word on the Block are incredible women. And they’re not here because they’re women — they’re here because they’re doing some incredible building in crypto right now.

Flament: Yeah. And I think that’s a very good point. So look, that’s also one thing that we’ve been discussing for NEAR Con. Personally, I’m not a fan of panels that are, ‘Let’s talk about diversity and just put a bunch of women just to talk about diversity. And then the rest of the time in any conference, we’ll just forget that we have that.’ But I think it actually takes a proactive approach, because — back to confidence — I think that’s the core of what we’re talking about, the confidence of speaking up, the confidence of being on a panel, the confidence of saying, ‘Yes, you know more than you think that you do. And actually nobody knows everything. So it’s okay for you to go up there.’ I spend a lot of time actually saying that to other women, saying, like, ‘It’s ok, and yes, you should do that.’ And you wouldn’t believe sometimes if you don’t even see it. Of course, you’re absolutely brilliant women. Why wouldn’t you want to be on a panel or why wouldn’t you want to participate in that? So I think we all have a role to play for each other, of cheerleading each other, of also referring each other.

I do that a lot, actually. Being in whatever Telegram group with women is really important because if anything is needed, it’s like, ‘Hey, there’s a panel here. I can’t speak at that. We need someone. Can someone take that?’ I think that’s where the sisterhood-type concept works really well. But you also make sure that it’s known. And to your point earlier, when people say, ‘Oh, we’d love to have women, but we don’t.’ I’m like, ‘Yes, I have a list of, like, five or 10.’ It’s the same when people recruit, and they tell me, ‘We’d love to, but we can’t find any.’ I’m like, ‘No problem. Here’s my book of amazing women that you need to go to.’

And back again to this list that we are creating, therefore — that’s why the initiatives, like, that are important to showcase and to say they exist, they are here, and we need to shout more about them.

Lau: The crypto industry has some very prominent women at the fore. What does success look like to you for Women Changemakers in Web3. Who are we looking for?

Flament: That’s a fantastic question. I’m looking forward to the actual applications to see what we see and who’s coming through. But a couple of criteria that we actually are looking for — number one is inclusion, so, driving ideas that are good for society, ideas that enable sustainable and socially impactful change. That’s what we’re looking for. To us, we have in our hands an amazing technology to create a better world. Now, how is inclusion used to create that better world and to do that? That’s criterion number one. It’s going to be inclusion.

Criterion number two is actually going to be influence, so, how are these women influencing their community, their peers with the work that they are doing? And what is it that therefore they’re able to achieve through that?

And criterion number three is innovation. How can we, how can the projects and the women that we are showcasing contribute to societally impactful projects, whether it’s at work or independently?

So, the three angles we’re going to look at are inclusion, influence and innovation. And that’s the angle that we will look at to say, what is the work and who do we want to showcase.

Lau: There’s so much to showcase. I’m so excited about it. I think at the end of the day, what this is, is just not a solution in itself — it’s simply an acknowledgment. We know how powerful narratives can be, and we know that so many women out there are writing their own stories right now. It’s our responsibility and certainly our privilege and our honor to share. I know at Forkast, our platform, and NEAR, your platform, and combining it, and then really celebrating the women who are doing innovative work. That’s a story that we should be paying attention to.

Flament: Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s exactly that. Let’s use our platform to share more stories and to shout out for them.

Lau: Well, thank you, Marieke. It was a pleasure. I’m going to have you on again. There’s so much to talk about and unpack, but this was a little bit of a preview for everyone to understand why we’re joining forces, what we’re doing in this space, and why Web3 Women Changemakers is an important story to watch because they are defining the future in which we’re all going to coexist. That bias must go away. And women, if you’re out there and you’re curious, that’s all you need. That’s all you need. Bring your passion, bring your skills, your experience in the world that you have already only lends to all of us building a very interesting and inclusive future of tomorrow.

Marike, it was amazing to have you on. Thank you for having us, as well, on this ride with you.

Flament: Well, thank you so much. Super-proud to be launching that with you. And yes, as you say, women, whoever you are, wherever you are, we’re looking forward to having you on this journey.

Lau: And women, if you’re listening — and men, the allies — thank you, everyone, for joining us on this latest episode of Word on the Block. I’m Angie Lau, Forkast Editor-in-Chief. Until the next time.

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