Elon Musk recently tweeted about the perils of declining birthrates, sparking a showdown among the Twitterati that, honestly, just ended up getting a little weird. In addition to inciting a debate on the topic of governmental vs. cultural incentives for raising a family, the conversation sparked a comment from Sahil Lavingia that made a case for investing in technology that would make having children easier and less expensive – namely, synthetic wombs. The whole exchange crescendoed when Vitalik Buterin, founder of Ethereum, chimed in, arguing that “synthetic wombs would remove the high burden of pregnancy, significantly reducing the inequality” between men’s and women’s salaries. He linked the tweet to a study that revealed that women’s earnings drop significantly after the birth of their first child (while men’s earnings see no such decline).
Even though Buterin’s words did end up bringing light to an essential nuance of the wage gap — drawing widespread attention to the fact that this disparity is inextricably linked to childbirth — there’s no question that attempting to unravel the systemic causes of gender inequality in 280 characters or less would leave out more than one critical point. In this case, there are a lot of issues that a synthetic womb just isn’t going to solve. What Vitalik failed to note is that it’s not just the period during pregnancy or the recovery time required after giving birth that affects women’s earning potential — it’s the biases that make it incredibly difficult for pregnant women to get hired or promoted, the social pressures that force women to sacrifice their careers to take care of their children (whether that’s something they truly want to do or just feel obligated to do), and the fact that a typical 9 to 5 workday is orchestrated around the viewpoint that it’s the sole responsibility of mothers to take children to and from school while men stay hunkered down at the office.
If money is agency, voice and power, the fact that women make US$0.82 for every dollar made by a man is just another glaring indicator of how our current social structures bar women from gaining influential ground. The bottom line? We don’t need synthetic body parts; to truly bridge the wage and investment gaps, we need new tools that will allow women to escape the social constructs we’ve tied to female identity and what a woman’s place “should” be in the world.
Decentralized finance and Web 3.0 offer unique solutions that have the potential to fundamentally alter our relationship with our earning potential; the new innovations coming to the fore are uniquely positioned to open up access to more assets and investment opportunities than ever before, offer new systems for ownership and wealth creation, and restructure our work days to support individual needs and choices — without forcing individuals to sacrifice income.
DeFi enables a shift in work ‘hours’
It’s impossible to have a discussion about earning potential without having a discussion about time. Currently, the vast majority of individuals tie their income to the time they spend working, whether that’s an hourly rate or annual salary.
If what we earn is directly linked to the time we spend working, women will continuously find themselves at a disadvantage once their first child is born. Whether or not every woman wants to stay home and focus on taking care of her children as opposed to building a career (a choice that is entirely up to each and every individual), the reality is that financial constraints keep many women from hiring help, forcing them to become the primary caregivers. A recent study from the Center for American Progress shows that childcare can cost low-income families 35% of their total income. On top of this, our cultural paradigm insists that women stay home and care for children, meaning millions of women feel pressure from their spouses and families to turn down lucrative job opportunities that require them to work on a standard full-time schedule. As a result, women make less money, earn less equity and accrue fewer assets.
DeFi’s goal is to create financial systems that are accessible and open, allowing anyone at any socio-economic level to allocate her time as she sees fit and still see meaningful returns. If you’re working at a Web3 company, the reward for your contributions can be unlimited if you’re collaborating with a team to launch a token or a collection of NFTs. Your net worth has the chance to skyrocket alongside the digital asset you’re building, and it’s not necessarily tied to a vesting schedule or 401(k) that has a specific time constraint.
If women are able to gain access to these kinds of opportunities and truly take advantage of them, we have a very real chance of bridging the wage gap with digital assets that accrue interest without requiring individuals to forfeit quite as much of their time.
Web3’s collectivist mentality is designed to benefit all
As internet-native organizations that are owned and controlled collectively, DAOs are designed to operate under flat hierarchical structures that reward members in tokens — a.k.a., ownership — for their contributions, for attending specific events or for an award for their exemplary work.
This contrasts sharply with traditional organizations that offer equity in exchange for specific time commitments. On top of that, when it comes to negotiating for more equity or a pay raise, men outperform women significantly. The book “Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide,” was written in 2007, and is often quoted for its data that shows 2.5 more women than men feel incredibly anxious when it comes to negotiating, and men initiate negotiating about four times as often as women. But, a much more recent study by Harvard Business Review shows an even more perplexing reality: women today are, in fact, asking — they’re just not getting. In fact, women who asked for a pay raise received one 15% of the time while men who negotiated for a raise got one 20% of the time.
These disparities create winner-take-all mentalities for traditional organizations — something that’s absent from the collectivist mindset of many NFT communities and DAOs. That’s why, even as these new systems are being built, they offer promising new opportunities that could significantly change the amount of money, equity and ownership women bring home.
On-chain assets are redefining what work looks like
Even in our post-pandemic world that’s largely based on remote work, employees everywhere are expected to work on a standard 9-to-5 schedule that ignores essential family needs like childcare. What’s lacking is a new work structure that empowers individual choices and schedules, allowing workers to make income in ways that can’t be interrupted even if female employees do decide to have a family.
Web2 giants like Instagram and YouTube showed us that a few lucky creators and influencers could make a living on their own terms. However, these platforms fail to provide built-in monetization tools, meaning users are required to amass millions of followers and then hope they can make adequate salaries as brand ambassadors — a reality that’s few and far between. However, Web3 is set to offer new social platforms and tools for creators that will allow them to monetize their audiences, even if they are only able to amass an audience of a hundred fans.
That’s the goal of this new passion economy, anyway, and even though we’re still incredibly early, there are a few protocols being built today around NFT use cases that appear to be promising. Sound.xyz, for example, is empowering independent musical artists through music NFTs that make it possible for creators to earn more from each song than the fractions of pennies they receive from streams on Spotify. While it’s true that NFTs are early, volatile and still finding their footing as digital assets, protocols are being built every day that are offering new ways for individuals to earn money without conforming to a typical work structure. On top of that, Web3 offers more opportunities to invest in on-chain assets with lower barriers to entry than traditional assets: Crypto, digital properties in the metaverse, and new types of synthetic derivatives all have the potential to help create new streams of income.
While the “whys” behind gender inequality are devastatingly complex and will require a shift in terms of how we view female-identifying individuals and the spaces they occupy in our society, there are collective efforts to end misogyny on all fronts and new initiatives to give women equal opportunities for education. However, empowering women with new financial tools is a critical first step, and Web3 looks like the most promising opportunity we have at our disposal today.