But Miami wasn’t an isolated incident. At the 2018 Anarchapulco conference, an annual international gathering of anarchists in Acapulco, Mexico, scantily clad women walked around advertising Monkeycoin, which claims to be Venezuela’s first regulated Bitcoin exchange. Last year, CoinAgenda, the leading blockchain investment conference, invited convicted domestic abuser Gurbaksh Chahal to speak on a panel. And shortly after the viral take off of CryptoKitties, an ethereum game for trading and breeding cartoon cats, a group launched a spin-off called EthBabes to buy and sell busty cartoon women in lingerie.

Subtler examples of ingrained sexism abound. The idea that the lack of female representation is solely due to lack of female interest still thrives in public forums. Women in the industry primarily hold roles in business development, marketing, and fundraising, rather than in coding and development. And the gender gap is so immense that it distorts perceptions of diversity. In response to Miami, John Poller, an entrepreneur who’s part of the Blockchain for Social Impact initiative, tweeted, “#ETHDenver is focused on diversity, inclusion, respect”—referencing the largest ethereum conference in the US. In a separate tweet, he elaborated: “#ETHDenver has 20% women who are attending.” The implication: 20% is a mark of excellence.

In that context, the reactions of leading women to Miami may simply reflect a broader privilege of women at the top. Many of them—Drokova, Stark, and Baldet included—entered the crypto industry with established networks. As a result, they began with a certain standing and didn’t have to rely on meetups and events to make industry inroads. The same can’t be said for the vast majority of other women in crypto.

Julia, for example, the entrepreneur who asked not to use her real name, began in the industry four years ago without any friends or connections to lean on. “I was going out and meeting strangers at Bitcoin meetups that I didn’t know who’d end up hitting on me,” she says, noting that women with established relationships have other channels “to bring them enough deal flow, for lack of a better phrase.”

Margaret, also an alias, an industry veteran currently working on an Israeli-based blockchain venture, had similar insights on the discrepancy. “I could get how you could have different experiences in the blockchain space,” she says. “When you come into this space from an incumbent role—like if you work for a bank, as a VC, or as a consultant—then the guys have to treat you with a certain degree of respect from the start because you already have the power. But I came into the space always on a startup path, always small and scrappy.”

Consequently, Margaret says, she was often underestimated at crypto meetups by men with far less experience or knowledge. Once she lost a speaking engagement at a conference to a man, on a topic that she had taught him about. Last year at Consensus, an annual blockchain summit hosted by CoinDesk, she broke a personal record for the number of messages she received from men that included their private key and hotel room number. “And this is the benign stuff that happens,” she says.

While trying to raise funds for her company, Julia said that male investors often blatantly ignored her at networking events, disregarding her extended hand to shake the hands of her male co-founders. Once, she said, she was harassed by a prominent blockchain developer at a major industry conference. During the dinner event, after her repeated attempts to escape his drunken advances, he cornered her at her seat and groped her thigh under the table. She left without finishing her food.

“Other people at the conference noticed that this developer was sexually harassing me. Nobody said anything. Nobody did anything,” she said. “There’s really no incentive to be a good actor.”

An opportunity to be better

Despite the ingrained misogyny, many women are optimistic about their chances of success in crypto. The decentralization and transparency inherent to blockchain technology have the potential to create fairer and more open models of collaboration. People around the world can contribute to projects remotely and help shape the technology’s future. “I think there is an opportunity to accelerate the progress that we might not yet see in the tech world,” said Macchiarelli.

Concrete steps to increase gender diversity are also underway. In March, for example, TOKEN2049, one of Asia’s biggest crypto conferences, offered a 50% discount on tickets for women. Women made up only around 200 of the 1,200 attendees, but Chris Strauch, the conference’s co-host, said it was an improvement. “We feel that the topic [of female representation] is on everyone’s mind,” he told Quartz’s Huang.

In April, the University of Berkeley, California, hosted a women in blockchain conference to inspire female students and young professionals. In May, Consensus’s annual Blockchain Week NYC event series will feature a full day of women-and-diversity programming.

“There’s a growing awareness [among men] that this is an issue,” said Susan Poole, the founder of BlockBridge Advisory, a blockchain startup advisory company, and the nonprofit Diversity in Blockchain. “Some companies are starting to proactively hire for diversity, and other organizations are actually creating diversity and women type programs.”

“It’s still early, and it’s still got a long way to go,” said Poole, “but I’m hopeful.”

Additional reporting contributed by Joon Ian Wong, Zheping Huang, Dave Edwards, and John Detrixhe.

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