The Skyscraper Paradox: The Promise of Web3 for Women in Finance

Women’s participation in TradFi feels much like climbing to the top of a skyscraper that keeps adding floors. Maybe Web3 can help.

By Elitsa Taskova

Imagine being the first female to break into the traditionally male-dominated financial sector - shaping its future and setting a new standard for gender equality. This is what Web3 can allow us to do. Eventually. And with conscious effort.

Men still outnumber women in the traditional financial industry (TradFi), who make up around 46% of the workforce, with only 15% occupying C-suite roles. And yet, as a nascent industry, Web3 offers a unique opportunity for women to not only shape the new system but pave the way for all women to circumvent existing obstacles in traditional finance and have equal opportunity for their finances and careers.

There is still a long way to go to reach this reality. Yet, for the first time, women have the opportunity to not just participate but to build this industry into a diverse space while it is still being developed. We are at a critical point. If we act in a timely fashion, we can shape this sector into an accessible workplace, rather than allowing the construction of another industry of glass ceilings.

Is Web3 doing enough to broaden representation?

Women aren’t as actively involved in the Web3 workforce as men – yet. This stems perhaps from the social conditioning that disincentivizes women from taking risks (which are inherent in new industries), crypto bro culture, lack of role models and women in leadership roles, and fewer women in STEM to begin with.

To capture this opportunity, and place women at parity with their male counterparts, we need to engage more women in the blockchain space. This starts with consciously opening up opportunities for them and persists with making those who already work in the space more visible via conferences, networking, and thought leadership. But we also need leading companies to take initiative and contribute to making the Web3 space less exclusive so that women actually want to take part. We must gain representation at the top level, and establish strong and visible support from leading Web3 companies. Let's face it: we must shift crypto’s “bro culture” – a change that will abound naturally should women take up space proportionally to men in the industry.

A 2020 McKinsey report found that companies with a higher representation of women in executive positions tend to achieve above-average profitability - while those with over 30% female executives are more likely to outperform companies with mostly male or male-only boards. The significance of these statistics cannot be overstated, leaving companies with no excuse to pass up women for leadership positions. Leading crypto companies are striving for gender parity; though partly driven by a desire for progressive corporate social responsibility.

Chainalysis, to name an example, stands out with a remarkable 46.15% proportion of women leaders, and a dedicated Women in Crypto series. Nexo also has over 30% women in their workforce, a percentage that is mirrored in its leadership. Coinbase's Women's Employee Resource Group, and Revolut's RevWomen Guild further illustrate the industry's movement towards empowering women's personal and professional journeys.

First-mover advantage for gender parity

Web3 isn’t the manna from heaven the finance industry so desperately needs, but we do have something here that women will never hold in the traditional finance sector: first-mover advantage. This is a critical opportunity to level out the historical advantages that men have held over finance up till now, like the gender pay gap, access to leadership positions, and unconscious bias.

The banking sector has tended to financially exclude women, and, over time, racked up significant disadvantages for them; according to the Deloitte Center for Financial Services, only six of the 107 largest financial institutions in the United States were run by female CEOs in 2019. Though, in all fairness, it has been attempting to course-correct through various initiatives. Starling Bank witnessed an increase in female leaders from 27% in 2017 to 41% in 2021, while Lloyds has made a move to address parity in its C-suite representation, with 45.5% women on their Board. Even so, gender parity hasn’t yet been met by any of the leading banks, and certainly not at a leadership level, but there are more acute issues at hand when it comes to financial exclusion beyond the workforce.

Despite the statistics showing that banks are recognizing the need to improve the situation for women working in TradFi, it feels much like trying to reach the top of a skyscraper that is continuously adding more floors. You can’t help feeling - is it too little too late to start climbing? This is the beauty of Web3. We aren’t faced with the impossible task of surmounting 1000 stories. We’re still setting out the foundations for the future of finance, ensuring everyone has a chance to climb.

Cryptocurrency as a viable way for the unbanked to access finance

Cryptocurrency in itself is not the grand equalizer of all the societal issues that keep women in a position of financial disadvantage, but, as the examples below, among others, suggest, it can be a successful mechanism for women to achieve greater empowerment when facing financial exclusion, beyond the restraints of traditional finance.

An offshoot of the gender gap issue is that women are less likely to participate in finance in any of its forms. Women are often financially isolated due to a lack of access to education or financial products and services. This is particularly true for those who already live in poverty. Unlike TradFi, which is notoriously exclusive and has high (cost) barriers to entry, Web3 provides a tangible option for financial independence and inclusion.

For example, the aforementioned 2020 McKinsey report on “women at work” in the Middle East found high inequalities persist, most notably in legal protection and financial inclusion, with a significant number of women in the region remaining unbanked. We have also seen the adoption of cryptocurrencies in various countries experiencing social and financial unrest. In the face of a collapsing local currency, crypto has become a lifeline for citizens in Turkey, with women adopting crypto as a store of value almost at an equal rate as men.

The adoption of blockchain technologies, too, has widespread benefits for women. In the technology-first economy of India, firms are rapidly investing in blockchain to create new job opportunities. This year, cryptocurrency exchange WazirX published its survey of 400 female crypto holders in India and concluded an uptrend among women entering crypto investing. And in Africa, the use of blockchain technology in coffee plantations has led to better traceability in supply chains; increasing income for female farmers and empowering them to command a better market price in the export market.

Building a fairer financial future

We are still early to the game in Web3, and, as such, hold a unique opportunity to craft a fair financial environment for generations to come and even overcome broader social issues. As such, we must not only encourage and mentor women in Web3 but demand transparency from an already male-dominated space – before the mold sets and we find ourselves in another industry with a glass ceiling.

About the author

Elitsa Taskova serves as Chief Product Officer at Nexo, where she plays a pivotal role in steering the company's 360-degree product suite and driving its development efforts. With over eight years of professional experience in software project management within some of Europe's leading internet-native and payment businesses, Elitsa is no stranger to trends in the ever-evolving fintech industry.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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