Cryptocurrency needs women to reach a tipping point

Monica Long featuredBy Monica Long, SVP of Marketing and Communications at Ripple

“How can I start a career in crypto when I know nothing about it?” A bright-eyed student asked bravely but timidly.

I’d just completed a talk about my career journey that led me into the wild and wonderful world of crypto and blockchain to a group of about 80 Wharton business school students.

She emphasized “nothing” in her question and I knew exactly the sentiment behind the question – self-doubt. It’s all too familiar in my regular interactions with people on the outside looking into a still nascent but burgeoning industry, especially with women.

Very smart women say things like this to me all the time when I prompt them to get involved after they express interest in the space:

“I don’t get it.”

“I don’t have a finance background.”

“It’s SO confusing and complex.”

Like so many finance fields before – investment banking, hedge funds and trading – women are bowing out of opportunities in crypto, sidelining themselves from career-defining opportunities and major financial upside, all because of intimidation.

While the number of women in blockchain and crypto is growing, women are seriously underrepresented on teams and in executive roles. A December 2018 report detailed women comprise 14 percent of blockchain startup teams and 7 percent of executive roles. In contrast, women typically represent 25 percent of the workforce in otherwise notoriously male-dominated Silicon Valley big tech companies.

The industry needs women and greater diversity to reach the tipping point on the adoption curve. Team diversity is key to the success of any business in any sector.

Here’s my best advice to that Wharton student based on my experience.

Quiet the Gremlin

That little gremlin had a big voice in my head: “Don’t do it! You’ll fail!” It was August 2013 when I reconnected with Chris Larsen. I first worked with Chris when he was CEO of Prosper, the online person-to-person lending marketplace, supporting Prosper’s public relations efforts. I shared Chris’s passion to fight for “the little guy” – to give the financially underserved greater, fairer access and freedom.

In that August meeting, Chris shared his vision to use the innovations in blockchain and crypto to enable the world to move value like it already moves information, creating an “Internet of Value.” He was electric, saying he thought this was fintech’s most important breakthrough. Following our meeting, Chris offered me a position at his new company leading communications.

I was excited… and intimidated. I didn’t understand the details of what Chris described. Market making, consensus algorithms, settlement processes – it was all foreign to me. With this role, I’d assume responsibility to communicate this business to the world. Yikes.

I took the leap. I believed in Chris and he believed in me. The worst that would happen is I’d try and fail, learn and move on. The reward far outweighed the risk.

Step one is to get out of your own way and quiet the gremlin. Know you can learn it.

Find Your Passion Project

A major reason this space is so confusing and complex is many projects are purely tech-driven. They’re untethered from a use case.

Blockchain and crypto suddenly become more sensible, approachable and viable when a project clearly defines the problem it’s solving.

In the case of Ripple, we’re removing friction from global payments – making them faster, cheaper, more reliable. Hundreds of millions of people work abroad and send money home to their friends and family. Getting as much of their paychecks home as quickly and reliably as possible is critical to their ability to support their families. Ours is a mission I care about deeply.

Make Contact

While you can learn a lot about this space crawling press articles, forums and social media, misinformation and noise abounds, which may hurt more than help. I learned the most by talking to people I knew and trusted in the space and unabashedly asking question after question. The adage “there is no stupid question” is certainly true ramping up in this industry!

If you don’t have friends or professional contacts in the industry, do a little research to identify a few people you’d like to connect with based on common interests in projects or use cases. You may be pleasantly surprised by the willingness of strangers to help you out – it’s a supportive community.

Men led the Internet Age; they reaped the glory and the gains. Blockchain and crypto represent the dawn of the next big Internet revolution. We women have the chance to lead. Let’s not miss our chance to break the cycle of underrepresentation in tech.

Author Bio:

Monica Long, SVP Marketing and Communications at Ripple

Monica Long is SVP of Marketing and Communications at Ripple. Ripple is removing friction from global payments, connecting banks and payment providers to provide one frictionless experience – that is faster, cheaper, and more reliable – for sending and receiving money globally.

Throughout her career, Monica has helped technology companies drive fundamental change in the financial industry. At Ripple, Monica has built a team responsible for Ripple’s go-to-market strategy, lead generation, corporate communications and branding. Together, they tackle the challenge of ensuring all audiences – from the cryptocurrency community to financial institutions to regulators – understand the transformative potential of the growing blockchain industry.