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‘There’s Rampant Bigotry’: The Women Taking On the Crypto Bros

Crypto, blockchains and NFTs were all born out of male-dominated legacy industries like tech and finance. But women are leading the way to make Web3 more inclusive.

LISBON, Portugal – When Molly White, one of the world’s most high-profile critics of Web3, looked at the analytics for a video of a Stanford lecture about abuse on blockchains she’d posted on her YouTube channel, it confirmed one of her deepest-held suspicions about the space she was operating in. 

“Ninety-five percent of those who watched it were men,” she said. “It’s funny, because I knew from my Twitter it’s men pretty much across the board. There are no stats, it’s only really just your interpretation. But the YouTube video confirmed my guess.”


As Web3, which crypto-boosters say is the next version of the World Wide Web, gradually comes into focus, new and old problems are still emerging. One of them is inclusivity. 

Many hoped Web3 would be a decentralised online world where our identities weren’t really supposed to matter. Yet a 2021 survey found that twice as many men as women use cryptocurrency; in NFT trading, women represent just 5 percent of total sales volume. The Bitcoin 2022 conference in Miami earlier this year left a trail of sexual harassment in its wake, while a vote to remove the head of the Ethereum Name Service Foundation who made anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion comments failed.

The crypto gender gap was born in the finance and tech industries it spawned from. In 2021, female founders secured only 2 percent of venture capital in the US, the smallest share since 2016. NFTs might have skyrocketed in popularity as a form of digital art, but just 29 percent of digital artists are women.


White spoke to VICE World News on the sidelines of Web Summit in Lisbon, one of the world’s biggest tech conferences. At the conference’s crypto stage, 30 women spoke, compared with 37 men. And plenty of women came to watch White’s talk on whether Web3 was, in her words, “bullshit”. 

“There is rampant bigotry in the industry.”

Her criticisms of Web3 and specifically crypto are broad, taking in a lack of consumer protection and the proliferation of scams. But she’s also outspoken about the toxicity of the mostly male community that dominates this new area. 

“It’s pretty clear that the crypto industry is heavily male-dominated and reflects the tech industry more broadly,” White said. “Crypto is unlike anything else I’ve experienced in technology in the sense of how toxic the community is. People get very passionate about specific technologies all the time, like, say, your favourite programming language. But you’re not aggressive to people who don’t like your language. Not like how crypto people are. When you criticise someone who holds a token, it’s like you’re threatening their bottom line.

“There’s also a really religious dogma around crypto. They say it’s the future, and if you disagree with that, you’re threatening the future. They’re like, ‘Don’t you want progress? Don’t you want to bank the unbanked?’”

Something else that White has noticed is a community of crypto fans who identify as “anti-woke”. “They think any intentional effort to improve racial diversity or gender diversity is bad and should be avoided, and is why big tech companies are going to see their downfall,” White said. She has seen users get told to take advantage of the anonymity that cryptocurrencies offer by hiding the fact that they’re women. “Pretend to be the white guy to make it,” White recalled. “There is rampant bigotry in the industry.”


Vilma Mattila, a lawyer and founder of 5irechain, which she describes as the world’s first sustainable blockchains, empathises. She said she’s been told by others in the industry she did not wish to name to stay neutral when it comes to gender equity, and was expressly advised once to not come out as a feminist “because it will affect the company,” as well as being told, “Don’t be political”. 

She believes that she wouldn’t have been able to co-found 5ire without her two other founders, who are men. “In the beginning, it would have been harder for female co-founders. People are not willing to invest in women. I ask male colleagues to also consider investing with me – the funny thing is if I bring products that are men-founded, they often invest, no problem. If it’s founded by a woman, they call it a ‘high-risk decision’”. 

“‘Do you have any women on your team who built this protocol? No?’ Well, then it ends up exclusionary.”

Ironically, as happy as she is being political, Mattila can’t talk about crypto anymore on her social platforms because she’s joined non-crypto funds and councils that forbid her from promoting cryptocurrencies – which means she can’t use her platforms to boost equity there anymore. “There are 200 million people in crypto, many come and go,” she said. “People appreciate if you dedicate and provide community and ecosystem; grooming talent, educating others.” 


Elsewhere at Web Summit, it’s not simply politics or attitudes that are affecting inclusion; it’s the technology itself. At a panel on how blockchains can create an inclusive society, Marieke Flamant, CEO at Near Foundation, and Lacey Hunter, co-founder at TechAid, didn’t mention crypto bro culture once – instead, they talked about simplicity, dejargonising and bringing in not only builders but also UX designers who can make blockchains usable for people unfamiliar with the nuts and bolts. 

“Prior to entrepreneurship, I was at Amazon and we saw very quickly if products were designed without taking diversity into account,” Hunter said. “For example, when you searched ‘nude undergarments,’ what colour do you think came up? I thought, ‘Do you have any women on your team who built this protocol? No?’ Well, then it ends up exclusionary.”

In blockchains, the same 360-degree hiring has to happen for “mass adoption”, the buzzword of the panel, so that diverse teams make products for diverse people who don’t need to really understand what blockchains are. Mattila also brought up accessibility, saying that “99 percent of the population don’t know how to code. That’s why we provide payments for a phone number – because we identified 1 billion people who don’t have access to an identity or banking, but they’ve all got a phone number.” 

All of the women VICE World News spoke to said they’ve seen representation of women in the industry increase over the years, just not at the speed they would have liked; for plenty of them, the lack of gender parity hasn’t been a barrier, either. 


Amélie Arras, known as the first woman to travel the world while exclusively paying for everything in Bitcoin, said that although the crypto groups she met up with across the 16 countries she visited rarely had any women in them, they were always welcoming. Beenish Saaeed, director of operations at NFT startup Boss Beauties, said that she was able to meet women on Twitter and Discord who were all motivated by crypto’s opportunity of “creating generational wealth” to make projects together, despite a climate where “when women do something, it’s celebrated, but very temporarily. It never hits the headlines.”

Now a marketing director at Zumo, a crypto wallet and payment platform, Arras told VICE World News that while she is seeing more women attend crypto conferences since 2017, her bigger problem is finding women to speak at said conferences. 

“It’s three pages of content creators who are only men. I’m the only woman.”

“I find it hard to get women to speak on panels and come forward to speak on stage. It always seems to be the same women that might come forward,” she said. “Women need to come forward and not be shy about speaking. At Zumo we launched crypto confidence, a monthly meetup where I want just women to come. I was told it was exclusionary for men, but I don’t feel like it is because men can get inspired by women. It’s much easier for a woman to be inspired by another woman.”


For women who do get inspired by other women, not all of them have the spare cash to purchase a Web Summit ticket – a feeling Wendy, who doesn’t disclose her surname and goes only by CryptoWendyO online to protect herself and her family from threats, knows well. Without a tech background, Wendy originally started making content because she had taught herself how to start trading bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and wanted to network with others. She would never have been able to afford a Web Summit ticket then. “I was poor, I had no money to pay thousands of dollars to see someone show their coin or project,” she told VICE World News over a video call.

Real-life meetups transitioned to content creation, and she now has the biggest YouTube platform for a female content creator in the Web3 space. Her analytics also show that 95 percent of her viewership is male – identical to what Web3 critic White observed on her own YouTube. “When you look at my analytics, it says ‘other content creators that are similar to you’, and it’s three pages of content creators who are only men. I’m the only woman,” Wendy said. A week ago when searching “crypto” on YouTube, she was the only female creator to appear in the first page of results; searching today, not a single woman appears in the top 20 videos recommended to me. 

But other platforms might show an opportunity for diversification; women make up 28 percent of Wendy’s TikTok following. “That’s why I like to make content there, I’m able to reach a completely different audience there.”


Wendy’s advice to any women overwhelmed by the ongoing lack of gender parity in the space was to “take 10 minutes every day and invest in yourself. If you don’t know what a word means, educate yourself.”

And in her Web Summit panel, Hunter, the TechAid co-founder, added: “If you’re female looking for a role model to invite you into the room, don’t self-select. Find someone you resonate with, whose values align with yours, and ask them, ‘Can I tag along and can I bring a friend?’” 

“It’s incumbent on us to rise.” 

Supported by Omidyar Network. VICE World News retains complete editorial autonomy.