Sa Wang has co-founded several successful companies in the tech and blockchain space, first at popular Chinese self-service kiosk startup Dora, and now at top 50 crypto project and blockchain protocol IOST.
We hear a lot about women (or the lack thereof) in the cryptocurrency and blockchain space.
Confirming what many of us already suspected, CoinDesk's Q2 2018 State of the Blockchain Report found that only 4 percent of crypto investors are women. In tandem, reporters regularly call the "blockchain bros" on the carpet for elbowing women out of yet another lucrative emerging industry.
But this has been a predominantly West-centric conversation, casting the spotlight on gender inequality and underrepresentation at Western crypto companies, Western blockchain conferences, and Western meetups.
Thus far, news articles, Twitter threads, and Medium posts have largely neglected the diversity of female experiences in other parts of the world, such as China, South Korea and Japan, where the crypto space is equally — if not more — dynamic and growing.
Take China, for instance. Despite banning ICOs and bringing bitcoin trading to a virtual standstill, in 2017, China was responsible for over half of the world's blockchain-related patent applications — with the U.S. coming in a distant second. The top three cryptocurrencies by market cap launched in 2018 — Zilliqa, Ontology, and IOST — are all Chinese.
With such a strong Asian presence in the blockchain world, why do we rarely hear about Asian women in crypto? What can the rest of the world learn from our experiences?
Chinese women in crypto
In order to understand what it's like to be a Chinese woman in crypto, first you must understand the Chinese crypto space itself.
Despite China's ban on crypto trading, there is a ravenous appetite for crypto wealth — traders have simply started placing their bets in Japan, Hong Kong, and South Korea. The regulatory crackdowns have done little to stifle the hundreds of scam crypto projects in China (many of them deployed overseas), while newly minted bitcoin millionaires — mostly male with no education or merits necessary — abound.
In contrast to the West, where conversations are slowly evolving towards a more nuanced discussion of the merits of blockchain technology and institutional adoption, Chinese crypto enthusiasts largely maintain a single-minded speculative focus: Will this coin be listed on a Korean exchange soon? What is its market cap? Should I buy? Should I sell?
This get-rich-quick mentality makes it very difficult for serious blockchain advocates — especially females, who already have to fight for a voice — to cut through the noise and evangelize a longer-term (and much less sexy) message.
As Carylyne Chan of CoinMarketCap writes in her fascinating and detailed account of Chinese crypto culture:
"Scam cases… have engendered many tragedies, and created a more insidious impact: For those who truly believe in the blockchain, such scams are smearing the blockchain technology name, making it notorious while the underlying premise is laudable."
The challenges Chinese women in crypto face are similar to those anywhere else in the world, but they're compounded by the chaos and "scammy"-ness of the space.
Attend any Chinese blockchain meetup, and you'll come across perhaps eight women for every 100 attendees. If you happen to be one of those eight women, you can expect to be invited on a date (or multiple dates) to some crypto millionaire's yacht after the meetup ends. You certainly shouldn't expect to be taken seriously — especially if your interests lie in blockchain technology, rather than crypto speculation.
WeChat: Bane or boon?
But Chinese crypto puts a much larger emphasis on community than the U.S. — it's everything, and it can go a long way towards empowering women.
Since Twitter and YouTube are banned in China, WeChat (China's answer to WhatsApp) is our community hub of choice. Any given blockchain project can have 50 or more WeChat groups dedicated to it, each boasting 300 to 500 members who share and discuss every company announcement.
One of those WeChat groups is called Blockchain Ladies. This community plays a crucial role in empowering and connecting Chinese women in crypto — but it also throws into stark relief the distance we need to traverse before the space is anywhere close to being equalized.
In addition to discussing the latest blockchain and crypto topics, every two weeks, the women of Blockchain Ladies invite a powerful or famous male in the crypto space for an "ask me anything" (AMA) session.
These AMA's cover a wide range of topics from technology to community building to philosophy, but they always end with the same question:
"If you were single, what kind of woman would you be attracted to?"
While certainly progress has been made, clearly we still have a long way to go.
Words of advice
If my experience as a Chinese woman in crypto has taught me anything, it's that we need to be twice as strong and grounded if we want to compete with our male counterparts. The unfortunate reality is that women have to work harder, project confidence even if we're lacking it, find the right allies and work on projects where our male counterparts understand our value.
No matter the country, being a woman in the crypto space requires some serious soul-searching. Do your research. Know why you're entering the industry and what you have to bring to the table. Don't become a tool or sacrifice your integrity to get ahead. Surround yourself with both male and female advocates who trust you, are familiar with your work, and will empower you to achieve your goals.
Educate yourself. Many of the (predominantly male) crypto millionaires around you actually know very little beyond the ins and outs of crypto trading, so aspire to outshine them in everything else. Share your knowledge with other women in the space; for example, I host internal tech training sessions at IOST for our non-technical female employees so they can talk about it in an educated way.
You have probably heard this before, but don't focus on your femaleness.
It will only discourage you, because the statistics are against you. Set your own goals and establish an intrinsic, guiding mission to get you through the crazy ride upon which you are about to embark. If you're in it for the money, don't bother — tens of thousands of people are doing the same thing. Besides, the real value of blockchain technology can't be measured in dollar or yuan signs.
I joined this space enamored with the idea of decentralization. My personal mission is to communicate why blockchain is important and how it can be used in the real world, because I believe it can change the world. This will be a long education process that may take years, but in a space filled with scams and transient projects, I feel at peace knowing that I plan to be here long after the noise has died down and the "get rich quick" types have had their fill.
They can have their fun building mounds of cash, but I'm building the future.
Image via Shutterstock.