Blockchain at UCI Promotes Much-Needed STEM Diversity

Technology should be a space for diversity and inclusivity to thrive. People should be able to come together and collaborate, contribute and diversify the space. On April 8, Blockchain at UCI, a new campus organization, organized the Women in Blockchain Summit at the Student Center, which promoted greater inclusion and diversity. Unfortunately, this conference has been one of few large-scale attempts to address gender disparity in the male-dominated blockchain community — but fortunately, it could inspire similar conferences and events that could make blockchain communities more inclusive worldwide.

All of a sudden, blockchain and cryptocurrencies are everywhere. Considering the news around blockchain, not to mention the value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, it is natural to be wondering what blockchain really is. Blockchain is a distributed record-keeping system where the power is equally distributed among all peers; that is, no one person can control the entire system. For example, a traditional transaction has to be verified by a bank, but on a blockchain, 51 percent of the users need to collectively validate the transaction. On a blockchain, a ledger of transactions is shared and accessible to everyone who is a part of the system and therefore is decentralized.

Photo Courtesy of Lucas Erb

The conference at UCI hosted 30 women speakers from across the world who sought to encourage and engage the community as well as communicate the potentials of blockchain. The blockchain industry is ripe for both change and growth, making it perfect for setting standards for diversity and inclusion. One of the attendees at the conference, Madeline Mann, who works at Gem, said, “The industry is welcoming more women to join, and now we must change the perception of being an outsider. No one is an outsider in the industry — we are all learning together.”
The conference did not just aim at gender diversity but also a diversity in ethnicity and race. The conference brought together inspiring women from various parts of the world. One of the speakers, Othalia Doe-Bruce, who came from Canada, said, “I can only imagine the positive impact you will be bringing to the industry as the leaders of tomorrow… and in fact, of today as well.” The diverse blockchain speakers and panelists were an example of the efforts made by the organization to bridge the gaps.

Blockchain at UCI started out with all male members but the members have been endeavoring to diversify the organization and the blockchain community at UCI. I joined Blockchain at UCI last quarter and the efforts we put into making the conference as inclusive and diverse as possible has made me realize how difficult it is to do that. Not all conferences and events can achieve this. There have been so many controversies over the failure to involve, engage and respect everyone. The North American Bitcoin Conference at Miami was unable to improve the gender balance as they gave 85 of the 88 slots for presenters to men instead of inviting more women to speak at the conference. Not only did they fail to be inclusive but also failed to create a safe environment when they decided to have a networking event after the conference at a strip club, which definitely was a misstep. Therefore, after retrospecting the tech culture and the involvement of women, I feel that our blockchain conference was successful in its mission.

Photo courtesy of Lucas Erb

There is an increasing gender gap in the tech community. There has also always been a wage gap. According to the national center for women and information technology, the rate of women in computing roles has been in steady decline. Women hold only 25 percent of computing jobs. An article from Business Insider mentioned that women hold only 11 percent of executive positions at Silicon Valley companies. An article from Fortune highlighted how venture capitalists invested far less in women-led companies compared to male-led companies. Moreover, while 82 percent of men in startups believed their companies spent the right amount of time addressing diversity, nearly 40 percent of women said not enough time was devoted to addressing the same. After looking at such statistics it is of paramount importance that we make sure that such trends are not carried forward into the newly formed blockchain community.

The Women in Blockchain Summit has helped in spreading the message and giving an opportunity to everyone to get more involved with the organization. Blockchain at UCI is looking forward to welcoming more women into their community and future events and I believe that is a great step towards inclusion and diversity, not only in the blockchain community but also the technological field.

Apurva Jakhanwal is a third-year computer science major. She can be reached at ajakhanw@uci.edu.