Financial inclusion is often cited as a reason for continued innovation in cryptography and blocking chains. With gatekeepers monopolizing the global financial scene, many poor people have been cut off from viable channels of economic prosperity.
Products from crypto and block chains are increasingly opening up international payment corridors, ensuring the democratisation of the global economy. Other platforms are creating solutions to long-standing development problems in historically disadvantaged regions such as Africa. As an inherently open ecosystem, innovation in crypto and blocking chains continues to spread to different corners of the world, and organizations in the sector tend to have a global workforce with team members of diverse nationalities.
As part of the drive for economic and technological flourishing, there is a need to ensure racial diversity and inclusion, particularly in the context of the current political climate. With issues of racial prejudice and discrimination dominating social discourse around the world, it may be time to look inward at how the cryptography industry fits into the broader technology and financial services sectors.
Racial Prejudice and Discrimination in Silicon Valley
In the midst of the turmoil that accompanied George Floyd’s death, organizations around the world added their voices in support of racial equality and the eradication of racial discrimination. Cryptology and technology companies also joined in publishing messages of solidarity with America’s black community. In a conversation with Cointelegraph, Jay Hao, the CEO of crypto exchange platform OKEx, added to the ongoing conversation on racial inequality :
“There are profound inequalities and injustices in many parts of the world regarding the colour of a person’s skin. This is something very deep in society, but I am hopeful that we will begin to see a change and that we can live in a fairer world where skin colour does not matter.”
In the past, racist scandals have shaken the American technological giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, among others. In addition to discriminatory practices, these incidents have also resulted in retaliation against employees who speak out against prejudice in the workplace. In 2014, Silicon Valley companies began publishing their employee demographics. Over the next six years, the data published by these companies showed little improvement in diversity and inclusion.
Technology should be neutral, but the reality as it exists today paints a different picture. Although governed by codes and algorithmic logic, technological inventions can be seen to operate in a way that signals acquired biases. For example, it has been reported that some automatic hand washing soap dispensers are configured so as not to detect darker skin tones. Speech recognition technology may work incorrectly with certain speech inflections common to particular ethnic groups.
Jacky Alcine, a computer engineer, discovered in 2015 that Google’s image recognition algorithm classified photos of black people as gorillas. In the furore that followed this revelation, Google simply blocked the image recognition functionality for gorilla photos without doing much to solve the underlying problem.
Whether these algorithmic biases are deliberately the result of instrument designers’ prejudices or whether they are simple errors is a matter of debate, but their elimination is one of the main obstacles encountered in the field of machine learning.
Is the space of cryptography and block strings more or less diverse than that of the technology industry?
Given that the technology and financial industries feed the cryptography space, it may be taken for granted that the latter will demonstrate a similar culture to the established realities of the former. In a memo to Cointelegraph, Stephen Richardson, Vice President of Product Strategy at Fireblocks – a crypto transfer network platform – said
“I would say that right now, diversity and inclusion in cryptography would be 6 on a scale of 10. Although I think the cryptography community is a relatively open community, there are not a significant number of women and minorities under-represented in cryptography leadership positions (look through the major stock exchanges, technology providers and financial institutions). It’s very similar to the general technology and financial services industry”
According to Richardson, the migration of talent from the technology and financial services sector to cryptography is primarily about the population traditionally represented, and any major improvement in the diversity and inclusiveness of the cryptography space must be driven by similar changes in technology and financial institutions at large. In a conversation with Cointelegraph, Herbert Sim, a serial technology investor and the founder of Crypto Chain University, offered a more optimistic assessment of the diversity of cryptography :
“Unlike other technology and financial markets, the cryptocurrent has a huge distribution among people of different ages, nationalities and genders. Recent statistics show that the number of women exchanging digital money has increased by 40%, and that cryptocurrency is spreading four times faster in developing countries than in developed countries. The decentralized nature of the supply chain works well in practice by giving equal rights to all, regardless of financial or national factors”
Faith Obafemi, a block chain lawyer at Future-Proof Intelligence – an Internet-based company that advises on emerging technologies such as block chains and cryptographic currency – also shed additional light, telling Cointelegraph that “the space is more diverse and more inclusive,” adding:
“Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that fundamentally, cryptography and the block chain are all about removing barriers to inclusion. In addition, there are under-represented people who are leading some of the most important projects in space. And they have a lot of support from the community. That doesn’t take away from the fact that there’s still a lot of work to be done. For example, by taking deliberate steps to eliminate systematic and unconscious bias.”
In a perfect system, the meritocracy should lead the technology industry and, by extension, the cryptography space. Indeed, the fact that the best talent is working to create cutting-edge solutions will only accelerate the relentless march of progress. The presence of discriminatory or exclusionary practices, either deliberately or as a by-product of implicit bias, is contrary to the ethics of meritocracy. However, anecdotal and factual evidence exists to suggest that such biases are found in many facets of the technological and financial services space.
According to Obafemi, implicit bias can be a significant barrier for people from minority groups in the cryptographic space, as people of colour often have to navigate under the initial assumption that they are ill-equipped for the job based solely on the colour of their skin. In the broader technology arena, this preconceived view also extends beyond the hiring cycle, in daily interactions with the often closely accompanied label “hiring diversity”.
Badging” is a common complaint of black workers in technology companies, a practice that conveys the insidious message that some people are not welcome or have no place in the industry. In response, some individuals belonging to minority groups in the technology and financial services industries engage in code trading – conscious acts designed to conform to the unwritten and unwritten “culture” of these industries. Project funding is another problem for people from minority groups and, according to Richardson, this problem is an extension of the reality in broader technological and educational institutions, he said:
“In general, both the crypto space and the technology space are driven by a cluster of technology/alumni networks and investor access (think of top university alumni, incubators, venture capital firms, etc.). Until recently, there has been no concerted effort to invest funds and mentoring resources specifically targeted at technologists and entrepreneurs from under-represented minority groups, and I am not sure that this feeling or effort has reached the consciousness of the leaders of the cryptography space”
However, Mr. Richardson of Fireblocks said that he hoped that the current global awareness of racial injustice could spur key players to make the necessary changes. Speaking at the third edition of the Cointelegraph lecture series, Anino Emuwa, founder of the consultancy firm Avandis Consulting, said that industry leaders were essential to any improvement in diversity and inclusion. For Sim, skin colour plays an insignificant role in the cryptography space, adding :
“So far, I wouldn’t say there is any visible racial prejudice in the world of block strings and cryptocurrences. If there is any discrimination or inequality in this market, it is not a question of skin colour, but rather geopolitical factors or, more precisely, different government attitudes towards cryptocurrency and its stricter regulation
Mr. Obafemi also made a similar argument, saying, “Most people only care about the value you can bring to their project. Keyword: MOST. It doesn’t matter to them whether you are a woman or a person of colour” She went on to add: “Others find it surprising to see a woman who understands mountain ranges. They expect men to be better informed.”
What about the pipeline?
Technical and financial services companies need to make a profit, which requires a continuous flow of talented people to create innovative solutions. The same reality exists for the cryptographic space, and any discourse on diversity and inclusion should extend to the talent pool.
Indeed, the next generation of workers must include more people from minority groups to help improve overall representation figures. On this note, organizations in the cryptography and block chain space are developing educational content to get more young people interested in technology
Hao, from OKEx, pointed out that large companies in the sector should only be interested in talent: “There are no real barriers to entering this space. The big cryptography leaders are looking to hire the best talent for their companies, be they men, women, people of color, white people, etc: “We all face the same challenges, which is awareness and education in general.”
For Hao, efforts to improve the diversity of the cryptography and block chain space must include initiatives to encourage young people to pursue careers in computer programming: “More and more courses and masters are appearing in the field of block chain and cryptography and I think that this is also important”
As Cointelegraph has reported several times, several crypto and block chain companies such as Binance and OKEx are developing learning content for the community. In early June, the crypto peer-to-peer Paxful exchange announced plans for Bitcoin online courses across Africa. CoinDCX, an Indian encryption exchange, also recently launched an educational platform based on a chain of blocks.
Diversity in the context of a global crypto community
As part of the decentralization of knowledge to cover more places in the world, there is a desire to see entrepreneurs create targeted solutions to unique problems in their respective communities. From Nigeria to Kenya and even South Africa, young people are taking advantage of production chain technology in areas such as rural electrification, agriculture, identity management and money transfer, among others.
Indeed, the young African population would be interested in the technology of cryptography and assembly lines. Google Trends data shows that Nigeria is the country in the world with the highest interest in bitcoin search, with South Africa and Ghana also in the top five.
In the United States, initiatives such as the “Black Girls Code” are also trying to bring more under-represented people into the technology pipeline. These organizations are even trying to address multiple racial and gender diversity issues by encouraging black girls to take an interest in areas such as computer programming and STEM education.
As retail chains are also becoming more global, it is perhaps important to examine the concept of diversity beyond the borders of Silicon Valley, as the Internet provides the basic layer for the propagation and dissemination of knowledge, spreading technological innovation around the world. According to Hao, the open-source nature of cryptography and blocking chain innovation stimulates global participation and fosters greater diversity and inclusion:
“I think because the space of cryptography is so new and because so much of the technology and programming languages can be learned online in open source at no cost, it’s easier for more people to get into it than the technology industry in general”
In the context of a global technological movement, terms such as “minority” tend to lose all real meaning. In a multiracial society such as that of the United States, it may be relevant to examine the level of diversity and inclusion. However, outside the United States, people of different origins and ethnicities are participating in the expanding landscape of cryptography and block chains. In many of these places, these newcomers face challenges that stem from inadequate technical education and poor Internet access. For Grey Jabesi, host of the Hardc0re Crypt0 podcast, it’s up to passionate and motivated people to excel in this field:
“It’s a new industry with endless possibilities, but you have to be curious, creative and independent because nobody will hold your hand, it’s not a 4-year degree programme. You just have to have a “Do It Yourself” attitude and anybody can do it.”