The Myth Of No Women In Blockchain: Embarrassing Miami Conference Resists Tech Inclusion

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz

A recent bitcoin event that typically draws in experts from around the world also got attention for all the wrong reasons from those in attendance as well as others in the tech industry.

Last month in Miami, the London-based World Blockchain Forum Investments & ICOs held the North American Bitcoin Conference. The NABC is not the largest bitcoin event, but it is one that has grown over time, and people take note in the industry.

The three-day Miami conference promised more than 80 expert speakers for attendees to meet and learn from. When reviewing the agenda and the panelists selected, it was apparent the event was created for young white males. The North American Bitcoin Conference failed to diversify its offerings, didn’t include enough female panelists, lacked racial diversity, and held an after-party at a strip club.

The bitcoin conference had three female speakers and a handful of non-white men out of 80 speakers. Conference organizer Moe Levin, CEO of Keynote Events, received negative feedback before the event. Keynote an investor in tech startups.

People took to online forums expressing their concern not only for the lack of diversity in panelists but also for a strip club networking event at a Miami strip club. The after-party was advertised as, “DASH NETWORKING PARTY. It’s been a long day! Join us at e11even for some networking and R&R. Or dancing. Must be 21+“

Ryan Taylor is the CEO of Dashpay, a blockchain-based network that uses the Dash digital currency. Dash sponsored the Miami networking event.

Taylor tweeted a statement claiming he had no idea the event venue was a strip club. That goes against his company’s principles of inclusion, he said. Dashpay features images of women on its site and marketing materials. Still people have to question how the company was too clueless to ensure that the event they helped sponsor was appropriate and could demonstrate diversity.

Even after hearing the concerns regarding diversity and hosting an official after-party event at an adult entertainment venue, Levin did not appear to want to back down. He said it was “the ideal layout for networking,” according to Bloomberg. “The nude performances were halted until 11 p.m., and if it later became a place where people felt uncomfortable, that wasn’t the conference’s fault,” Levin said in a phone interview.

Women in blockchain

Hadjar Homaei was one of the female conference attendees. Levin was correct, she said in a tweet: there were no strippers before 11 p.m., “but all the servers were in lingerie, even that was enough to set the tone in how my male peers behaved towards me there. Will a conference attendee who tells me to go on the stage or offers a lap dance for 1ETH take me seriously the next day?”

Amy Wan, CEO of Sagewise, spoke to Moguldom about the lack of diversity among the panelists.

“The thing I am more concerned about is the fact that the conference organizers tried to quell dissatisfaction by releasing their statement, but actions speak louder than words,” Wan said. “They vowed to remove exotic dancers at the official networking afterparty, but I received personal accounts (and photos) from women who went to the afterparty –and promptly left due to the environment.”

Emily Chang’s new book, “Brotopia: Breaking Up The Boys Club Of Silicon Valley” has drawn attention to the industry’s heightened sexual, drug and alcohol-fueled parties. Still, Levin made no changes in the event, and the lack of diversity was evident.

The night before the conference was set to begin, Levin admitted he missed the mark. “We can, and we will, do better,” he said in a statement. He mentioned including “events with safe environments for all who attend, regardless of gender, race, or affiliations of any kind.”

Subsequent statements demonstrate he may be missing the point of the feedback. “The lack of female speakers in our programme wasn’t by design, but the imbalance certainly is an oversight,” Levin said.

Critics see Levin as tone deaf for failing to understand the real vision of an inclusive event with a diverse group of experts and attendees.

Shannon Foster, an African-American female freelance software engineer, is no stranger to the bitcoin industry. Foster is a startup co-founder, MIT Media Lab scholar, global hackathon winner, Stanford’s Crowd Research Initiative Contributor, and a speaker and blogger. Her first startup was launched after winning the Distributed Trade Blockchain hackathon in St. Louis, MO.

Foster spoke to Moguldom about the embarrassing Miami bitcoin event.

“This was an event created by white men, for white men,” Foster said. “It is unsurprising the lack of diversity in attendees and speakers. The organizer fulfilled every stereotypical view on this industry and wrapped it into one terrible event. It is a step up from last year’s naked painted women or 2016’s half-naked booth babes. And nothing against the women who are hired to do their jobs. It is just sad the methods the organizer takes to attract supporters, aka men.”

So was this conference a microcosm of the lack of diversity in the bitcoin/blockchain industries?

“Yes and no,” Foster said in a Moguldom interview. “It showcases a dying breed of bombastic early investors, Bitcoin trolls, brogrammers, and the growing multitude of dudes pretending to be blockchain experts:

“The industry has become so much more than what the embarrassing Bitcoin Miami event made it out to be,” Foster added. “This industry has made more progress in the last year than any other. Women and people of color are becoming investors, crypto rich, disruptors, leaders, and even louder voices in this space. From Women in Blockchain organizations to Black Blockchain Correlations to Nigerian Bitcoin Meetup groups, women and people of color are helping shape the technology. In an industry known for its anonymity in trades and forums, we are the majority and will progress this industry further than a bunch of bros getting lap dances at a tacky conference.”

Females have been experts in bitcoin and blockchain for more than 10 years. These include Gloryvee Cordero and Joyonna Gamble-George, co-founders of SciX, a conference for students to present their work, meet scientists and network with pros in academics, industry, and government

SciX co-founders Cordero and Gamble-George are working on the release of their initial coin offering (ICO), SciCoins.com, as part of SciX ventures and funding series.

The bitcoin conference needs to change the way it’s doing business. The negative feedback organizers got from the embarrassing Miami bitcoin conference can be an opportunity to improve the industry, Cordero said in a Moguldom interview:

“Perhaps it was of lack marketing to all crowds of people, or perhaps it was just marketed to those who began the journey at earlier stages of the bitcoins/blockchain movement, and we know those were smaller groups of white male technologists or fintech groups. The marketing may not have been expanded into other communities. Nevertheless, this is a great opportunity to expand and increase the value of the event by reaching a larger group of diverse minds.”

The whole purpose of blockchains is to provide transparency, security, and increase our ability to find solutions within multiple sectors, Gamble-George told Moguldom:

“In a movement (blockchain expansion) such as this, you want to use all knowledge and power of thought to increase the support and provide more channels to discover solutions that will help all of society … This can only begin with our ability to work together and influence each other with what we can provide as part of what we are creating.”

While the organizers of the Miami conference may take a while to understand the meaning of diversity and inclusion, the industry can now have the conversation and attempt to learn from the public mistakes of the North American Bitcoin Conference.

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About Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Ebony T. Grimsley-Vaz is an author and digital marketing and PR expert for consumer brands, retailers, causes and events. Based in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, she owns Above Promotions, a digital marketing, publicity and promotions company. She wrote the book, "Because You're Small: Effective Marketing Strategies for Immediate Implementation."

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