When we think of the metaverse, what comes to mind? For many, it’s the connotation of the “crypto bro”: a twentysomething male who spends most of his time talking — often condescendingly — about the blockchain economy, making sure to let you know that you’re very late to the latest crypto wave.
Thanks to its get-rich-quick promises and prospects of personal liberty, the metaverse has become the new standard-bearer of internet success — as well as the web’s most male-dominated landscapes. Reported by Yahoo Finance, only 21 percent of crypto owners are women, with ownership of Bitcoin and Ethereum even lower at 15 percent and 20 percent. Worse yet, only 5 percent of crypto companies are estimated to be led by women, making the sector more closed off to change.
As Web3 continues to evolve, crypto communities have become just one part of a much larger ecosystem that encompasses everything from virtual real estate and gaming platforms to NFT collectives. However, as far as gender representation is concerned, things haven’t gotten more promising. According to a report by The Female Quotient and EWG Unlimited, only a staggering 19 percent of people who own digital currency identify as women. Three out of four women have heard of the metaverse but only 30 percent are truly familiar with it.
While Web3 has the potential to provide opportunities to all demographics, these statistics — plus the fact that top tech and gaming companies such as Epic Games and Meta are still run by men — demonstrate just how huge the imbalance remains. Recognizing the sheer scope of gender disparity across the terrain, Jing Daily explores the rising number of women who are pushing for change and diversity in Web3.
“When I started talking about digital clothes, most people thought I was crazy,” says Daniella Loftus, founder and CEO of Web3 platform Draup. “Once they saw the clothes I wear on @thisoutfitdoesnotexist they thought it was cool and exciting but definitely not a widespread trend or a tenable business. I actually had an ex-boyfriend make a joke like ‘Oh, how much are you going to charge for that imaginary dress? An imaginary $1 million?’” While this may seem like an isolated experience, the unfortunate truth is that these types of comments aren’t uncommon.
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Since its rise from the niche, male-dominated corner of the internet to mainstream recognition, women in Web3 have had their virtual expertise and business ventures continuously invalidated, despite demonstrating more than enough capability to build successful careers in the metaverse. Starting out as a digital fashion content creator with a background in crypto and finance, Loftus has now worked alongside digital clothing houses Tribute Brand and Auroboros. More recently, she received $1.5 million in seed funding for her startup, Draup, a platform that aims to match talented creators with fashion buyers and is backed by blockchain solution group Ledger.
Earlier this year, it was estimated by CryptoTimes that there are over 400 million monthly active users in the metaverse. This trajectory toward widespread adoption means more women are staking their claim in the metaverse than ever before, ultimately leading to more opportunities and visibility. But the landscape is still notoriously male-centric.
“In a lot of conversations with women, I have found that the ‘crypto bro’ preconceptions seems to serve as an easy way to discard this perhaps scary and confusing new world of technology,” Jackie Courtney, self-confessed Web3 enthusiast and founder of Web3 incubator Qualia, says. With mindsets like these continuing to harbor, women in Web3 are still perceived by many as anomalies. After all, how are we expected to navigate an environment constructed to favor a specific brand of male success?
With little support or representation, one of the driving forces behind onboarding outnumbered demographics was being able to provide a space for social connections. BFF, a community that is designed to educate women on crypto and navigating the online space, was one of Web3’s first efforts at ushering women into the metaverse while also cultivating a safe and equitable community for those looking to explore the new landscape.
Courtney, who’s also a member of BFF, believes that groups like these are vulnerable to becoming pigeonholed within the wider landscape of Web3. When she began to occupy a space within the digital world with Qualia, Courtney explains that the response she was met with was “a sort of, ‘Oh nice, you’re a women’s project. Wonderful. Go over to the little females for females corner.’ Almost a ‘that’s cute’ sentiment, or a wanting to support because I am a woman, rather than because I am building something that could occupy a larger space, incubate and fund things to compete at a global scale.”
NFT collective World of Women is also fighting for more inclusivity in the metaverse. The hub’s first ever token drop of 10,000 PFPs sold out in 10 hours in 2021, and now the platform has partnered with The Fabricant to further leverage exposure and encourage more female-identifying individuals to explore Web3. “What World of Women and BFF have done brilliantly is create projects with high appeal to everyone in Web3 in a way that’s inclusive, diverse, inspirational and fun while consistently flying the flag for the women and non-binary communities they represent,” Michaela Larosse, Head of Content for digital fashion channel The Fabricant, highlights. “We should be careful not to drop the ball on this and think ‘oh well, we’ve got that covered’ because there are of course many people who have been consistently ignored in terms of representation in the tech space.”
Despite the growing number of women-led communities, there’s still a lot of work to be done. A recent report from TrustRadius found that 78 percent of women in tech feel they have to work harder than their co-workers to prove their worth. Yet women are bringing a number of impactful, and essential, advantages to the online world: one of the most important being diversity in perspective. “When I think about what women can bring to the Web3 landscape, it is more of the feminine energy mindshare,” says Courtney. “A different way of thinking, collaborating and expressing which can also create space and freedom for men to express more of that feminine energy.”
Loftus agrees that a more varied attitude is imperative. “These perspectives reflect the fact that close to 50 percent of the world are not male and have different interests and lived experiences,” she explains, spotlighting the potential to open up new areas of creativity, innovation and change.
This culmination of support systems is a starting point, but a more holistic approach is needed to achieve a fully-fledged metaverse that is equitable for all — something that isn’t possible until more representation and areas of access are established. “Projects that enable anyone outside tech’s usual demographic shouldn’t be seen as a niche concern,” says Larosse. “Everyone belongs in Web3 and we can iterate in a way that recognizes that fact right now, so let’s be intentional and actively build a future that doesn’t lapse into the habits of the past.”
But the numbers show that a lot of women are still hesitant to explore. In August, crypto news channel CoinGeek conducted a study on the unique challenges that female trailblazers face in Web3; 33 percent of respondents pinned the virtual gender imbalance down to “bro” culture being the biggest impediment to women, with a lack of proper educational resources also posing a major challenge.
Additionally, risk assessment plays a major part in the adoption of Web3. “To most consumers who are not crypto-natives or Web3 enthusiasts, the value of intangible Web3 assets remains abstract and impalpable,” Jessie Fu, founder of Altr_ — a digital fashion platform which was recently selected to participate in Farfetch’s Web3 accelerator program, Outlier Ventures — explains. “Women are usually more risk-averse than men for lots of other external social elements like the gender pay gap, social expectations, etc., rather than biological differences to men on risk investment.”
However, like Altr_, women are utilizing the avenue of digital fashion to help encourage more female onboarding through shared interests that also resonate in the real world. But even in sectors that are often perceived as positioned more towards women, such as fashion, gender disparity remains. When faced with the news that Gucci had appointed a male Head of Metaverse to oversee all of the house’s Web3 efforts, metaverse expert Kelly Vero responded via LinkedIn, “Yay! Another guy in charge of the future of fashion. This is totally not news anymore. I cannot wait to see a woman in a prominent position like this in a fashion/Web3 company.” While luxury giant LVMH welcomed Nelly Mensah into the new role of Head of Metaverse and Crypto earlier this year, the majority of business titans are still appointing males to head up digital roadmaps — in turn, setting the precedent for what the future of Web3’s top moguls will look like.
This lack of exposure and managerial opportunities can be accounted for by the deeply rooted sexism that continues to permeate companies, both online and offline. And the challenges extend further than just within Western culture. Since the Chinaverse’s ascent to prominence, the majority of leaders within the space are, unsurprisingly, men. Something which the country’s female digital enthusiasts have begun to acknowledge. Web3 Women Union, a group for women across the country that was established earlier this year, regularly hosts discussion forums to explore why female presence in the Chinaverse is so sparse. From concerns regarding investments to being tied to traditional roles and expectations such as motherhood, the community brings light to the ongoing challenges that women in the world of Web3 face every day.
So what can current, and future, users of the metaverse do to improve these pain points? Optics like virtue signaling or placing one woman as the figurehead for a company isn’t enough to achieve a well-rounded Web3 landscape. “The adage ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’ was coined in reference to the lack of women in the tech industry, which is still an issue that’s a work in progress,” Lacrosse tells Jing Daily. “I feel heartened when I see women that have visibility at the forefront of our world as the space is so nascent, so we can seize this incredible opportunity to create the Web3 we want to see.”
While change is on the horizon thanks to female-founded leading players such as Lablaco (co-founded by Eliana Kuo, a large tech player in the metaverse using its voice to push for ecological change) and DressX (one of the leading digital fashion wardrobes working with the likes of Gap, Dundas and Meta), there is a resounding amount of work that needs to be done. The early days of the metaverse may have been a man’s world, but the future of Web3 is for all.