On an unusually warm February night in San Francisco, 500 women — and a handful of men — crowded into a giant pavilion at a sold-out event to learn more about the volatile world of cryptocurrency.
The attendees — mostly female tech professionals in their 20s and 30s — sipped on locally roasted coffee or rosé as they waited for the panel to start. At check-in, guests received burlap sacks with party favors like notepads in the shape of $100 bills and chocolate-covered gold coins. A giant picture of “Jenny from the blockchain” faced the crowd — a cartoon J.Lo circa 2002 reincarnated with bitcoins in her hand instead of diamonds on her wrists.
The gathering, hosted earlier this month by Brit Morin, founder of lifestyle brand Brit + Co, was one of the increasing number of cryptocurrency education and networking events popping up for women, who make up less than 30 percent of investors in the leading currency, bitcoin.
Morin’s event was a marked effort at making cryptocurrency approachable to women who might otherwise hesitate to join the crypto craze. People looking to learn more about digital currencies have plenty of resources — from Reddit forums to Meetups — but many have complained of a misogynistic culture in certain digital currency social circles. The organizers of the North American Bitcoin Conference, for example, took heat last month for hosting their official after party at a Miami strip club, and initially refused to back down on their decision.
There’s a fear among leaders in the space that this kind of “bro culture” could shut women out of a potentially important financial tool of the future. Morin — who’s one of only 16 percent of venture-backed tech founders who are female — said she organized the event because she was “pissed off” to see that many women were missing out on a new kind of investment.
“It’s a cycle that continues just like the VC world, where a lot of women aren’t participating because they’re not socializing,” said Morin, who invested in a few different kinds of currencies a few years back but doesn’t actively trade. “The culture of men I see in Silicon Valley investing in crypto — they’re in Telegram groups, WhatsApp groups, tweeting about it, texting about it, and therefore there are similar-minded people to help you get involved.”
At Morin’s event, the eight speakers — six of whom were women — broke down complex topics like the science of cryptography, but also shared more light-hearted tribal knowledge, like how the crypto meme “HODL” started.
When one interviewer asked if she could pay her hairdresser in bitcoin, an attendee in the back — clearly already a crypto enthusiast — turned to her friends and laughed mockingly. But most women listened in earnest, many taking notes. The majority of women here were trying to learn as much as they could.
“There’s still a lot of question marks and unknowns,” said attendee Ashley Wellington-Fahey, CEO and founder of digital sports and TV network The Relish. Wellington-Fahey, who prior to the event had never invested in cryptocurrency, said she’s now more seriously considering it.
“There’s this kind of unspoken expectation for women that you need to be taught something or need to be an expert before you can do anything,” said Arianna Simpson, founder of the crypto investment fund Autonomous Partners and a panelist at the event. “Whereas men are like ‘Oh yeah it’s fine, I just invested my life savings in KuCoin and I’m going to be a billionaire tomorrow,’” she said.
“If you’re unfamiliar with the technology and don’t understand what it is, you have less of a chance to invest in it,” said Alissa Senet, a young engineer who recently graduated from Columbia University’s master’s in management science and engineering program, at a recent event about art and blockchain in New York. Senet said she’s been to a couple blockchain and crypto events, but she’s still hesitant to invest before she learns more.
Senet, like many other women, participates in more traditional types of investments. In contrast to the brave new world of crypto, studies show that women are actually more likely to invest in workplace savings plans. According to one study, women were 14 percent more likely than men to participate, and did so at a 20 percent higher rate of savings than their male peers.
Cryptocurrency is a notoriously volatile investment. On the day of the event, the price of bitcoin dropped to a low of around $7,000 per coin, less than half of what it was at its peak value of $19,000 just two months earlier. Digital currencies have also yet to hit the scale of other markets — compare the market value of $479 billion across all cryptocurrencies to the NYSE’s over $20 trillion. All this raises the question about why women should bet on crypto at all.
“I don’t even care about cryptocurrency’s potential to make a lot of money, it’s about women to have an equal part in caring about the financial system,” said Morin. “I would tell the women who think it’s too risky — even if it’s too risky for you, even learning the terminology and educating yourself seems productive.”
Some of the other panelists — like investor and Singularity University instructor Nathana Sharma — talked about the potential of blockchain technology beyond crypto, such as verifying that unethical labor isn’t being used in supply chains.
Still, the more passionate crypto advocates onstage believed the financial incentive is reason enough to get involved in cryptocurrency investment.
“I think it’s going to be the biggest wealth redistribution event of our lifetimes,” said Simpson in a call after the event. “And for women not to participate in writing the next version of our financial system is a huge missed opportunity.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.