At This Irish Blockchain Meet-Up, Women Take Center Stage

One of the biggest issues in a predominantly male space is the silencing of women within it. To avoid this problem in the male-dominated blockchain universe, six women in Dublin, Ireland have formed an initiative called Blockchain Women Ireland where women (and a few men) can discuss the technology openly and without the fear of asking questions.

Blockchain Women Ireland had their inaugural meeting, called Block W, Tuesday evening in Dublin in a sunlit WeWork space overlooking Harcourt Street. Most of the attendees had very little blockchain knowledge. They came from all sorts of industries and asked questions about scalability and where to find the best beginner blockchain class. The prevailing sentiment of the evening, as one of the group’s founding members Niamh O’Connell described, was that blockchain is important and will help ambitious people further their careers.

Ireland as a whole has gotten deeper into blockchain in the past year or so. O’Connell described “a dozen” different startups specifically working on the technology throughout the country, from ConsenSys in Dublin to smaller companies popping up in Cork and Galway. “A few of the Dublin law firms a couple months ago organized their own sort of legal [blockchain] hackathon,” O’Connell said, “so they recognize the role [the technology] is going to play, and a lot of banks are looking at it.”

O’Connell has been working in blockchain for the past two and a half years, and at Dublin’s ConsenSys branch for the past six months. She spoke to BREAKER about the Block W’s inaugural gathering and its goals.

Who makes up the Blockchain Women Ireland group?

We are a group of six, myself and Emma Walker form Wachsman, Mai Santamaria from the Department of Finance, Paula Kelleher from BNY Mellon, Laura Clifford from the ADAPT Center, which is Trinity’s innovation arm, and then Joyce O’Connor who is the founding president of the National College of Ireland and was part of the National Institute of European Affairs, as well. We’re all from very different industries and have very different backgrounds, but I think that’s what makes it so interesting. That’s something we want to draw on going forward for the initiative, because it’s all about helping people understand what [blockchain] means from different industry and career perspectives.

The founding members of Blockchain Women Ireland, with Niamh O'Connell speaking during the inaugural Block W meet-up (photo by Terry Smyth)

TheChain: Image

How did you create this group?

I was introduced to Emma Walker through work a couple months ago, and I was sharing with her the vision I had for setting up a group like this. To give you a bit of context as to why I wanted to set something up like this with other women, I suppose it was due to personal experiences. I’ve seen the two sides of the [blockchain industry] coin. On one side, having worked in this space for two and a half years, I’ve seen the gender imbalances that exist. For example, I’ve been the only female on a team. On the flipside, I’ve also seen the excitement and potential that blockchain can bring, and I really do believe that the tech will disrupt and positively impact our day-to-day interactions and professions. So I thought it was up to myself and others to communicate about this. I shared my viewpoints with Emma, and she was 100 percent in alignment.

But from her side, she was experiencing the opposite gender imbalance. A lot of people that she would have been working with from a PR perspective would have been females. We do recognize and want to encourage both sexes. The reason why we want to focus on encouraging women is due to the fact that there are so few women in the space, less than five percent globally working in blockchain or cryptocurrency.

In Ireland specifically, does the gender imbalance align with the global imbalance you mentioned?

Yes. Things are definitely improving. At ConesenSys now we have six women [a seventh is starting next week] on a team of 30, which is great. I think this is changing because people are really starting to become more aware of the technology in Ireland. There are a lot more companies—both startups and traditional companies—looking into and developing in this space. If you could compare this year to two years ago, you wouldn’t even have [meet-ups like BlockW] happening.

What are your group’s goals?

We focus on three key pillars. The first point is awareness, so educating women and men about the technology, how it can impact their day-to-day life, but also their professions. The second point is normalizing it, from a career perspective, how to embrace the technology. And the third point is about community. We really want to ensure that it is informal but informative and fun at the same time, because [we] have spoken to a lot of women who’ve attended other meet-ups. A lot of them were saying they didn’t feel comfortable necessarily asking questions or even speaking or sharing their viewpoints in certain settings. So one thing we really wanted to focus on this year was meet-ups encouraging women’s participation, because meet-ups are a great way to create awareness.

How many people ended up showing up to Block W?

We had around 70, of which there were 60 women. That’s really good based on the meet-ups I’ve been to in the space, which have been up to 100, 120 people at a time with six to eight women.

Were some of the attendees from non-blockchain related fields?

Yes. I’d say of the group, maybe 75 percent had minimal knowledge about blockchain. They were very much new to the space.

Did anyone say anything particularly about it being a women’s group?

So although we’re encouraging women into the group, we are encouraging both sexes. No one actually did bring that up, but we are conscious of it.

In terms of the way we run these, we try to keep them as informal as possible so to ensure people feel comfortable asking questions. We use an app [where people submit questions] and we bring questions up anonymously on the screen so we don’t put people on the spot. We also open up questions to the audience directly. What was interesting is we were getting a lot of really interesting questions coming through via the app rather than going through the audience directly.

What questions stuck out to you?

That’s a hard question. There was a question about what real-life applications people could play around with to understand the technology, because people are really eager to get their hands dirty with the technology. People were also wondering about the regulatory viewpoints on it—will blockchain actually stick around given that there aren’t regulations around it?

Beyond groups like Block W, how do you think more women can get involved in this space and feel comfortable participating in it?

First of all, definitely by connecting with as many people as possible. One thing that we want to do is have a mentorship-type program. A lot of people were coming up and asking if we could have further conversations about this over coffee. Finding people who are working in this space at these events and building these relationships is important, because that’s what this community is really for. I think by having different women who are working directly with the technology share their stories of how they got into this space at every meet-up will be interesting and will make women realize that you can really enter this from any type of background. It’s just about having that interest and wanting to try something new.

This interview has been edited and condensed.