Big technology companies have routinely failed to hire women for new projects, or promote them to management and board positions. But with blockchain, women have led the way on some of the most important projects, both at tech companies and start-ups.
None of this was a given. Blockchain first came into prominence because it’s the software behind bitcoin, whose early proponents were overwhelmingly male. In January, a party at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami was held in a strip club and featured scantily clad women. Less than 5% of the speakers at the conference were women.
With blockchain, women have been leaders on several important projects, and companies developing business blockchain products have promoted women.
“Diversity is a challenge across all tech subcultures,” said Amber Baldet, who ran JPMorgan Chase’s blockchain programs before leaving to start her own company. “People have tried to call out crypto as being better or worse. What’s different about it is that from a pretty nascent stage there’s been a very open discussion across the community about how to foster inclusion, of all sorts of populations. Because we’re having that conversation earlier, we’re seeing results earlier. Hopefully, we’ll do better this time around.”
At IBM, women run the show, from the general manager of blockchain Marie Wieck to her boss Bridget van Kralingen, to CEO Ginni Rometty. “We have the blockchain sisters at IBM,” says spokeswoman Holli Haswell.
Here are four women who are leaders in blockchain:
Blythe Masters, CEO, Digital Asset Holdings
Masters rose to managing director at JPMorgan Chase at age 28. She built the bank’s commodities business into the largest on Wall Street and is credited with helping create derivative products like the credit default swap. When Masters left in 2014, she did not have concrete plans of what she would do next. Blockchain stood out as a huge opportunity once she realized it could be “incredibly constructive, not just disruptive,” to financial services. “Coming from almost 30 years in that space, I knew in considerable detail the nature of the waste, the inefficiency, the delays.” Digital Asset has raised more than $110 million from investors including Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan. It is partnering with Alphabet (ticker: GOOGL) to offer blockchain tools to developers and won a contract to remake the Australian Securities Exchange’s equities clearing and settlement system. Masters also heads the governing board of Hyperledger, a nonprofit that has brought together developers building some of the most widely used blockchain platforms for business.
Marie Wieck , general manager for blockchain, IBM
For a company that has recently found itself behind the times in technology, IBM is betting big on blockchain. Wieck, who has been at the company for more than 25 years, is guiding the company’s efforts to partner with the biggest names in business, from Walmart to shipping giant Maersk.
Wieck, who went to an all-girls school and says she was encouraged as a child to pursue math and science, is worried about the paltry number of women now going into tech professions—fewer even than when she was growing up 25 years ago. Among her solutions is “to create a community of champions of both women and men who proudly support women in STEM.”
Amber Baldet , co-founder, Clovyr
Baldet has always worked in the financial industry, but is just as comfortable in the world of computer programmers. As the leader of blockchain products at JPMorgan, she guided development of the company’s Quorum software, a contender in the race to speed up finance’s antiquated databases and slow settlement times. The product is built on Ethereum, a public blockchain better known for its cryptocurrency network, but Quorum is removed from the crypto world and allows banks to shield sensitive information.
Baldet left and started her own company called Clovyr earlier this year to develop software that helps start-ups and more-established businesses more effectively use blockchain technology. She’s uniquely positioned to bridge the gaps that now exist. “I’ve had the opportunity to talk to people who see things very differently,” she says. “Being able to transition back and forth, I can help people understand each other and build stronger products together.”
Linda Pawczuk , U.S. blockchain leader,
Pawczuk has quickly climbed the ladder at Deloitte, where she was recently appointed to lead the company’s blockchain practice in the U.S., just a few months after being elevated to lead the finance blockchain group. Before that, she led the company’s blockchain efforts in insurance for three years.
In the early years, blockchain was too obsessed with “the engine-room stuff,” she said. To make blockchain work, businesses have to do something that doesn’t always come naturally: “They need to work cooperatively with their competition.” Lately, she sees that happening more and more. “That’s a good signal.”
Write to Avi Salzman at [email protected]