A recent report by ArtTactic revealed something startling about web3: for an industry that casts itself as an egalitarian panacea we still have a long way to go.
More than three quarters of NFT sales went to male artists, between January 2020 and September 2021, while only 5% went to female artists (the report also makes the point of saying that 16% of sales went to individuals of “unknown genders”). What’s even more galling is that 55% of all of the capital generated by NFT artists went to 16 creators – a result that shows just how exclusive this new world truly is.
CNBC and Acorn’s Invest in You: Next Gen Investor Survey is equally disheartening: Women are falling far behind men when it comes to investing in crypto, with a gender gap that exceeds the ownership of other securities. That includes exchange-traded funds (14% men; 7% women), individual stocks (40% men; 24% women), mutual funds (30% men; 20% women), real estate (36% men; 30% women), and bonds (14% men; 11% women). You get the point.
Web3 is an embryonic industry – there’s no question about that, and there’s no denying that there’s still so much room to build. However, web3 is mirroring the alarmingly similar inequities we endure in our current social and financial systems – one where those who have adequate access to capital, exclusive information, the right personal connections, and a high tolerance for risk come out on top.
A report conducted by Gemini confirms this. It reveals that the average age of a crypto investor is 38, and the average income of these individuals exceeds $100,000 – demographics that are quite similar to your typical investment banker. However, the report does show something promising: 53% of women – as opposed to 47% of men – are categorized as “crypto-curious,” meaning a slightly larger percentage of women see the value and opportunity tied to these new assets.
And that’s for good reason: falling into web3 feels like falling into another dimension. Just spend a few minutes on Crypto Twitter – the unofficial home of this burgeoning revolution – and you’ll see a sea of NFTs in the place of headshots for profile pictures, anonymous figures lauded for both their digital art and hot takes, pro-crypto battle cries so zealous that you feel like you’re in the presence of a religious conversion, and ideological arguments in the favor of different blockchains that feel like the kind of philosophical discourse you’d only ever imagine occurring between Plato and Socrates.
It’s a world that’s both magnetic and bright – impossibly alluring with its promise of digital windfalls that are ripe for the taking. And in many ways, it is: Solana’s token skyrocketed 10,000% in the last year. ENS Domains recently awarded their earliest users with five-figure airdrops – no-strings-attached money that appeared, quite literally, out of thin air. Others who were lucky enough to buy a Bored Ape for a few hundred dollars in the spring of 2021 were able to flip their jpeg for six or seven figures just a few months later.
But the question remains: how can we ensure newcomers will be able to mint their own success stories if our web3 world continues to look like TradFi?
Crypto evangelists talk of open infrastructure and equal opportunity, transparent technology and effortless ownership. That’s because web3 is starkly different from its predecessor, web2: an iteration of the internet owned by tech behemoths that profit off of user-generated content and ads that are perniciously designed to steal your time and attention.
Here, in web3, you’re more than just a user. You’re an owner – someone who can personally buy into the protocols you’re using on a daily basis and then watch your own stake in the profits grow right alongside the founders and builders who brought them to life. For many, this very notion of collective ownership would change the balance of power from a select few to an inclusive all.
However, in spite of all of these opportunities being created in the space today, the current reality shows we still have work to do when it comes to leveling the playing field in our financial landscape. For web3 to live up to its expectations, the industry needs to invest in more than just developer tools built for developers, protocols designed by and for crypto natives. Right now, web3 offers builders a once-in-a-generation opportunity to solve some of the most insidious disparities in our financial landscape, and industry pioneers must take responsibility for architecting new systems that will truly upend the inequities we face every single day.
Education and outreach should be top priorities for projects through the rest of 2022 and beyond. UX that appeals to individuals from every gender identity as well as people from every level of technical ability is also key. For web3 to live up to its potential, it’s paramount for diverse voices to be involved in the creation of the dapps and protocols that will form the foundation for the future of this new industry – a future that could lead to a historic display of prosperity and elevation for our society as a whole.
Should web3 fail to create an experience designed by and built for all, it will have fallen short on its promise of forging a democratizing force grounded in opportunity, creativity, and innovation. For our culture to evolve into something truly beautiful, it’s up to web3 builders to create the kind of protocols and communities that deliver.
Izzy Howell, a core contributor at Cypher, is an artist and entrepreneur whose work has been featured in Fast Company, Harper’s Bazaar, and Teen Vogue.