Hyperledger Global Forum 2020 took place March 3-6 in Phoenix, Arizona, bringing together hundreds of attendees from the Hyperledger community. While enterprise blockchains, open-source projects, and other subject matters were discussed, diversity and inclusion served as the underlying theme of the conference.

Fortune 500 consulting firm, Accenture, sponsored a diversity happy hour on the opening night of Hyperledger Forum. This event served to raise awareness for inclusion in the blockchain space. Accenture’s global marketing director for blockchain and multi-party systems, Alissa Worley, told Cointelegraph that a desire for diversity and inclusion were aligned with Hyperledger early on. Rather than talking about the problem, however, there needed to be a formalized event to encourage change within the industry. She said:

“Although we are talking about diversity and inclusion as an idea, we constructed an event designed to enable people to take action. We conducted an interactive pop quiz for attendees with questions focused on women, minorities, and people with disabilities in tech. The format was designed to let attendees learn and challenge themselves without feeling lectured or spoken to. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that we are not just focused on women, but on all demographics, to bring the best and brightest into the mix.”

Welcome sign at the diversity happy hour sponsored by Accenture at Hyperledger Global Forum; Photo Credit: Linux Foundation

The importance of diversity and inclusion at blockchain conferences

According to a recent report entitled, “State of Diversity and Inclusion in Blockchain,” many disparities exist within the blockchain sector. Findings from the report show female participation in the cryptocurrency community is particularly low. 

For example, out of 378 venture-backed crypto and blockchain companies founded around the world between 2012 and 2018, only one had an all-female founding team. Similarly, only 31 (8.2%) had a combination of male and female co-founders. During the same time period, only 17.7% of all technology companies had at least one female founder. This small percentage still more than doubles the percentage of companies with female founders in the blockchain space.  

The report also highlights that conferences are important channels for communicating and sharing information in the growing blockchain space. Yet findings show that diversity among keynote speakers and attendees at blockchain events is lacking. 

Executive director of Hyperledger, Brian Behlendorf, told Cointelegraph that one of the goals for Hyperledger Forum 2020 was to have at least one or more female speakers on each panel. He further explained that opening the conference with an event focused on diversity and inclusion helped send out an important message. 

“We have been supportive of increasing diversity in the blockchain space for quite a while. Raising the topic is a bit challenging, but what we want to do is help people be aware of this, even in subconscious ways. The opening night event sponsored by Accenture was effective in helping everyone in that room –  the men and the women – examine their own biases in things we are doing in our community, in the way we write code, and in the way we engage with others.”

Blockchain in Action panel at Hyperledger Global Forum. Moderated by Michael del Castillo; Forbes with Michael Concannon; American Express, Lisa Butters; GoDirect Trade Honeywell, and Archana Sristy; Walmart; Photo Credit: Linux Foundation

David Treat, who leads Accenture’s blockchain and multi-party business globally, also pointed out that not only is inclusion important from a social humanity perspective, it is also beneficial for business. He told Cointelegraph:

“If you think about being a part of an innovative space, you won’t get far with new ideas if you only have a homogenous group of people. It is essential to businesses to draw in diverse ideas to be innovative and respond to an ever changing world.”

Moreover, the “State of Diversity and Inclusion in Blockchain,” report shows that companies with diversity are more likely to be successful. The paper points out that for 366 public companies across Canada, Latin America, United Kingdom, and the United States, companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians (according to 2015 data sets). 

The World Economic Forum’s head of blockchain and data policy, Sheila Warren, gave a keynote on blockchain’s impact during the second day of the event. Regarding diversity, Warren told Cointelegraph: 

“It was refreshing to see how much attention had been paid to creating an inclusive event, from the childcare offered, to the accessibility accommodations, to the stickers indicating communication preference. At the main evening event, the code of conduct was prominently displayed at the entrance. These seemingly simple things don’t happen without a thoughtful event design, and the commitment to inclusion really showed.”