Strategies from the “Joan of Arc of Blockchain”
“If you are not growing into the person you want to be, hedge in advance and secure your position elsewhere by doing great work, more importantly, by doing deep work others will be unable to replicate.” Toni Lane Casserly
The McKinsey Global Institute reported that advancing women’s equality could contribute $12 trillion at full potential; that is greater than the economic growth of China and India combined.1 Moreover, Karen Mason, who was the Director of Gender and Development at the World Bank, showed that gender equality in capacity and access to resources will accelerate economic growth and propel women out of poverty.2 Despite obvious statistics, women are still highly underrepresented in positions of leadership. For instance, women make up 80% of health care workers but only 40% are executives.3 Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women board-directors attained significantly higher financial performance.4 There is a significant rise in the number of female board nominees over the recent years in the U.S, which, indicates a shift towards greater gender parity. However, women still make up less than 20 percent of U.S. boards on average.5 How can we get more women in positions of leadership in companies? I was delighted to speak with Toni Lane Casserly for her ideas.
In conversation with Toni Lane Casserly on women and the challenges they face to access positions of leadership in companies.
Maisha: You are an incredibly successful woman who is a leading expert in the blockchain industry, gaining the title of Joan of Arc of Blockchain. Please share with our readers, what Digital Currency, Bitcoin and Blockchain is?
Toni: Digital Currencies are a new form of value exchange. They are embedded with the potential to flip capitalism into protocolism. I will expound on this point in a moment. Bitcoin is the first prominent digital currency and has several highly interesting properties: (i) the use of computing power to create money from information processing, (ii) the inherent scarcity where only 21 million bitcoin will ever be able to exist (iii) ease of replication since anyone can create their own blockchain and their own blockchain based token; and lastly (iv) the ability to send money frictionlessly, peer-to-peer, sans cost or time or interference of middlemen.
If bitcoin is “the internet of money”, blockchain is “the internet of value”. The entire material world (land titles, car titles, marriage contracts, birth certificates, all ownership of the self and its objects) can be quantified and dematerialized to be exchanged instantly across the planet with blockchain technology. Previously, we have lived in a world where even the most progressive businesses like Facebook have captured value by accumulating data from individuals. For instance, Facebook provides a service to individuals for free and sells the data of their users to other enterprise clients. This strips an individual of one’s agency and places it in the control of a corporate state/s (legally declared to be an individual/s). With blockchain technology, the user has full control over their own data as long as they control their private key. What the internet did for information, the blockchain will do for money and all forms of value. In this industry, I currently lead an endeavor with Susanne Templehof to create BitNation, the virtual blockchain nation.
Maisha: You are in a position of leadership that many women aspire to be in. In your journey, what are some of the challenges you had to overcome to be the leader in your industry?
Toni: Where do I start? Nothing worth taking on comes without challenge. I dropped out of college to become an entrepreneur. My parents nearly disowned me for this decision. I am from an extremely conservative, yet extremely socially liberal family. They told me I would never get a job, that I was a failure and a disappointment and they stopped supporting me. I took all my savings and drove out to San Francisco without a place to live. I did not care. If this is what I needed to go through to become the woman I wanted, so be it. .
When I started my first company several months after being hired to work with my friend, I realized just how closed minded people could be. I was publicly told I could not be a CEO because I was a woman. I also had to overcome the obstacles of work politics. A former disgruntled employee, who I fought to keep on payroll at our company because of his financial struggles wrote a fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) piece about a prominent lawyer in our space. I had to let him go so that he would not be sued which, would ruin his entire career, and finances. However, he collaborated with my allies to publish further FUD pieces about me. The publication who agreed to work with him felt threatened by my power as the leading media group in the industry. These were people who called themselves my friends. My competitors also sent death threats to my house, attempted to socially isolate me and ruin prospective opportunities, and interfered in my personal life to ruin my private engagement with my former fiancé. Jealousy paired with immaturity is horrific. I would rather not recount these events, but you can read the entire story as the closing letter in Lu Li’s Book “Dear Female Founder”.
Maisha: Many women share that they had to break many gender stereotypes in order to progress in their careers. Do you have any similar experiences?
Toni: I started my first foray into entrepreneurship by breaking gender stereotypes I didn’t even know existed. After exiting a bitcoin conference, I ended up at a comedy club with a group of guys. When approaching a few of them for a conversation, I noticed one man in the group seemed particularly shocked with me. He pulled me aside later on and mentioned, that I had broken every stereotype he had about women. Upon clarifying, he explained that when he saw me approaching, he believed I would be a recruiter who would tempt him to work on a project, which, he would reluctantly agree to just because he found me attractive. He wrote me off before I had even made it into the group. My presentation and confidence then impressed him quickly and he brought me on to be the second hire at his company.
We can also talk about the number of men who told me “you are too attractive to have a job”, the business partners who took money from me would often say “you are beautiful enough to marry a rich man” and the mentors who told me “no one will value you after the age of thirty”. We can talk about the perverse incentives built into the fact that my body in America is apparently a sex object, merely because I am a woman. We can talk about the number of investors who tried to get me to exchange sex just for the idea of an investment. However, I would advise women that the people who try to hold you back or hold you down flat out do not matter. Do not give them a shred of your thoughts, for your mind deserves dignity. Honour it.
Maisha: You are a strong advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. You also believe strongly that women should have the opportunity to be leaders on company boards. However, women’s participation on company advisory boards and senior management is still far from promising. What do you think are the barriers that prevent women from accessing this space?
Toni: I’m going to give a counter-intuitive answer to this question. We hear many conversations about men holding women back, and women holding women back, and while these assumptions may hold truth in different regards, I firmly believe the only thing stopping you becoming your desired self is you. You are in control of your life. Do not give power to people who try to hold you back or down. They do not deserve your energy so why waste it? Yes, women were only granted the right to vote within the last century. Yes, women’s rights are still a huge issue even in developed countries (free markets do not always mean free people). Yes, it is challenging. Yes, you are up to the challenge, GO FOR IT. Make a name for yourself by behaving with integrity and learn how to cultivate financial freedom for yourself in perhaps unconventional manners.
If you are living in a country where it is not legal for a man to kill you or throw acid on your face for owning money or property, or for driving a car, you are lucky and more free than most. Understand your privilege. Stop focusing on your setbacks. Unless you’d like to make the meaning of your life about counteracting those setbacks, in which case, channel the very energy of your being toward this end and achieve your goals peacefully.
Maisha: What solutions do you propose to overcome this and who should be involved in breaking these barriers?
Toni: If you are not pleased with the way in which reality is shaping itself around you, evolve yourself and/or your surroundings without violence or without losing your core values. Adaptability rooted in principle and integrity will not fail you. Who should be involved in breaking these barriers? Everyone. Any person who has ever stated they have achieved a goal alone is delusional or deeply traumatized from the absence of recognition. There is power in changing perceptions by freeing yourself from the conformity of what people believe you will be, or what you yourself believe you are capable of. Self-actualization is key in developing a sense of agency, agency is key in freedom, freedom is key to success. Happiness should be your end goal, in whatever manner this idea takes form for you. Remember, no matter what we achieve in this life, you can’t take it with you. Be good to other people.
Maisha: What advice would you give to companies with regards to having more women in leadership positions?
Toni: There is a significant amount of data on this subject. I am not a scientist and tend to believe a strong number of “scientific” reports are actually pseudo-science meant to sway public opinion through bids made by interests in the private sector. I would suggest companies choose the best person for the job. They should invest more in education of their workforce and their potential workforce. Moreover, there is a strong need to eliminate unnecessary politics by looking into new forms of corporate structure and ownership like Decentralized Autonomous Organizations.
That being said, I understand the likelihood of those long term changes happening overnight is slim, and the risk proposed by new forms of structure could outweigh what a large organization perceives to be end benefits. In addition to systemic evolutions, a certain level of social reform must happen before the changes we would like to see in the workforce swing into full effect. I would suggest that women spend more time socially in environments that will make them more successful. I would also encourage women and men to remove themselves from environments that are not fuelling their success and growth rather than holding on to a sense of security of not being fired or being seen as threatening for a position of power. If you are not growing into the person you want to be, hedge in advance and secure your position elsewhere by doing great work, more importantly, by doing deep work others will be unable to replicate.
Maisha: Thank you Toni, for openly sharing about your life and work. What personal advice would you give to talented and dedicated women who face barriers in ascending the corporate ladder due to the glass ceiling? How can they break it?
Toni: I personally have zero experience in the corporate world. I have applied for over 4,000 jobs, received calls from about 30 companies, and have never, not once, not even remotely been hired. Turns out that my parents were right, I cannot get a job! But I can certainly create them. I have carved out a space for myself as an industry leader in the largest emergent financial technology industry since the Internet. I now hold key strategic board seats and advisory roles at over 20 companies in my field. I choose the companies I work with based on the level of respect I hold for the work they are carrying out and the character and execution ability of their team. The majority of my focus as a board member or advisor focuses on companies who are building key pieces of infrastructure, or whose work is truly innovative and/or not replicable.
The best advice I can give you here? Go for the ‘ask’. And if they are not asking for you already, ask them how you can help. Once you do that, make sure you have the leverage to contribute meaningfully to the work of the companies you are uplifting from a high level. The worst thing that can happen to you if you go for an ‘ask’ is “no”. But let’s take a minute to understand what that really means. Understanding that potential and looking forward to the best means you’re going into the situation with nothing to lose. If someone says no, move on to someone who will understand how to value you. If someone says yes, you have a match. Cherish the experience of life, and all you have to offer.
This interview series with outstanding young women aims to promote Sustainable Development Goal 5: to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls.
This interview was also published on Toni Lane Casserly’s web page.
- Woetzel, J. (2015). The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth (No. id: 7570).
- Mason, K. (n.d.). Why Gender Equality is Important for All of the MDGs. Retrieved from http://www.iadb.org/common/presentations/mason%202%20sep%2003.pdf, The World Bank
- Diamond, D. (2014, August 26). Women make up 80% of health care workers—but just 40% of executives . Retrieved from https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/blog/2014/08/women-in-leadership
- Companies With More Women Board Directors Experience Higher Financial Performance – Catalyst. (2011, April 25). Retrieved from https://sitatthetable.org/blogs/stats/117997059-companies-with-more-women-board-directors-experience-higher-financial-performance-catalyst
- Warner, J. (2014, March 7). Fact Sheet: The Women’s Leadership Gap. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2014/03/07/85457/fact-sheet-the-womens-leadership-gap/