Discussions and debates about blockchain are often focused on dissecting technical aspects of the revolutionary technology, but there is one non-tech topic that never fails to command attention: women in blockchain.

It’s a topic that has proven to draw both cheers and jeers from women and men alike. While difficult to deny the gender imbalance in the industry, what with no shortage of statistics highlighting the fewer number of women investing and working in the industry, people’s opinions on the matter remain wildly diverse.

On one end of the spectrum are those who believe directly addressing the gender disparity throughout blockchain – and the broader tech industry – is integral to helping advance the status and participation levels of women in the industry. On the other, are those who don’t believe there is a representation problem at all.

“There is so much to do and there is so much you can do.”

And somewhere in the middle of this chasm are those who recognize a need for women to be better represented and supported, but believe highlighting statistics such as those aforementioned places too much emphasis on negativity. They argue that while such an approach is well intentioned, it ironically fuels the problem. The more women, they claim, who hear about the problems women face in the industry, the more they will be deterred from entering and remaining in it. Thus, this group advocates shining a light on the achievements of women in the industry and turning focus to the progress that is being made every day.

Enter @sunchakr, a trailblazing, New York based engineer involved in the Monero project whose interest and involvement in blockchain stems back to 2015. Here, she talks to Monica Mizzi about her industry experience - everything from how she first dipped her toes into the world of blockchain, to her thoughts on being part of the Monero community, to her take on the whole “women in blockchain” topic.

Hi @sunchakr! Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions about your experience in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. Let’s dive right in! How did you first get involved in the industry? What was appealing to you about it?

I was first introduced to Bitcoin in 2015 by a close friend of mine who had been reading into it and closely following it. I found it to be an interesting topic but was confused on how it worked. Once I understood the technology, I was able to grasp the concept behind this revolutionary idea and realized its amazing potential.

This product could change people’s lives and the world in so many ways – one could avoid these “accidental” data breaches that leak out all your personal information which make you a target for marketing, ads and hackers; government control of your finances like what is occurring in Venezuela or the banks controlling the everyday transactions such as having access to the simple transferring of funds from one account to another on the weekend.

Most of us don’t realize that we do not have control of our daily lives, that many key items are controlled by other people and that there is no way around it. Our system was designed this way so that “powerful” can control the “vulnerable”. I believe this “Cryptocurrency Revolution” came out of necessity to try and take back power by being censorship resistant. People should have the authority to manage their finances as well as distribute the wealth within societies without the middleman taking control of it through the use of this peer to peer digital cash system.

You have been involved in the Monero project for quite a while. Can you share some details about your involvement, such as when and how you got started, and what you do?

I started to get into Monero in the late 2016s. I was exposed to the many alternate coins out there and realized that Monero was not like any of the others. I started working on Monero related projects earlier this year by starting the first Monero Meetup in New York City. At the time, we only saw blockchain or bitcoin meetups so a group of us – including @chowbungaman and Vik Sharma, founder of Cake Wallet, the first iOS Monero Wallet – decided to start a Monero Enthusiast Meetup. We had a wonderful turnout and it continues to thrive.

Due to its great success, we plan on starting one up in Philadelphia. I was also involved in developing and planning of the NYC Monero Speakeasy Consensus After Party back in May 2018, along with @chowbungaman and Vik. This event was a great way to get the community involved in using Monero as a form of payment and it turned out to be a great hit.

Most recently, I have been involved behind the scenes as an operations manager/coordinator in a YouTube show called “Monero Talk w/ @chowbungaman.” It’s a show about all things Monero related. We want to fill in the gap about information involving Monero.

Since currently everything out there is mostly about Bitcoin, we decided to create this channel for people that are interested in Monero and so far it’s been going great. We have had great guests and have been told it is very informative. We are trying to expose everyone to all the Monero related information out there, one show at a time.

What attracted you in particular about Monero that made you want to become involved on a more substantial level?

It has all the parameters that Bitcoin is trying to achieve: it is private, untraceable, and fungible. These are the perfect qualities of a cryptocurrency created to promote its goal of decentralization and that could potentially be used as a peer-to-peer digital currency.

What I also love about it is that it isn’t overwhelming with fake marketing, such as the ICO’s of other altcoins, and that it is all pushed by the people in the community. The growth is a lot more organic and stronger because the followers haven’t been convinced by a marketing campaign or rant.

How have you found working on the Monero project, and the community overall?

It has been a very interesting space that has been very welcoming and helpful. What I like about it is that everyone is willing to help one another for the sake of the goal, which is decentralization.

Can you share some insights about your experiences of being a woman in the crypto/blockchain industry? Are there any advantages or disadvantages you have experienced?

I have not experienced any disadvantages being a woman in the crypto space – it has been welcoming and great so far. I feel that in this environment, you have the ability and opportunity to contribute in any way you want to, no matter what gender. The environment is very open source and if you have a suggestion, idea or anything that will improve a project, you have a say.

At the end of the day, it has to do with what skills and ideas you bring to the table, and if it has a positive impact on the project, it will get recognized. I understand that women want to help increase women’s participation in this space but in my opinion, focusing on pushing “Women in Blockchain/Crypto” events, tends to do the opposite of what was intended and causes a more segregated and divisive environment. These events should be more of a collaboration of both women and men sharing ideas to help improve their specific project.

Why do you think participation from women in the crypto industry is relatively lower? How do you think these barriers can be broken?

I am unsure why, but it may be because some may be less vocal than others and prefer anonymity or it could be that their work is not being exposed by the media. At the events I have attended and hosted, I have seen many women. In general, there is an overwhelming amount of men in this environment, but there is a growing number of women that are interested and getting involved.

I can only speak for myself, but I feel that men that I have been communicating with in the Crypto/Monero space have been very welcoming. I fortunately have not felt any backlash on being a woman. I have been able to reach out to people working on Monero without any problems so far, have access to the same information and can work on any project, just like anyone else.

If you’re interested and want to play a role in the crypto-space in any way, then go for it. That is the way you overcome barriers, by being apart of it and focusing on the bigger picture: on how you can make a difference and help improve your project of interest.

Some women, such as Amber Baldet and Elizabeth Stark, are reluctant to wear the “women in blockchain” label and shy away from focusing on the gender gap. They argue that it is counterintuitive to their efforts to be recognized for their contributions, rather than primarily for their gender. Moreover, they argue that focusing on the gender gap will dissuade more women from getting involved, and instead, the most effective way to increase numbers of women in the industry is to shine a spotlight on women who are succeeding in it. What is your take on this?

I absolutely agree with them. We need to focus and write about the accomplishments of women rather than knit-pick on the gender gap. In this space, I feel, you are recognized by what you contribute. It is about pushing forward with one agenda in mind and that is decentralization, no matter which project you lean more towards.

I believe in avoiding the gender labels and discussions and, instead, focusing on finding women that are contributing in this space and making sure that their work is exposed. There are a lot of women out there that are interested in crypto.

Do you think there are ways in which the Monero project or community is particularly conducive to bridging the gender divide in the blockchain industry?

They don’t discriminate – if you have an idea and it seems feasible, you will get support. Again, I can only speak for myself, but in my experience, I have felt that my ideas and suggestions have been taken seriously by the people I have dealt with. The men in the Monero/crypto space have been nothing but welcoming and supportive.

Of course you will be exposed to trolls and sexism (that happens in every environment), but that has to do with that individual’s insecure character and shouldn’t be a generalization of all men. For the most part, if the idea is good and improves the technology or helps the community in any way, it is supported – no matter who came up with it.

What would be your advice for women who want to become involved in both the crypto industry, and in particular, in the Monero project?

Just do it! The information out there can be extremely overwhelming, but if you take the time, you will eventually understand it. In this space, you feel like there is a never ending amount of information that you will never catch up with, but that is how everyone feels so don’t ever feel discouraged!

There is so much to do and there is so much you can do. Never underestimate your worth and what you can contribute. There are so many videos, articles, blogs, reddit post and people you can talk to to help you better understand. So go for it!

Are you a woman who would like to be interviewed about your experiences in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space? We’d love to hear from you! Please email monicammizzi@gmail.com to have your voice heard.