The organizer of one of North America’s most popular cryptocurrency conferences provoked a minor controversy in cryptoland when he booked a conference networking event (and de facto afterparty) at a massive Miami strip club, Bloomberg reports.
The North American Bitcoin Conference wrapped up 10 hours of speeches by inviting 5,000 attendees to what was billed as a “networking party.”
“It’s been a long day,” read the description. “Join us at E11even for some networking and R&R. Or dancing.”
But what the description didn’t say was that E11even is a 20,000 foot strip club – the largest in the city of Miami. Even though there were no dancers performing during the event, female waitresses traversed the floor in skimpy lingerie outfits.
After the event ended, many of the attendees stayed and enjoyed the dancers’ performance – and bottle service, of course.
The few women who attended the conference – of the 98 speakers on its panels, only 3 were women – said the venue, and the behavior of their fellow conference attendees, made them uncomfortable and some chose not to attend.
Those who did said they were worried about their peers taking them seriously if they tried to act like “one of the boys.”
When word got back to the event’s sponsors, they were not pleased.
The agenda didn’t mention that the networking event would be held in a 20,000-square-foot Miami strip club, praised on review sites for aerial acrobats and a relatively permissive attitude toward touching. During the mixer, waitresses in revealing tops and lingerie served drinks, and when the event technically ended at 11 p.m., plenty of attendees kept their conference badges on and stayed to party.
“We’re a bunch of dudes with a lot of money in our 20s. We like naked girls,” said Jeff Scott, a cryptocurrency trader from New York. He got a table for 12 with a hedge fund analyst and the heads of two startups, and said the evening wasn’t much different than his typical night in a strip club. “If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but you’re not going to expect us to change.”
Not everyone agreed. As financial wizards and tech entrepreneurs before them, cryptocurrency’s early enthusiasts are confronting more mainstream expectations for decency and decorum. The chief executive officer of Dash Core Group Inc., the corporate sponsor of the event, said he hadn’t known the venue was a strip club and was “deeply disappointed.” Several women who attended the conference said the party made them uncomfortable; many chose not to go.
Unsurprisingly, as cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology have become more mainstream, the gender balance has shifted from being almost exclusively comprised of men (98% in 2015) to including more women as mom and pop investors piled into bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
The earliest days of cryptocurrencies were dominated almost entirely by men, but that’s changing, at least slowly. A 2015 survey indicated that more than 90 percent of Bitcoin users were male; a different survey a year later put the share around 87 percent. Then last year’s price surge transformed Bitcoin into a more mainstream investment, and a January survey found men made up 71 percent of users in the U.S.
And some of the women who attended the conference clarified that they aren’t uncomfortable in strip clubs – they’re uncomfortable networking in strip clubs.
After the Miami conference, one of the biggest such gatherings in the world, some women chose their words carefully. Zineb Belmkaddem, a cryptocurrency trader in Washington, noted that she doesn’t have a problem with strip clubs, per se. She just wasn’t comfortable networking in one.
“There was a message being sent to women, that, ‘OK, this isn’t really your place,”’ said Belmkaddem, who spent about $1,000 to attend the conference, and then skipped the party. “‘This is where the boys roll.’”
Hadjar Homaei, a co-founder of a Seattle tech startup, wrote about her experience and posted some photos on Twitter. A fellow attendee suggested she get on a stage for strippers. Another offered her a lap dance for Ether. She offered him a Bitcoin to “fork off.”
“There were no strippers before 11 but all the servers were in lingerie, even that was enough to set the tone in how my male peers behaved towards me there,” she wrote. “Will a conference attendee who tells me to go on the stage … take me seriously the next day?”
One attendee even implied that a market crash might help stamp out sexist behavior and gender discrimination in crypto land.
Several women said they think crypto culture has gotten worse, not better, while churning out quick riches. But it may be hard to stage more events like the night at E11even.
“It was a bunch of newly minted millionaires getting drunk and rowdy, and then you introduce naked or half-naked women into the equation, and that’s what happens,” said Veronica McGregor, a financial-technology lawyer at Goodwin Procter who spoke on a regulation panel at the conference. “So maybe we need to eliminate one of those factors.”
And given that bitcoin just endured its worst weekly selloff in four years, bringing the rest of the crypto space with it, it’s looking like we might soon have a chance to test that thesis…
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