Emma Walker: Taking blockchain back from the bros and beyond the hype

8 Nov 2019

Emma Walker, co-founder, BlockW. Image: Conor McCabe Photography

Blockchain’s hype-fuelled bromance may have simmered down. Now it’s time for an inclusive technology-focused community to emerge.

At first, Emma Walker and Niamh O’Connell got together to discuss establishing a group to solve some of the problems they experienced first-hand working in the blockchain sector in Ireland. These problems included misconceptions around blockchain technology, as well as a gender imbalance in the sector and the lack of an open, informative and inclusive community around it.

That’s how Walker explained the genesis of BlockW, a women-led association intended to provide an inclusive forum for showcasing blockchain applications and use cases. By being inclusive, BlockW aims to demonstrate the unique and defining features of blockchain, its boundless and borderless potential, as well as its relevance across industries to all, regardless of gender, age or background.

‘It is not the technology itself that makes you unique. That tide is over’

The founding team grew to include Joyce O’Connor, Paula Kelleher, Mai Santamaria and Laura Clifford, and BlockW officially launched in September 2018 with the first of a series of meet-ups. More bi-monthly industry-specific events followed, highlighting blockchain across sectors such as aviation, payments, social impact and education.

“We are constantly looking to showcase not just the potential of the technology but instead concepts in pilot phase or in production,” said Walker. “Our community is looking for real use cases where they can understand and see the true potential of the technology and how it relates to their specific industry and profession within it.”

Tips for staying on top

While Walker agrees that blockchain has seen a lot of hype in recent years, she believes it has moved beyond that phase of the technology cycle.

“While some may argue that this has been a disadvantage to the technology, in my opinion, it has also heightened people’s awareness and made people stand up and ask questions,” she said.

“This is the first step in expanding the global footprint of those understanding what the technology is and how it can be applied.”

When it comes to the secrets of success in blockchain, Walker has two tips that helped her to succeed and grow in this sector, despite not coming from a technical background when she first joined a blockchain-focused company.

“Stay abreast of the industry and what is happening,” she said. “Things change daily and movement is happening, so keep on track by assigning 30 minutes daily to read the latest news articles or following specific blockchain organisations on Medium or Twitter.”

For the second tip, she advised: “Find an individual or community where you can ask questions. There is no space or time for pride as things move too quickly to be left behind. Even after three and a half years in this space, I continue to ask questions to truly understand the inner workings of the technology across all of the potential platforms and use cases.”

For businesses, she said that messaging is “crucial”.

“What is most important to your stakeholders is what problem you are solving and why blockchain is the necessary technology to achieve that goal. It is not the technology itself that makes you unique. That tide is over.”

Leaving a legacy

At BlockW, the belief is that those driving the development and growth of blockchain technology – or any emerging technology, for that matter – have the opportunity to leave behind legacy practices. “And that includes gender imbalance,” said Walker.

“However, we also understand that this requires a mindset shift across multiple industries, as blockchain is not a sector in itself but a technology which will innovate many.”

Seeing as she is taking action for change in her field, Walker is optimistic that this change will come with time.

“I believe we will see the tide shift in a number of key industries first, as they themselves look to attract more women to their profession.

“Adding to this, open, inclusive and awareness-driven initiatives around the technology – like BlockW – will inspire and drive more individuals to consider developing themselves professionally to engage with emerging technologies and be able to provide insight on business strategies for the future.

“This knowledgeable and skilled workforce will also drive diversity in the industry.”

Updated, 12.50pm, 8 November 2019: This article was updated to include Mai Santamaria as a co-founder of Block W.

Want stories like this and more direct to your inbox? Sign up for Tech Trends, Silicon Republic’s weekly digest of need-to-know tech news.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.