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IWD 2023: Leading a Web3 Startup Through Uncertainty
Thu, 9th Mar 2023

The world has just witnessed three global female leaders step down, citing the need to focus on family and health, drawing attention to the increased "brutality" to life and the feeling of not having enough left in the tank. New Zealand's Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO, have all stood down from their leadership positions in quick succession, begging us to question if these resignations can be traced to a shared cultural origin and, subsequently, if there is anything we can do to remedy this wave of leading female resignations?

True, leadership comes in many forms and styles, but equally true is that leadership in modern history is male-coded, fashioned through patriarchy, and built to sustain patriarchy. Nowhere is this arguably more visible than in the gaming and Web3 spheres which are more male-dominated and male-oriented than most. However, throughout a fulfilling and fortunate 20-year career in tech and entertainment, some skills are collected from a history of good bosses that are essential to good leadership. 

Leadership is challenging. The paradigm shift that occurs when one moves from staff to leadership can feel as though it is insurmountable. Leaders in business need to make progress and address hard decisions, all while balancing the future of the organization and the careers of colleagues in tandem. This will feel overwhelming, especially when in a position not historically reserved for women, in a sector not orientated to women, and in an emerging market that is male-dominated. 

1. Deliberate Action

Diversity doesn't just happen because we wish it so. It requires intention and action. Hiring a diverse range of people into leadership positions is difficult if there is a history of discrimination in your field. People of colour, women, and LGBTQ+, as well as others, often don't have the benefit of decades of experience if they were never invited to the table until now. The solution to this compounded product of exclusion lies in deliberate action.

To hire promising, smart, and enthusiastic people of diverse backgrounds and then invest time into their mentoring and education. This takes resources, both from the company and from yourself, but those investments will be returned. But there's also a strong business case: McKinsey & Co. research shows that diversity on executive teams and the likelihood of financial outperformance has grown in strength in the last eight years. If one wants to improve the diversity of people in their field, one needs to plant the seeds. In turn, balance sheets will reap rewards.

The choices you make as a leader also add to the creation of the culture in your workplace. More often than not, cases of exclusion in a workplace stem from unintentional activities. Situations can arise from non-malicious actions, but, unfortunately, they have the same outcomes as their malicious counterpart: sidelining, ostracism, and an ill-functioning on-site culture. Often the way forward here is through conscious personal action to address any internalized prejudices first before going further to encourage others to do the same. Leading by example is a cliché. However, it is not to be overlooked. Showing less tolerance for intolerance is a sign of an effective leader. 

2. Accepting New Ideas

These purposeful decisions nurture inclusivity, diversity and establish healthier ecosystems, as those who have different backgrounds not only bring new ideas to the melting pot but have the chance to see their input implemented. Here, perhaps, being situated in Web3 has helped, as due to the nascency of the space, prejudices and single-track thinking haven't had the same time to weigh down the industry as it has in older enterprises. That being said, paradigms and patterns set in fast, and keeping abreast and open to new ideas that might even challenge your worldview is an undertaking that is never fully complete.

I find that in Web3 there are many fantastic initiatives, such as Women in Web3 and Take Up Space, that make it their endeavour to foster and grow grassroots diversity in the industry. Listening to others with backgrounds, experiences, opinions, and ideas very different from your own keeps you aware and stops you from falling into the monotony of echo chambers. 

It is also critical to listen to the ambitions of your colleagues and work with them to give substance to their goals. People aren't cardboard cut-outs or robots, happy to do the same thing indefinitely. Not all new hires will be on-boarded into their end-goal position. You foster a talented and dedicated team by listening and adapting to the dreams of those you work with and being transparent about your ability to help them make those dreams a reality. People don't want empty promises; they want actionable targets that map out their progress. 

3. An Essential Moral Guide

Contrary to popular belief, and long-standing comedic tropes, women are not another species. Even so, there are a narrow set of ideas of how women should 'behave'. Empowering others to use their voice only works when you are unhindered to use the voice you own. Women have been pigeonholed as nice, polite, and quiet by centuries of patriarchal oppression, and when they defy these confines, they are often labelled as bossy or, all the more annoying - 'too loud'.

Being professional in a workplace is paramount to creating mutual respect, but being forced by gender norms to actively not voice an opinion or speak out about ideas, actions, or directives you have a valid perspective on is bullshit. Everyone has a license to be a fully-fledged person, to be authentic, whether it be in their joy or their frustrations. Representing women in the workplace doesn't mean conforming to the patriarchal image of the female employee. True representation is being forthright with oneself and with others. 

A good guide for your company, too, is what keeps the personal lights on while in uncertain times. As we all have come to accept in the last three years, we have entered a melee of uncertain times that we seem unable to exit. Through this, my core belief in Shrapnel has remained the same: We are creating a fun, equitable game - a game that marries the idea of enjoyment and ownership. This core guide will change for everyone depending on your project, but finding that nugget of truth in the core of what you do, is what will aid you through difficult times.

Fundamentally believing in your work towards the betterment of an industry, a cause, a country, or in our case, building a platform that gives people ownership of and input into a game they love will allow you to hold fast against the storms of uncertainty. These uncertainties take many forms: financial storms, climate disasters, political turmoil, doubters, and even pandemics, but so too will your resilience. At the centre of the issue, you can be anyone from any background, but if you have a moral stake in the ground that you can defend, people will, in turn, believe in you, and people will someday turn to you. 

As the world loses three of its most powerful women to resignations (we are forgiven for assuming all are likely to be replaced by men), one must wonder if there is a specific cause. There isn't some butterfly we can blame for flapping its wings, nor can this be attributed to a recently shot albatross. The reasons these women have stepped aside are long-established and patriarchal by design. Losing three representations of women in global leadership roles is a knock. Still, it is ever the more reason for women leaders in smaller-scale organizations to hone their skills and encourage other marginalized people within their scope.