Women shut out of leadership roles in the metaverse

28 November 2022 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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While proponents of metaverse technology claim its platforms will be built on the pillars of transparency, accessibility and equality, metaverses are already exhibiting the same old biases relating to money and power. Despite women committing to greater amounts of meaningful engagement with metaverse technologies, investors are more likely to invest in metaverse companies run by men, and are more likely to invest larger amounts in them.

Web3, or Web 3.0, is an idea for a new iteration of the World Wide Web. Its advocates insist it is seeking to use technology to incorporate concepts such as decentralisation, transparency and fairness into a modern transaction economy. Whether that is at all feasible remains a wider question – but in the case of Web3 at least, the results so far seem to suggest not.

More than a decade of decentralisation via eternally-nascent cryptocurrency technology has yielded speculative bubble after speculative bubble, each time somehow underwritten by even fewer fundamentals than the last time. The transparency of blockchain technologies have done little to prevent various Web3 ‘entrepreneurs’ withdrawing investors’ funds and vanishing. And metaverse technology – a bandwagon many businesses are currently jumping on to boost inclusivity – has seen self-professed technology pioneers sink billions into sub-Wii recreations of work and living spaces where the only thing recreated accurately at all is the stale hierarchies it was allegedly trying to get away from.  

Over the past five years, metaverse companies that received higher sharesof funding were disproportianately led by men

To that end, a new report from McKinsey & Company has revealed that the brave new world of metaverse business already heavily resembles the same old story. Drawn by promises of Web3’s key pillars of transparency, accessibility and equality, women – who have long been marginalised by ideological and institutional biases in the world of business – have been far more active than men on the metaverse.

Polling 1,928 respondents, McKinsey found that 41% of women surveyed had used a “primary metaverse platform or participated in a digital world” for over a year, compared with only about 34% of men. At the same time, women spent longer on the platforms – 35% of them logging over three hour a week, contrasting to 29% of men.

And on top of this, more women were found to have spearheaded metaverse initiatives than men in the sphere. An additional survey of 448 female executives conducted by McKinsey found that 60% of women had put more than two metaverse initiatives into action, ahead of 50% of men in the same positions. But while the hard work and imagination of women in the metaverse means that McKinsey terms more of them as ‘power users’ than men, this is not being rewarded by investors, and is threatening to become entrenched by key decision-making levers still being held by men.

Organizations that participate in the metaverse forums currently shaping future interoperability standards are disproportionanately led by men

In the last five years, only 10% of metaverse companies which secured funding were founded by women. And while 90% of companies that received funding were founded by men, those companies received 95% of the amount doled out by investors. In other words, companies founded by women received lower-than-average investments, even when they were given funds. In total, those founded by women received a total of $5 billion – compared to a combined $107 billion for those founded by men. Looking ahead, this kind of gap may well become enshrined by current metaverse standards-setters, too.

At present, organisations which participate in the metaverse forums shaping interoperability – the ability to unify economies, avatars and systems across metaverses – are disproportionately headed by men. Only 9% of Metaverse Standards Forum founding organisations have a woman as a CEO. Meanwhile, 66% of principal members have no female CEO or executives. Similarly, 75% of member organisations of the Open Metaverse Alliance for Web3 have no women in the C-suite. This lack of diversity risks a blindsided governance of metaverse development, which ends up systemically ensuring gender inequality manifests in the apparently revolutionary technology.

Commenting on the findings, authors Mina Alaghband and Lareina Yee stated in the report, “We found an already discernible gender gap in the metaverse, similar to the gap that exists in Fortune 500 companies and start-ups, where less than 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women… The metaverse has the potential to bring profound change to the global economy, as well as to create new and more equitable opportunities for all who use it – which is why it is imperative for all key stakeholders to understand the dynamics at play. To do so, industry stakeholders will need to engage a range of different voices and infuse diverse leadership into the companies and coalitions shaping the metaverse today.”