In this “Boardroom Spotlight” piece, we hear from six leading Black women in Web3 on their journeys into the space and how they are navigating it.
Black women are creating NFT collections, building online communities, and founding tech companies within this growing, decentralized web encompassing blockchain technology, the metaverse, cryptocurrency, and more, they are finding ways to become critical decision-makers. And they’re doing all of this with significantly fewer resources than their white counterparts.
Still, they persevere.
We’re not going to highlight the lack of support for Black women in the tech and startup industries; you’ve seen the investment numbers before. Rather, on International Women’s Day and during Women’s History Month, Boardroom wants to champion some of the great work Black women are producing.
In this latest edition of “Boardroom Spotlight,” we’ll hear from six leading Black women in Web3 on their journeys into the space, how they are navigating it, how to make it more inclusive, and what they envision for the future of our digital age.
Ariana The Techie
Ariana The Techie is the founder and CEO of Mueshi, a marketplace built to buy, sell, and fractionally invest in Fine Art NFTs. She’s been a software engineer for seven years, and she got into the blockchain space back in 2017. She coined herself ‘Ariana the Techie’ because of how her love for tech grew with her exposure to software engineering.
“I wanted to personify myself as this Black woman who’s in tech,” Ariana told Boardroom. “This is just like my life’s work now.”
After Ariana learned about blockchain and crypto, she went to a boot camp where she spent 60-plus hours a week learning different software engineering skills, including coding and mobile development.
Ariana The Techie isn’t just a catchy name; it exudes her passion for teaching. She mentors women — especially Black women — ages 15 to 50-plus on any and everything they want to know about tech, software engineering, non-fungible tokens, crypto, and how all of these topics animate Web3.
As a Black woman, Ariana said, teaching and giving back is her duty.
“They’re in these spaces where it’s pretty dominantly male fields,” she said. “And so, they may feel like people may not understand where they’re coming from culturally or even from a professional setting. When they see a woman that looks like me, that looks like them, they feel a bit more comfortable.”
With Mueshi, Ariana wants to empower traditional artists striving to thrive in the metaverse and new digital age.
Her journey into Web3 started with learning about the creator economy. Porter is a former Harvard basketball player, and after two years of creating content, she was ready and eager to take her storytelling expertise to the next level.
“As I was starting to study the creator economy, I started to notice that so much of what the people were covering in the space was starting to converge with NFTs and Web3,” Porter said. “I think it’s really interesting, too, how creators have kind of been a catalyst of this movement.”
When name, image, and likeness rules changed last summer for NCAA student-athletes, Porter saw an opportunity to bring content creators and athletes together using technology. She said she felt a disconnect between the creator communities and collegiate athletes who now have an opportunity to land creative endorsement deals. Creators aren’t just releasing content online anymore; they are using tech and tools to build micro-economies around themselves.
“[I] really just saw this opportunity to bring a new narrative at the intersection of these two things that helps athletes one, understand their potential as creators, and then two, how to embrace technology in that process,” Porter said.
Banna explained to Boardroom that she started working in the NFT and Web3 spaces on a whim after catching onto conversations about revolutionizing the way that we use the internet and who owns the internet. This appealed to her, so she created a safe, decentralized space for Black women like her.
“What Web3 allows us to do is really go out and build these protocols and communities that we want to see. So, if I don’t see myself represented in something, I can go build my own community,” Banna said. “That is what I wanted to showcase. This is a space where it’s very easy to get started, and we can start building the spaces that we want to see, and we don’t have to wait on Web2 platforms to recognize Black creators or Black women.”
Banna said Black creators and investors need to put as much work behind creating space in Web3 as they do with their work on TikTok, Instagram, and other popular apps. She believes that as long as there is a sense of community, there is room to build around and create any NFT collection.
With Friendly Black Hotties, Banna wants to empower Black women to tap into their networks and create more in Web3.
“The opportunity for Black women to have [an] impact in crypto and Web3 and NFT specifically is really around the ability to build. We don’t need to be passive investors,” Banna said. “There’s an opportunity for us to build collections. You do not need to be an artist to have an NFT collection. I am not an artist, and I have an NFT collection.”
Simone Berry is a creative consultant and entrepreneur focused on bringing fashion to the metaverse. She has nearly two decades of experience working in fashion with big brands and celebrities, and she started investing in crypto in 2017 before getting into Bitcoin, the metaverse, and NFTs.
At first, Berry said she didn’t understand blockchain and what it could do for her as an artist and a creative, but once she grasped the industry’s true potential, her wheels started turning.
“I want us to be part of the conversation — part of the build,” Berry said. We’re never going to live in this kind of idyllic situation [in] our society where there is no racism, no sexism, no misogyny, but if we are creating these virtual worlds, we can do it in a way where more voices are being heard.”
Berry said there’s too much division on the internet we use today. She envisions Web3 being a place where we center the creator, no matter what they look like. Community is why Web3 intrigues Berry the most — there is a freedom to establish and foster a following of like-minded individuals. With the decentralization inherent to Web3, Berry sees Black women thriving much more in the future than today if they band together and create.
“Who transforms communities more than we do when you’re looking at some very large Web3 companies? Their head of communities are Black women,” she said. “That says something because we transform, [and] people naturally are drawn to what we are saying, what we are doing, our style, our essence, who we are as human beings. That’s the type of energy that you want to draw towards you, and they get it. We need to get that.”
Stephanie Smellie is vice president of content and entertainment partnerships at Dapper Labs. Before finding her passion in music, entertainment, and technology, Smellie was an accountant. And before landing at Dapper Labs, Smellie worked at Spotify, where she was helping unlock different revenue paths for creators looking to build sustainable careers.
She stumbled upon the NFT world and a new role at a leading company in the blockchain industry based on that research.
“I’m actually fortunate to be in a position at my company to lead and introduce new programs to help Black people and women,” Smellie told Boardroom.
Smellie said to change the narrative that Black women don’t deserve to hold space in Web3, we’re going to need leaders to open doors for them, whether that’s through networking connections, education, funding, investing, and beyond. She envisions Black women leading on all fronts, from serving as executives in Web3 to art curators, designers, and engineers.
“Honestly, unfortunately, the stigma has some truth to it in that blockchain and the world of Web3 still [have] a ways to go in terms of diversity and representation through developers, creators, and consumers within the space. However, only we can only go up from here,” Smellie said. “I think that we all can play our part, and I’m looking forward to doing mine.”
“I identify myself in the NFT space as a curious explorer. I’m not an expert, but I’m in these NFT streets. I’m an active community member, and I am an NFT collector and a storyteller in this space,” Ros Gold-Onwude told Boardroom. “In my Web2 life, if you will — in my physical world life — I’m a journalist and storyteller.”
Gold-Onwude is an ESPN host, but she prioritized learning about Web3, crypto, and NFTs as those phenomena grew. She felt a bit of imposter syndrome along the way, and like the other Black woman above, it was the community that reeled her in and kept her grounded.
“I think the first step is just demystifying the space,” she said. “I found myself inactive around crypto and Web3 in general because I was lacking information. I was wrong. I was ignorant. I was intimidated, and for some reason, [I] had talked myself out of believing that I could participate.”
Right now, Gold-Onwude is on a mission to help more Black women discover the space and make it their own.
While it may take a little extra effort, she said it will take not just Black people, but everyone chipping in and championing Black women working in this space and helping them to grow.