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Breaking Crypto Ceilings: A Conversation with Sabrina Wang and Dina White

"And I think what's important is like finding a good team and support structure, whether they're men or women, right, if there's women great, but I think given the realities of it, like, you have to look for allies and men and people in a team," Sabrina Wang.

Breaking Crypto Ceilings: A Conversation with Sabrina Wang and Dina White
Listen to this epsiode on all podcast platforms!

In this episode, Helen and Julie were joined by two incredible guests:

Dina White and Sabrina Wang give us a glimpse into the dynamic world of crypto, shedding light on women's roles in this fast-evolving field and sharing their unique insights on opportunities, challenges, and the future of women in Web3.


  • Introductions and welcome. ⁠0:16⁠
  • How did you get into the space? ⁠3:11⁠
  • Can you be an expert in crypto? ⁠11:31⁠
  • The ratio of men to women in crypto. ⁠15:58⁠
  • Looking at the legal framework. ⁠19:18⁠
  • Why women are pulling back from crypto. ⁠23:26⁠
  • The future of crypto. ⁠26:16⁠
‎Beyond Two Percent: Breaking Crypto Ceilings: A Conversation with Sabrina Wang and Dina White on Apple Podcasts
‎Show Beyond Two Percent, Ep Breaking Crypto Ceilings: A Conversation with Sabrina Wang and Dina White - 9 Aug 2023


Helen 2:57
Let's take a step back. How did you get involved in this kind of Web3 and crypto world? What attracted you to this field, particularly as women in such a male-dominated area? Sabrina, do you want to start?

Sabrina 3:11
Yeah, sure. So for me, I mean, I worked in finance for a number of years, I worked in, I've worked in tech, like my entire career. For me, I've jumped around from a lot of industries. I went from finance to big data to food startup, and now crypto and people are like, that's kind of like a weird trajectory of, like, industries. But I think as a product person, specifically, it's less about the industry. And it's more about like learning how to solve problems, figure out what people need, and find the solutions for them. So whether they're technical solutions or not, so that's kind of been like a consistent arc throughout my career. And over the last, I joined crypto probably last fall.

Before that, I was like, Well, I kept hearing about this, I don't know a lot about it. I know a lot of people are going to be like, I'm gonna spend my weekends like researching and going down the rabbit hole, like, Well, I think I need a job to really like get me into it. And it kind of just, like, fell into my lap where somebody's like, Hey, are you interested in this? And as I learned more about I was like, this seems really interesting to me. And like, I think for me also, like meeting the right team was super, super important. And having , the right support structure was what ultimately made me think, I want to get into this. I think I also went to a meetup event about philanthropy in blockchain and crypto. So while there's a lot of like, you know, terrible use cases for anonymity and, and whatnot, there's also a lot of really great use cases, people who can't who want to donate money to causes that they can't be publicly supported, or being able to help people bank that aren't able to get bank accounts. So they're just sort of like really great mission-driven use cases that I was like really interested about, that you don't normally get access to and other technologies, and so talking to a lot of people just felt like blockchain as a technology really felt like something that was coming in I'm here to stay. So that's ultimately what got me into it.

Helen 5:03
And I thinkI am with you though there are just so many interesting projects. Like, I feel like the range or the spectrum is so broad in terms of like, what Web3 can be. But I'm, I'm curious Dina, to hear because I know you're kind of on the legal side, I think we don't hear that much about that, the intersection between crypto and legal. I mean, we do hear about regulation, but I guess that's your bread and butter. So I'm curious again, like how you got into it? And I guess, like, maybe, as well maybe expand on like, how you've seen the legal landscape evolving in this space?

Dina 5:39
Yeah, sure. And by the way, I'm very excited to be on this podcast. So thank you very much for inviting me. Yeah, so I got into this space. I mean, like Sabrina, I was also working in finance. So I was working at the Bank of New York Mellon when I first became interested, actually, then I was working in mergers and acquisitions legal. And there was one project I was asked to work on, it was sort of, you know, a small project, sort of off the side of my desk, almost, it was a minority interest in a strategic project. That was a consortium project at the time, it was five institutions, but it's growing now to about 17 institutional shareholders. And they were working on a blockchain-based project building a digital settlement asset backed by central bank money for the settlement of securities transactions. So it was a kind of indirect way in which I sort of became introduced at that time. So that was 2016.

And it was very much a kind of, I mean, whilst it was important that it wasn't, you know, the bread and butter of my work. And it was just a sort of small part of what I was doing. But I found it, it was just so interesting to me, because my previous role had been a business role in the corporate trust department where I was, you know, making sure securities transactions settled, and it was, it was quite, there were a lot of manual processes involved.

And I just sort of realized, wow, there's this whole new system where you can settle transactions instantaneously. You can do it all on this whole new system. And this is all fascinating. And there are new technologies. And it was just, it was just a whole new world that I found really exciting because not just because of that project, but because it what it represented for financial services and markets as a whole.

I remember one day, I actually took a day off the day of annual leave to go to a conference. Because I just thought this, this is so amazing. I have to just take a day off and explore it even more because then, you know, give me a deal for that. And I was just thinking about this earlier that the excitement I felt in that environment where there were all kinds of presentations from different companies that were using this blockchain technology. So that was kind of my way in.

But obviously, as a lawyer, I have looked at more of the legal side of things. So yes, it's developed. It's developed a lot since then. I mean, there's still a lot of proof of concepts going on. So we're still in the experimental stage, I'd say, you know, there are a lot of projects that are already working and doing what they're doing.

They're already there are also a lot of experimentation phases going on. And with that, I think we've seen sort of more of a move towards institutional involvement and towards regulation of the space. So it was, people were saying it was the Wild West, then people are still seeing a little bit now. But it's, it's becoming less of the Wild West and more global regulators and courts, sort of giving their view and sort of grappling with how do we deal with this emerging these emerging technologies.

Julie 9:12
One thing on that note, Dina, a lot of times we talk about how in order to get more people involved in crypto, we need to get institutions and others comfortable with it. Do you think that also makes it so women are more likely to get involved? Something Helen and I have talked about before on the podcast is that women are more cautious. We aren't as likely to take these big risks as men are sometimes or historically.

Sabrina 9:38
Yeah. I feel like, no, totally aligned with that right coming, especially from I came from finance. I came from tech; same stuff there as crypto. I was like looking at some stats. So I think the percentage of women in crypto is still way less than both finance and tech because they've I think they're more mature industries.

I think at least from my kind of like perspective, getting into it, I did find crypto to be a lot more intimidating and a much steeper learning curve to be honest, than both finance and tech. I remember like just reading statements being like, what is this? Like? What does this sentence even mean?

Like, it's so often that I've like, read something, I don't know, it's single word of what it means. And so I think it's that's part of it, too. There's just like, so much just like jargon floating around. And I think what's important is like finding a good team and support structure, whether they're men or women, right, if there's women great, but I think given the realities of it, like, you have to look for allies and men and people in a team, I can ask any question no matter how basic and not feel stupid, not feel embarrassed about it, right?

Like they know that like, they want to help me get involved. I think one good thing about crypto is that because it's so new, everyone knows it's new, there's there is a little bit of like that forgiveness involved. And I think if you actually own that, instead of like, being scared of it being like, I'm an employee, I know I'm an impostor, because I like don't know what's going on. But if you're like, Hey, I'm super new to this, like, please help me right? I feel like I've actually had a lot of success going that route. Instead of trying to, like, hide behind what I don't know, which I felt like I've done in the past, but just owning, like, what you don't know, knowing what you do bring to the table, right? There's a reason they've brought you on for other reasons, and make that known to them. So just finding people that that can help you I think is gonna be really, really instrumental.

Helen 11:31
Yeah, I think that's a really good point. Because I feel like, a lot of the time, I'm not gonna say every single time but if I meet someone, and they say like, they're an expert in crypto, to me, it's like red flags.

I'm a bit like, how can you be an expert in something that is evolving? So quick? Like, what are you an actual expert in? So to me, I'm a bit like, Are you selling snake oil?

But I kind of want to circle back to something you were previously saying, Sabrina, because I think for me, like, I've been in the kind of physical crypto atmosphere for the last two weeks, I went to ETH Barcelona, then I went to ETHCC in Paris. So you know, those spaces, like we have already said, can be very male-dominated. But there are these amazing women's spaces like Shefi and Boys Club and all these things that are creating spaces for like women to be in and kind of, I guess, go past that imposter syndrome, because I often feel like, Oh, um, should I be here? I don't know. I don't know. And then I kind of feel when I go into spaces like that. I'm like, oh, no, like, I should, it's okay. It's different.
So just wondering because you did say, you know, you've seen a lot of, like, opportunities, especially when it comes to, like funding projects and different ways of, like, using money.

So I just wanted you to expand on that, because maybe it's more of a woman thing to think about those kinds of opportunities. I don't know, but you said it's the kind of space which was, you said, it was the kind of thing that first got you into crypto. So I'm just curious to know more about that.

Sabrina 12:59
Yeah, there's like a philanthropy platform where they, they said that, especially like with younger, younger demographics, people are more willing to donate money in crypto, just because it's like, what they're predominantly focused in. And I think it's like, to your point, like the more creative side of things like trying to find like, like new use cases for crypto.

And especially because like, right, if finance is already like, very male-dominated, right, like, Where where's the niche, like, for not nice for now, but like, hopefully, like broader space for women, but these like more interesting use cases that are like more closely aligned to like, what women are more commonly interested right, not to say that men aren't but these things that I think that are, that are interesting.

So I think the things that they are, there are harder to find. They are much smaller. But to your point, I think it's like finding communities with like women to be able to, like, talk to and look for these types of things. For me, personally, I think like, to your point, being like, in a physical space with people makes such a difference, especially when you're meeting people for the first time. Like, I think when I went to my first like women's like meetup, it was like, Oh, this isn't like a women in crypto event. These are just like really awesome women who happened to be in crypto, right?

Like, a lot of conversations were like, well, what do you do, right? Like, what do you do in the city? What do you like to do for fun? And then you'd also talk about what you worked on, but it wasn't just like, everything. It wasn't like 100% Crypto; it was like, it's like a piece of your life. And I think that's a way that I think that I noticed that was like more predominantly like for women.

Helen 14:40
I realized about myself, I realized when it is a more predominantly male environment, I'm like putting an elevator pitch of the fact that I do work in crypto. I'm not just like randomly here. For some reason I'm feeling this need to prove that my job means that I work in crypto in a way that in a woman's space, maybe I wouldn't emphasize.

Sabrina 15:09
Yeah, just show that you like deserve a seat at the table where yeah, don't feel that way. Yeah,

Dina 15:16
I just think it's so interesting, Sabrina that you mentioned philanthropy and crypto because I was, yeah, that was exactly what I was going to say as well. And it's just, it's just so interesting that we've kind of found the same space and the same kind of story because I'm a member of a women's network called Chief, which is a network focusing on connecting Executive Women and developing them professionally.

And one of the first events I went to I was I was a little bit early, and I just kind of sat down at the bar at this thing and just started talking to other women there. And it turned out, you know, within five minutes of us kind of just venting about our days that that one of them really needed to know more about crypto because she, she runs the finance function of a big charity.

And I said, Oh, that's convenient because I can help you there. And I was also looking sort of for a project to get involved with, and now, you know, I brought a couple of colleagues along female colleagues along to another event they were running, and now we are about to sort of launch a sort of big crypto philanthropy project or a sort of partnership. So it's, and I completely agree with what you're saying, Sabrina? It's the sort of spaces that, you know, maybe we find a different angle, maybe we find what sort of speaks to us more sometimes. But it's just it's been very enlightening, and very heartening to sort of have other women too who work in the space. And yes, we can just sort of be ourselves and find ways in which we can use what we're doing, for good talent.

Julie 16:42
I had a question for you, too. What was the ratio of men to women at those conferences?

Helen 16:47
Oh, that's a really good question. So in Barcelona, I went to the main thing, hard to say, you know, I'm gonna say like, maybe like 70 to 30%. 70% Men, I'm gonna say, and then maybe in the, in Paris, in Paris, ETHCC I only went to the side events. And I guess it was a bit more specific to the side events I went to. But I also went to like ones, which were specifically aimed at women like SheFi and Boys Club Anon Ball and stuff.

But also, I would say, quite inspiring to see people building things in a way that I guess you hadn't really thought about before. So you know, every time you meet like a woman who's doing this amazing thing, or like thinking about decentralization in like, a completely different way, for someone like me, I'm just like, whoa, that's really cool and inspiring.

Julie 17:37
I assume when you went to those first conferences Dina, there probably weren't even any side events for women at that point?

Dina 17:43
No, exactly. I was about to say that, you know, those events I went to were very male-dominated.

Sabrina 17:53
Yeah, just remembering another use case I heard about like talking. But I think we're especially sitting in the US feel like everything is very much like, you know, Western and US-driven, but hearing about, especially in different parts of the world where LGBTQ is like not encouraged or allowed or supported being able to leverage blockchain and crypto, you know, technology to be able to support causes that you care about, without any fear of no repercussions, as like, that's a really, really good use case of anonymity.
Things that I wouldn't have personally thought of, especially sitting in a place like the US. So just like retriggered, I was like, that's a really interesting use case. And like, those are the types of things that I want to learn more about and how we can like leverage blockchain.

Helen 18:36
I think this I think, I think like you said, Sabrina, and Dina, the whole industry is so new, and we're still learning so much about it. But anytime someone can think of like a creative way, like you said, with your use case that anytime anyone can think of a creative way of solving these problems, it's really, really interesting. I was wondering, Dina and like, have you seen anything from a legal perspective when it comes to the way that people are using like crypto or like Web3 more broadly?

Dina 19:05
Yeah. So. So on the legal side of things, I've definitely seen the development of the way in which crypto assets are used in financial services. And alongside that, how do we look at that from a legal perspective? And does it fit with the existing frameworks that we have? So as an example, you know, our platform Zodia markets, we right now do spot trading of crypto assets, but we will be moving into borrowing and lending prime brokerage and sort of other types of assets and are the use cases for that, but alongside that, we need to look at you know, how does the law regard certain structures and, and sort of an analyst looking at the law in three ways.

So that's the sort of regulatory Public Law environment, you know, who is allowed to do what, which activities can your business conduct and where can it conduct it and then also on the private law sense, how do you deal with things like taking security, having crypto assets under a trust structure? How do you transfer them legally, because you want to have certainty as to what you're doing, you know, you don't want to transfer billions of billions of dollars of an asset only to find out that it wasn't sort of legally correct and actually wasn't transferred.

And then also the contractual framework. So are there industry-standard contracts that we can leverage to have an acceptable standard for institutions. So, I've been involved with the International securities Lending Association who are developing new annexes to the standard form of lending agreement, firstly, for tokenized securities, and then after that for crypto assets.

So it's very interesting to see the legal and regulatory frameworks develop alongside what people want to do with those assets. And they end up just becoming more institutionalized to the point of like tokenized financial assets, tokenize real world assets and then central bank digital currencies is sort of getting to the top of, of the institutional world. But obviously, we need to have legal certainty as to what we can do with those assets.

Helen 21:11
I think there's so much to unpack there how do you kind of strike the right balance?

Dina 21:44
I mean, for us, we're definitely not trying to get away from centralization. Because we were a subsidiary of a bank of Standard Chartered Bank. And we have, you know, their risk and compliance and policy framework and our clients, our institutions. So for us, the more legal and regulatory clarity that we can have. And the more compliant we can be with whatever it is, the better it is for us so. So for us that the more there is, the better. I am not saying we need more laws, but a bit more clarity, to give us comfort and to give our clients comfort that they know that what they're doing is correct and compliant. And everyone has the same understanding. So for us, it's only a good thing. But I don't know where you stand on it. And Sabrina?

Sabrina 22:23
Yeah, I think for us, it's like, yes, of course, like regulation is always good. I think things are moving so quickly. For us. It's like, how do we provide transparency and education and information and confidence and like helping you make good decisions, right? Like, there's just so much going on the space and a lot of people don't understand well, and that's why we end up in these like, kind of murky situations.

And so it just, I know, it's hard to do, and like there's so much to learn in education, but it just like how do we help people feel more confident by educating them in like the space, the technologies they're getting into? What are the risks involved, and, you know, giving people the tools to help them make the decisions?

Dina 23:01
I agree. And also, found that as an industry, we have to also help the regulators understand. So the FCA in the UK, for example, has been sort of holding sessions with various institutions to just find out more because, you know, they're not, they're not working in this day to day at the same level, you know, they're not building that business. They're not sort of in the trenches with the technology. So they need to learn alongside us learning from them as well. So there really has to be a partnership there between industry and regulators.

Julie 23:30
One thing I want to make sure we talk about before we end this too, is just, you know, given everything that's been going on in crypto, like the FTX collapse and everything else has that made it so women are one less likely to join or but to have companies focused less on diversity because of everything going on.

Sabrina 23:49
Yeah, I joined I think two weeks before FTX collapsed and it was news to me, I was like, Is this is this like a big deal right now and was like, this is a huge deal. Like, there's so many different reasons. But I think, you know, I think a lot of it is like we talking to a lot of like prospective customers.

There is a lot of people like pulling back, I think in general, not specifically gender-specific, but just broadly speaking, people are sitting more on the sidelines. And I think, you know, that's going to be even more predominantly so for like, women, right, we talked about, like the risk aspect of it. You think it's just I think it's also just like within tech and from a career stability standpoint, I think it's a tough time as well. Just being able to like it's not a great time to take a risk. I think for a lot of people if you have to like provide for families and want stability, it's it's not a great industry for that are there it wasn't feeling like it was a great industry to allow for, you know, a good stable career. It's like a lot of projects, you know, are they are they insolvent or they just will be going and insolvent? I think a lot of that risk and fear. I haven't seen anything specific to say like yes, I know for sure that like women are pulling but all those things if If I talk to someone, they provide those reasons, I'm like, that would make total sense to me.

Dina 25:03
Yeah, I'd agree with that. And also from their company business side, I think that there has because there has been a sort of downturn in the market, the focus has really been from, from what I've observed, on really building business and just you know, that the day to day, what can we build? What can we succeed in? Where do we need to pivot, rather than those kind of softer things like diversity and inclusion. That's not to say that it's been ignored. But maybe in a more stable market, that's where you can sort of turn your focus as well. You know, again, it might also depend on whether how established a company is. So a startup may be less focused on that than a more established company. But it's certainly extremely important, something that shouldn't be forgotten, because I'm sure a lot of mistakes that were made and bad decisions that were made, were made because, or partly because of a lack of diversity and therefore a lack of questioning. Because when you have a lack of diversity, you have groupthink. And you know, people don't speak up because they just kind of accept this as the way we do things. And there isn't that other voice to challenge. And that isn't just that gender diversity. That's any type of diversity. But if you don't have it, then who's going to challenge anything? So it is very, very much needed? In my opinion.

Helen 26:16
Yeah. And I feel like I like to think that whether it's a startup or a huge corporation, what actually yeah, if it's a startup, I like to think that a company would want to bake it into kind of the ethos of like who they are, it doesn't always happen. And obviously, that's depends on the actual company. But I think it says a lot about where a company's going if they're already thinking about that, when they're, you know, at the earliest stages of development. But we're nearly out of time. So I mean, I have one last question. I don't know. Julie might also have another question.

But I was just wondering, and you can answer it from a product perspective and a legal perspective,I just want to know how you envision the future of crypto or web three more broadly, you know if we were to look at a magic ball in the next 10 to 15 years, sure,

Sabrina 27:15
I think, especially, you know, I think as we've talked about, like, We're such in like early stages of like blockchain and crypto. And I think our CEO, has always talked about were like, , internet level, like, we're still so early on. And it's right. And right now it's like, you have to, like know how, like, in that time, it's like, you have to like, set up your own servers and know how to, like get online and like all this stuff. And there's just like, still a lot of barriers to entry from, from a user experience standpoint, right? You have to set up your own wallet, you have to know your like, your seed phrase, don't lose that or you lose all your money, all these things, right?

Like there's still very much like high barriers to entry where everything else right, a lot of in Web2, you just reset your password two-factor authentication, all these things make it pretty easy. So I think those are the things that will we'll see from at least from a product perspective that things are just going to become much easier. Hopefully, I think a lot of it you won't even realize you're interacting with a blockchain, you're just handling you're just like managing use cases and gaining value, but like happen to leverage blockchain without actually knowing the underlying technology. I think that's ideally like where we would like to go. And as the industry matures, hopefully seeing more novel use cases, more social impact, and that kind of thing. So whether it happens, I don't know. But that's that's where at least where I would like it to go.

Dina 28:34
Yeah, I mean, I think from from a number of levels of levels, because this is these are still developing technologies. We don't really know exactly what we're we're end up but I think there will be more. Definitely a lot more development coming from the ground up

And then also more mainstream adoption, tokenized financial and real world assets, and then central bank digital currencies, which are not crypto assets, but it's sort of, you know, another side of the same coin, in my opinion.

And then, you know, in tokenize, deposit bank deposits, yeah, it will be interesting to see which of those sort of on the more institutional central bank side of technology, but developments versus, you know, the real cutting edge of of ground up development where, you know, which will sort of come to the fore, but I agree, I think it was, you know, we can't really predict what will be we still are at the early stages. But it's I think there's a lot more to common, it's still very exciting to me.

Helen 29:44
But thank you so much, Sabrina and Dina for joining us. It has been really interesting, especially because I think what's so good about this you both come from like, two different perspective!

Helen 30:18
What a fun episode. Okay, so in the next episode, we're going to be speaking to two founders in emerging markets. We're going to speak to them about what it's like building in the Global South, what challenges they face and what opportunities they face too so I'm really excited about this episode. I'm really excited to get into it to talk about the differences to talk about the things that are similar. And yeah, hope you tune in next month.