The North American Bitcoin Conference wrapped up 10 hours of speeches by inviting 5,000 attendees to what it called a networking party. “It’s been a long day,” read the description. “Join us at E11even for some networking and R&R. Or dancing.”
The agenda didn’t mention that the networking event would be held in a 20,000-square-foot Miami strip club, praised on review sites for aerial acrobats and a relatively permissive attitude toward touching. During the mixer, waitresses in revealing tops and lingerie served drinks, and when the event technically ended at 11 p.m., plenty of attendees kept their conference badges on and stayed to party.
“We’re a bunch of dudes with a lot of money in our 20s. We like naked girls,” said Jeff Scott, a cryptocurrency trader from New York. He got a table for 12 with a hedge fund analyst and the heads of two startups, and said the evening wasn’t much different than his typical night in a strip club. “If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but you’re not going to expect us to change.”
Not everyone agreed. As financial wizards and tech entrepreneurs before them, cryptocurrency’s early enthusiasts are confronting more mainstream expectations for decency and decorum. The chief executive officer of Dash Core Group Inc., the corporate sponsor of the event, said he hadn’t known the venue was a strip club and was “deeply disappointed.” Several women who attended the conference said the party made them uncomfortable; many chose not to go.
Moe Levin, CEO of Keynote, which organized the conference, at first defended the choice of venue, calling it “the ideal layout for networking.” Nude performances were halted until 11 p.m., and if it later became a place where people felt uncomfortable, that wasn’t the conference’s fault, he said in a phone interview.
Within a few hours, he did an about-face, a real-time demonstration of the growing pains in the nascent industry. “Having the networking party at E11even was a misstep,” he wrote in an email. “We always aim to be as inclusive as possible and create a safe environment.”
Keynote also will take steps to improve the gender balance at next year’s conference, starting with inviting more women to speak on panels. This year, 85 of the 88 slots for presenters were assigned to men, according to a list posted online.
The earliest days of cryptocurrencies were dominated almost entirely by men, but that’s changing, at least slowly. A 2015 survey indicated that more than 90 percent of Bitcoin users were male; a different survey a year later put the share around 87 percent. Then last year’s price surge transformed Bitcoin into a more mainstream investment, and a January survey found men made up 71 percent of users in the U.S.
After the Miami conference, one of the biggest such gatherings in the world, some women chose their words carefully. Zineb Belmkaddem, a cryptocurrency trader in Washington, noted that she doesn’t have a problem with strip clubs, per se. She just wasn’t comfortable networking in one…