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  • Elsie Russell

FinTech Female Fridays: Shira Frank, Co-Founder Maiden

NYC FinTech Women was founded on the idea of inclusivity and bringing all backgrounds of people together to support Women in FinTech. In observance of Pride month we are honored to feature Shira Frank, CEO of Maiden, and an out Queer leader in the Fintech space.

Tell us a bit about your career journey and what led you to co-found Maiden?

I have never been satisfied by the idea that the world "just is the way it is". I wanted to understand how we were making it operate and, ultimately, how we could change its operating system. What new ideas might be able to create radically more ethical and equitable systems for human civilization? I co-founded Maiden—a global user research and education lab for the Blockchain industry—to accelerate mass adoption of this powerful new social and economic technology.

After nearly a decade working with one of the most successful political operations in Washington, DC and only seeing incremental change, I started to wonder about the inherent limitations of political tools. As much as you can push the needle forward politically, it is the financial systems and ideologies that ultimately hold greatest sway in our society.

I believe that Blockchain technology offers us the chance to redesign global economic systems and to influence a newly emerging culture that may very well become the bedrock of our future economy.

The opportunity to help shape a new narrative around money is what drew me to Blockchain. Maiden is my response to what I found urgently missing in order for the industry to scale with integrity. By offering the global, systemic, ethnographic research and education that is needed to cross the chasm into mainstream adoption and realize the vision of a new socio-economic paradigm, Maiden is helping the industry rise to its fullest potential.

You mentioned that you identify as a queer woman. What does that identity mean to you?

I came out as gay at age 12 and immediately felt constricted by the idea that my identity was fixed. That is when I discovered the term queer. Identity is an intensely personal and internal process. For me, being queer is not just about who or how I love, it is about acknowledging the complexity of identity and belonging and refusing to be confined by rigid social norms or conventions. Queerness is ultimately about understanding the fluid nature of reality and about sparking conversations that open, rather than close down, possibilities.

How should we be talking about inclusion or diversity in technology? Is it possible to have a real conversation about these issues that doesn’t just deepen the divides?

I am excited for the conversation in tech to evolve past identity politics and buzzwords like diversity and inclusion and to start being focused on the value of difference more holistically. Especially when it comes to financial technologies, we are designing futures that will impact every aspect of people's lives. We are acting as social engineers often without ever acknowledging the full weight of that responsibility. There is no way that our new architecture will be sound if we do not understand how to value, foster, and navigate the complexities of difference.  

What ideas and/or advice would you offer to other people in the FinTech/Blockchain space today, especially people who identify as queer and/or come from other diverse backgrounds?

The Blockchain space is not the most diverse nor is it the most aware of different identities. That said, the space is full of kindness and a shared desire to make the world a better place.

Given this opening, we have an amazing opportunity to lead by example. When you show up with confidence and self-respect, and you choose to be gracious with people who are really trying to get it right, then you help create an environment where it is safe to make mistakes and grow in capacity together.

That said, not all cultures are healthy. If you are in an environment that doesn’t support your identity and well being, don't keep it to yourself. Call me, call a friend, get support, and make sure to set good boundaries.

What ideas and/or advice would you offer companies, managers, and other people in positions of power to create systemic equality and an inclusive culture at work? How can we make this a more generative space for all of us?

Don't be afraid to talk about difference. Don't be afraid to name identities (especially your own). Talking about our differences with sensitivity is not the same as judging people, in fact it unlocks the intelligence in a space by allowing people to speak authentically to their particular experiences and realities. In our effort to be politically correct we often miss the chance to discuss genuinely unique perspectives that should be honored and included in the discussion. Talking more about who we are and not just what we are doing also allows us to be people at work and not machines. There are unique aspects of being a man in this culture. There are unique aspects of being a woman or of being non-binary or transgender in this culture. If it is safe to talk about difference, then instead of erasing or superficially celebrating diversity, we can start to move towards systemic equality.

Reach out to Shira on LinkedIn.

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