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Meet the Mentor | Joni Pirovich, Special Counsel at Mills Oakley

We caught up with Joni to get her thoughts on why blockchain is much bigger than just bitcoin and why we need more women in tech.

Joni Pirovich is a Special Counsel at Mills Oakley, specialising in blockchain and digital assets, and focusing on the intersection of emerging technologies and law. In addition, she is also an industry mentor for RMIT Online’s Developing Blockchain Strategy short course and a soon-to-be mother of two. 

Joni is highly regarded for her client advisory and policy work with respect to the legal and tax implications of blockchain and digital assets. She has prepared submissions, and participated in round tables for Treasury's 2019 review into initial coin offerings and the OECD's consultation on Taxing the Digital Economy. A regular keynote speaker for tech conferences, Joni delivered a tax proposal at the OECD Global Blockchain Policy Forum in Paris in September 2019 - a career highlight!

In the lead up to International Womens day, we caught up with Joni to get her thoughts on why blockchain is much bigger than just bitcoin and why we need more women in tech.

Why should people care about blockchain now the crypto hype has died down?

Cryptocurrency was only the first application of blockchain technology - there are other useful applications of the technology that don’t rely on a cryptocurrency and which continue to progress despite the volatility in cryptocurrency markets.  Blockchain technology can form the basis of borderless marketplace infrastructure for a number of different industries, as well as domestic marketplace infrastructure that brings multiple different stakeholders together in a trusted and permissioned digital environment. It is a technology worth paying attention to, even if only to ascertain which blockchain projects are being worked on in your industry. 

Is there a gender gap in blockchain?

Yes and no. In my experience, the cryptocurrency focused events — often sponsored by cryptocurrency exchanges which generally do not have gender balanced leadership and management —tend to be male dominated, and perhaps have inherited the male dominance of the traditional financial services and investment banking industries. I highly commend BTC Markets’ recent appointment of Caroline Bowler as CEO, and Samira Tollo, Co-founder and CTO of Elbaite - women with great vision, persistence and patience for the nuances and challenges of this industry. The blockchain focused events and projects tend to have more female representation and at more senior levels, although I continue to see the need for more female blockchain developers. 

Why do more women need to be involved in emerging tech - like blockchain?

Women across professions need to be involved in the experimentation and implementation of emerging technologies for a number of reasons. One reason that is close to my heart is the impact that my involvement in the blockchain space has had for more junior professional women that are interested in this area. A number of young professional women have reached out to me for mentorship, guidance and to learn how I “made it through the male ranks”. It hasn’t been easy, and has taken a lot of hard work and resilience. I’ve also had to navigate the disruption to career continuity of maternity leave, primary carer responsibilities, raising a toddler while working full time and having another baby on the way. I’d like to see more women in senior roles to look out for and respectfully call out unconscious bias or blatantly “blokey” treatment that can make women feel uncomfortable at events and on projects. As I am increasingly unable to attend blockchain and cryptocurrency events due to parenting responsibilities — as I suspect most women in blockchain also struggle with — it would be great to know there is a pipeline of women at various ages and stages to be present and offer mentor ship and guidance. 

What advice can you offer people who want to move into the blockchain space?

Read the recently released National Blockchain Roadmap for a state-of-play of where Australia is at now. Also read as much as you can about blockchain projects happening overseas. Australia is relatively slow moving compared to places like China, Japan and Russia, as well as the European Union. I have contributed the most value to my domestic blockchain and cryptocurrency clients due to the knowledge of foreign based or decentralised blockchain projects.

This article was originally published on 3 March 2020