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In the nascent metaverse, women are locked out of leadership roles, according to a new report by consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

The firm said it saw five early indicators about women in the metaverse that reveal gender inequality — especially in the leadership creating and setting metaverse standards. McKinsey estimates the metaverse will have a $5 trillion value by 2030.

Of course, many experts believe that the metaverse — a 3D-animated real-time internet that is synchronous and massively scalable — isn’t here yet. But the firm is referring to metaverse-like applications. The report was authored by McKinsey’s Mina Alaghband and Lareina Yee.

“The metaverse is still in its early days. Even its definition remains fluid and is likely to continue evolving. But the consensus view, at least today, is that the metaverse is the next iteration of the internet, wherein the internet becomes something that people immerse themselves in more deeply rather than something they simply view: an evolution from 2D to 3D across a range of interfaces, including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR),” McKinsey said. “As with other transformative technologies, such as the cloud and AI, whose evolutions have spanned decades, the metaverse’s early consumers and leaders — including investors and CEOs — will shape its future.”

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What role will women play?

Women are more active in the metaverse.

McKinsey said it set out to better understand how gender dynamics are playing out in the early-stage metaverse by examining a range of data, including those collected for McKinsey’s own June 2022 report on value creation in the metaverse.

“We found an already discernible gender gap in the metaverse, similar to the gap that exists in Fortune 500 companies and startups, where less than 10% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, only 17% of venture capital (VC) dollars go to women-led and women co-led companies, and just 15% of VC general partners in the United States are women,” the report said.

The report said the reality is that women are spending more time in the proto-metaverse than men are and, according to McKinsey’s data, are more likely to spearhead and implement metaverse initiatives. However, just as in the tech sector as a whole, women represent a minority in the metaverse economy. Both the entrepreneurial capital and the CEO roles in the metaverse space remain disproportionately reserved for men.

More women than men are power users in the metaverse

The research on consumers in the metaverse showed that 41% of women had used a primary metaverse platform or participated in a digital world for more than a year, compared with 34% of men. In addition, more women spent significant time in the metaverse: 35% of the women surveyed are power users, spending more than three hours a week in the metaverse, compared with 29% of men.

McKinsey said research also reveals that women are more likely than men to engage in hybrid use cases in the metaverse, traversing both physical and digital worlds to take part in activities such as gaming, fitness, education, live events and shopping via AR/VR technologies. By contrast, men are using the metaverse to participate in purely digital experiences such as gaming, trading nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and attending social events.

Women are spearheading and implementing more metaverse initiatives

In a survey of almost 450 senior executives, 60% of women reported that they have implemented more than two metaverse-related initiatives in their organizations. The numbers show that these female executives are 20% more likely than their male counterparts to implement multiple metaverse initiatives, especially around marketing, employee learning and development, and product design.

But women leaders are scarce in the emerging metaverse economy

Metaverse companies are largely led by men.

While women consumers and executives are more proactive about metaverse usage and initiatives than male consumers and executives, women are still locked out of leadership roles in the metaverse economy. McKinsey’s research shows that in the past five years, male-led metaverse companies received a higher share of total entrepreneurial funding than female-led metaverse companies.

Women executives are more likely than their male counterparts to have implemented multiple metaverse initiatives in their companies. Over the past five years, metaverse companies that received higher shares of funding were disproportionately led by men. Women consumers and executives are more proactive about metaverse usage and initiatives, yet women are still locked out of leadership roles in the metaverse economy.

Metaverse standards groups are led by men.

In organizations shaping metaverse standards, 90% of leadership roles are held by men. A number of standards bodies are emerging to set interoperability norms for the metaverse — among them, the Metaverse Standards Forum and the Open Metaverse Alliance for Web3 (OMA3). But only about 8% to 10% of the member organizations are led by female executives. This percentage is similar to the roughly 9% of Fortune 500 companies led by women today.

Organizations that participate in the metaverse forums currently shaping future interoperability standards are disproportionately led by men, the report said.

The metaverse has the potential to bring profound change to the global economy, as well as to create new and more equitable opportunities for all who use it — which is why it is imperative for all key stakeholders to understand the dynamics at play. According to early indicators, women may already be a powerful metaverse user base, McKinsey said.

Addressing the existing gender gap in leadership roles while the metaverse is still in its formative stage is therefore of paramount importance. To do so, industry stakeholders will need to engage a range of different voices and infuse diverse leadership into the companies and coalitions shaping the metaverse today, McKinsey said.

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