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 2-D to 3-D across a range of interfaces, including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). 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. The question that many are asking is, what role will women play?
We 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 June 2022 report on value creation in the metaverse.1 We found an already discernible gender gap in the metaverse, similar to the gap that exists in Fortune 500 companies and start-ups, where less than 10 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women,2 only 17 percent of venture capital (VC) dollars go to women-led and women co-led companies,3 and just 15 percent of VC general partners in the United States are women.4
The reality is that women are spending more time in the protometaverse than men are and, according to our data, are more likely to spearhead and implement metaverse initiatives. However, just as in the tech sector as a whole,5 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. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers.
More women than men are power users in the metaverse
Our research on consumers in the metaverse shows that 41 percent of women had used a primary metaverse platform or participated in a digital world for more than a year, compared with 34 percent of men.6 In addition, more women spent significant time in the metaverse: 35 percent of the women surveyed are power users, spending more than three hours a week in the metaverse, compared with 29 percent of men (Exhibit 1).
Women spend more time than men in the metaverse, especially in hybrid use cases
Our 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 (Exhibit 2).
Women are spearheading and implementing more metaverse initiatives
In a survey of almost 450 female executives,7 60 percent of women report that they have implemented more than two metaverse-related initiatives in their organizations. The numbers show that these female executives are 20 percent more likely than their male counterparts to implement multiple metaverse initiatives, especially around marketing, employee learning and development, and product design (Exhibit 3).
Female leaders are scarce in the emerging metaverse economy
As we have noted, female consumers and executives are more proactive about metaverse usage and initiatives than male consumers and executives, yet women are still locked out of leadership roles in the metaverse economy. Our 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 (Exhibit 4).
In organizations shaping metaverse standards, 90 percent 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 percent of the member organizations are led by female executives (Exhibit 5). This percentage is similar to the roughly 9 percent of Fortune 500 companies led by women today.8
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. 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.