‘Tokenized’: Inside Black Workers’ Struggles at Coinbase

on Nov29
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The next day, Mr. Armstrong, 37, summarized the tone of what he had heard. “There was just this outpouring of, like, Why does the company not have my back?” he said at a staff meeting, according to a recording of the session shared with The New York Times. In a company email he sent later, which was also shared with The Times, he agreed to revamp the diversity-and-inclusion plan and increase mentoring.

But in September, Mr. Armstrong published a public blog post telling employees to leave concerns for issues like racial justice at the door. He said that while the company embraced diversity, the staff needed to focus on Coinbase’s mission of profit and advancing cryptocurrencies. They should resign if they did not agree, he said.

“We don’t engage here when issues are unrelated to our core mission,” Mr. Armstrong wrote.

The post drew immediate blowback from employees. “Why stay and put effort into this work if it’s just tokenized into recruiting points and not actually improving the sense of belonging and psychological safety,” Lauren Lee, who was responsible for diversity and inclusion, wrote in a Slack message that was viewed by The Times.

Ms. Lee, who did not respond to requests for comment, resigned last month. So have at least 60 others.

Mr. Armstrong, a former Airbnb engineer, and Fred Ehrsam, a former Goldman Sachs trader, founded Coinbase eight years ago to provide a place to buy and sell cryptocurrencies. They built the start-up into a cryptocurrency leader, making money by taking fees on trades placed by its customers. (Mr. Ehrsam left day-to-day operations in 2017.)

Today, Coinbase is riding a new wave of interest in cryptocurrencies, with the value of the virtual currency Bitcoin approaching a new high as investors increasingly treat it like an alternative to gold.

Much of Coinbase’s culture stems from the one around Bitcoin, current and former employees said. Bitcoin, which embodies a libertarian philosophy that snubs its nose at the pieties of mainstream institutions, has attracted a generation of fans known as “crypto bros.” Many have propagated a brash male-dominated way of life, facing criticism for sowing racism and sexism.



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