Coinbase founder Brian Armstrong and the company’s ‘all-star culture’ leave the company open to accusations of racism.
Coinbase, the largest American cryptocurrency exchange by volume, was the subject of a Nov 27 New York Times article on racial issues at the company. The media outlet points to waves of departures of Black employees and a consistently low percentage of Black hires.
Coinbase denies that there are any systemic racial issues in the company. It hired outside consultants and conducted internal investigations into claims by current and former Black employees. However, these reviews could not confirm the allegations.
Coinbase hiring records do show that Black employees consistently comprise about three percent of its workforce. Depending on the field chosen in official employment statistics, this is anywhere from one-half to one-third of the industry average. Furthermore, corporate expansion had no effect on this percentage. The authors note that other tech companies, such as Square, PayPal and Twitter worked at increasing the share of Black employees in their firms.
Not a Summer of Love
Systemic racism became a hot topic at Coinbase in early Summer 2020. The killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, led to months of protests. It also led to a reexamination of systemic racism in many communities and companies across the United States.
According to the article, Black employees at Coinbase were hurt that their own leadership remained silent on the matter. After a meeting they organized with executives, Brian Armstrong said that,
“There was this outpouring of, like, Why does the company not have my back?”
After the Summer, the Fall
The rapprochement did not last long. A following email mentioned a diversity-and-inclusion plan, but also increased mentoring – something that directly goes against the company’s “What can you add from Day 1?” ethos. But in September, in a blog post, Brian Armstrong pivoted to focusing on the company and its mission.
The New York Times article focuses on one line in this company blog post. ““We don’t engage here when issues are unrelated to our core mission.” According to the article, the post with this line drew the ire of many employees.
Wide and narrow
The September blog post lays out Brian Armstrong’s vision for the company, its employees and the relations of the two with the external world. In particular, Armstrong sees Coinbase, as his posts and other communication has maintained, from a narrowly-defined interpretation of the goals and mission of the company as stated openly in its documents.
He does state that, “I realized at some point this year that many employees were interpreting our mission in different ways.” On the one hand was social justice, writ broadly. On the other, a narrow focus on developing a cryptoeconomic-centric infrastructure to give people more equality. He states that he understands the company’s mission to be narrow.
Brian Armstrong has a vision for a dream team for Coinbase, and as CEO and founder, he has the ability to bring this vision to fruition. Thus far, the market supports that narrow vision with its trading. It is a matter of speculation as to whether it will continue to do so.