Black workers are not happy and they’re leaving Coinbase, considered the king of crypto exchanges, over alleged racism at the tech company.
The most valuable U.S. cryptocurrency company, Coinbase has seen a mass exodus of Black workers and a number of internal complaints about discriminatory treatment.
Alysa Butler resigned from Coinbase in April 2019. “Most people of color working in tech know that there’s a diversity problem,” she told The New York Times. “But I’ve never experienced anything like Coinbase.”
Among the outraged workers willing to speak to the media are 15 people who worked at Coinbase, where they represented about three-quarters of the Black employees at the 600-person company, The Times reported. Before leaving in late 2018 and early 2019, at least 11 complained to the human resources department or their managers about what they said was racist or discriminatory treatment, multiple sources said.
According to the NYT, 23 current and former employees went on the record to speak about systemic racial discrimination at the company. Three quarters of the company’s Black employees fled the company in late 2018 and early 2019.
Butler, who worked in recruiting, was one of them.
Another Black employee said her manager suggested in front of colleagues that she was dealing drugs and carrying a gun, evoking racist stereotypes. One Black worker claimed a co-worker at a recruiting meeting broadly described Black employees as less capable than others. Still another said she and her Black colleagues were passed over for promotions in favor of less experienced white employees.
“It was the first time I realized what racism felt like in the modern world,” said Layllen Sawyerr, a Coinbase compliance analyst who is Black. “I felt like I was being bullied every day at work.” Sawyerr filed a discrimination complaint with Coinbase’s legal department before quitting in 2018.
Kim Milosevich, a Coinbase spokeswoman, said the company “does not tolerate racial, gender or any other forms of discrimination.”
She added, “All claims of discrimination are treated very seriously, investigated by both internal and third parties, and the appropriate action is taken.”
Tech companies say they have struggled to hire and support Black employees and entrepreneurs. Just 1 percent of venture-backed companies were led by Black entrepreneurs from 2013 to 2018, according to a study by RateMyInvestor, which analyzes tech investors. Large tech companies like Intel, Google and Facebook have publicly said that they need to do better on diversity and have committed to improvements, though progress has been uneven.
Coinbase published a blog post prior to the New York Times story claiming the Times’ investigative piece was imminent and that it missed “important context.”
“The story covers our efforts related to Belonging, Inclusion and Diversity; our positioning as a mission-focused company; and the discussions we had within the company this year about Black Lives Matter,” Coinbase reported in the blog. “However, a significant portion of the story also focuses on major changes to our Compliance and CX orgs [c-level restructuring] that took place in 2018. The story will likely imply that Black employees were discriminated against during this process; this is false.”
Coinbase came under fire over another blog post, this one published in September by the exchange’s CEO, Brian Armstrong. In the blog he said that Coinbase is “laser focused” on its mission to build an open financial system while focusing “minimally” on “broader societal issues” and political causes.
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This stated mission didn’t sit well with many employees, and soon after the controversial blog post, Coinbase offered an exit package to employees who wanted to leave. Nearly 5 percent of the exchange’s 1,200 employees accepted a severance package at the time.
“These developments at the time also revealed that Coinbase experienced an employee walk-out over a meeting in which a question about Black Lives Matter was raised. Armstrong was said to have asked what he thought about Black Lives Matter and responded that he didn’t have an answer in that moment,” The Block Crypto reported.
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