In recent years, large technology companies have come under increasing pressure from employees to get involved in social justice issues. This pressure intensified this summer with the protests of George Floyd. But this week, Coinbase cryptocurrency CEO Brian Armstrong took a different stance.
“While I think these efforts are well-intentioned, they have the potential to destroy a lot of value in most companies, both by distracting and by creating internal division.” Armstrong wrote in a blog post. “We’ve seen what internal disputes companies like Google and Facebook can do about productivity. “I think most employees do not want to work in these divisive environments.”
Armstrong’s post attracted a number of responses from online commentators. Some prominent forms of Silicon Valley praised this while critics argued It was “absolutely ridiculous” to think that a company could keep politics out of the workplace.
In an internal email to employees, Armstrong doubled the company’s new stance, special offer any employee who “does not feel comfortable with this new direction” has four to six months to leave the company, according to The Block.
“It’s always sad when we see teammates go, but it can also be what is best for them and the company,” Armstrong wrote. “Life is too short to work for a company you are not excited about.”
Because Coinbase can be different
This summer, Armstrong reportedly faced a staff uprising after refusing to publicly confirm that “black life matters.” According Erica Joy and inside that spoke with Casey Newton of The Verge, Armstrong finally stopped and wrote the phrase – but only after some Coinbase engineers arranged a departure. Some critics believe that the new Coinbase policy may be an attempt to ensure that Armstrong does not face such an uprising in the future.
This type of employee activism is effective because there is intense competition for talent in Silicon Valley. Developers in the Bay Area tend to be left-leaning on racial and gender issues and have increasingly used their power to pressure their employers to do more to promote anti-racism causes.
But while Silicon Valley engineers may lean to the left on average, the culture is far from monolithic. Silicon Valley also has a subculture of liberal mechanical engineers who are not enthusiastic about the growing Bay Area policy. James Damore, engineer who fired by Google for writing a controversial note on gender diversity has become one of the best known examples.
Coinbase is essentially making an offer for this part of Silicon Valley workforce. The company is in a good position to do this because the world of cryptography has long had an anti-government ethic aimed at libertarians. As a result, Coinbase employees are likely to lean more to the right on race and gender issues than Silicon Valley engineers as a whole. The same goes for Coinbase customers.
So Armstrong is less likely to get less feedback from employees and customers than other tech executives for the same attitude. His attitude is and will be controversial in some corners of the Internet. But he will find support from others – and these supporters may ultimately be more important to Coinbase’s long-term success.