With the price of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and almost every other cryptocurrency tumbling dramatically, major crypto companies like Coinbase and Crypto.com have laid off hundreds of workers in the past few days alone. But one company is on a hiring spree — just not for employees who will call out racism, transphobia, or label other kinds of workplace behavior toxic.
The Kraken cryptocurrency exchange, ranked in the top five globally by trade volume, announced in a blog post Wednesday that it was hiring more than 500 new staff, as long as they fit with the company’s vision of a “crypto-first culture.” Another document linked in the post outlines the fundamentals of that culture divided into sub-sections that summarize a particular vision of crypto-libertarianism associated with controversial CEO Jesse Powell.
One pillar is that “crypto is for everyone,” and another is that “belief in The Mission is a must” — the mission being to accelerate cryptocurrency adoption worldwide. Another section, labeled “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sound Money,” explains that Kraken is founded on belief in the constitutional basis for free speech, free markets, and armed self-defense.
But apparently, the right to free speech at Kraken is not absolute because the next section — “Someone Must be Offended, Some of the Time” — explains that employees “do not call someone’s words toxic, hateful, racist, x-phobic” and must instead “calmly challenge ideas with logic, reason and better ideas.”
If there was confusion about the kind of work environment Kraken promotes, Powell gave his own summary of the culture in a tweet thread published early on Wednesday morning, claiming that there were only “20 people out of 3200 [employees] who are totally not on board.”
The things that made these 20 people a bad fit, per the thread, included concerns over “DEI” (diversity, equity and inclusion), “pronouns,” and “whether someone can identify as a different race and be allowed to use the N-word.” Powell entertained discussion on these topics for a while, but in his words, “people get triggered by everything and can’t conform to basic rules of honest debate.”
5/ What are they upset about?
* DEI (Silicon Valley’s version)
* pronouns, whether someone can identify as a different race and be allowed to use the N-word
* whether differences in human sex exist at all
* being respected and unoffended
* being “harmed” by “violent” words
— Jesse Powell (@jespow) June 15, 2022
Kraken’s public culture briefing was likely an attempt to preempt reporting from The New York Times that referenced chat logs, videos, and other internal documents that showed Powell driving a “culture war” within the company. The documents now published by Kraken are reportedly an abridged version of a longer culture document that was sent to employees earlier in June, with the instruction that they should quit if they disagreed with the values contained within it.
According to the Times, Powell posted comments in one company Slack channel calling American women “brainwashed” in a discussion over female intelligence. He also reportedly started another channel specifically for the purpose of debating whether people should be able to choose gender pronouns that were not assigned to them at birth. Many employees are said to have pushed against Powell strongly but were told that company culture would not meaningfully change.
Kraken did not respond to The Verge’s request for comment by time of publication.
The Kraken story has strong parallels with a previous controversy at the Coinbase exchange. In June 2020, following the death of George Floyd, a group of employees walked out after CEO Brian Armstrong refused to make a public statement in support of Black Lives Matter. Armstrong later declared that Coinbase was a “mission focused company” that would not engage with issues unrelated to the core mission and offered a generous exit package to employees who disagreed with his position.
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