Companies can’t become “apolitical” overnight.
According to multiple Coinbase workers, the plan to offer a clean exit for mission-dissenting staffers has been in the works for six months. So far, at least three people in the 1,200-person firm have taken the severance package, one of these sources told CoinDesk on Friday.
In the past week, Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong published a blog post discouraging politics in the office and offered a severance package for employees who disagreed with a new mission statement. According to three employees, who all spoke with CoinDesk on the condition of anonymity, Armstrong and other managers at the San Francisco-based crypto exchange said in company-wide meetings that they had been planning this move for six months.
Armstrong began to plan for the company’s new position after several Coinbase engineers closed their laptops one day over the summer after Armstrong wouldn’t say “black lives matter” externally amid social unrest over police killings of unarmed black men and women.
Armstrong recently clarified in company meetings that he could say “black lives matter” (lowercase) and admit to societal injustice but not “Black Lives Matter” (uppercase) and associate himself with the social movement for racial equity. On the day of the walkout Armstrong tweeted:
Another source familiar with the company’s inner workings said the policy was rolled out in response to polarizing political conversations happening in all-company Slack channels and other venues rather than the walkout itself.
Employees are still allowed to have political conversations in non-general channels created by employees, this source added.
One employee said Armstrong could have avoided controversy if he had communicated the company’s new direction only internally. (Employees learned of the decision a week prior to the public blog post, staffers said.)
“I think that if he was trying primarily to communicate this to employees and had consulted and listened to really anyone who might be sensitive to the concept of selling this to his employees, this could have blown over and turned into something banal and corporate,” the employee said.
Still another employee said that the timing of the policy’s release was bad. It came at the end of the third quarter, amid rumors of the firm going public, and after a Louisville grand jury failed to charge police officers for murder in the controversial killing of Breonna Taylor.
“I don’t think it was targeted at Black Lives Matter in general,” the employee said of the blog post and new company mission. “We just have a lot of projects we need to get done.”
Multiple employees said the company has distanced itself from employees by moving questions in all-hands meetings to messaging platform Slido after the summer walkout. In a companywide “ask-me-anything” held Thursday, Armstrong and company leadership explained that the new direction doesn’t mean that Coinbase is going after employees that dissent.
“Everyone reaffirmed in the AMA that they do support the blog post but were walking back some of the more extreme implications that might come with being an apolitical company and reaffirmed the commitment to diversity and employee support,” one employee said. “What people might imagine – whether the company is going to be crushing all internal discourse or ejecting employees with strongly held political beliefs – isn’t going to happen.”
It is unclear what punishments employees might face should they not abide by the new decision. That said, leadership has made it clear that the rules around non-work discussions are loose so long as they’re not tied directly to politics.
In response to employees asking if they could make a #spaghetti-monster-for-president Slack channel, leadership said that would be fine, these employees said.