‘Tokenized’: Inside Black Workers’ Struggles at Coinbase

SAN FRANCISCO — One by one, they left. Some quit. Others were fired. All were Black.

The 15 people worked at Coinbase, the most valuable U.S. cryptocurrency start-up, where they represented roughly three-quarters of the Black employees at the 600-person company. Before leaving in late 2018 and early 2019, at least 11 of them informed the human resources department or their managers about what they said was racist or discriminatory treatment, five people with knowledge of the situation said.

One of the employees was Alysa Butler, 25, who worked in recruiting. During her time at Coinbase, she said, she told her manager several times about how he and others excluded her from meetings and conversations, making her feel invisible.

“Most people of color working in tech know that there’s a diversity problem,” said Ms. Butler, who resigned in April 2019. “But I’ve never experienced anything like Coinbase.”

In Silicon Valley, where entrepreneurs and investors often preach high-minded missions and style themselves as management gurus, Coinbase has held itself up as a model. Since the start-up was founded in 2012, Brian Armstrong, the chief executive, has assembled memos and blog posts about how he built the $8 billion company’s culture with distinct hiring and training practices. That has won him acclaim among influential venture capitalists and executives.

But according to 23 current and former Coinbase employees, five of whom spoke on the record, as well as internal documents and recordings of conversations, the start-up has long struggled with its management of Black employees.

One Black employee said her manager suggested in front of colleagues that she was

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