What The New York Times Didn’t Say About Crypto Firm Kraken’s Culture War
The New York Times published a 1,700-word article Wednesday alleging that the cryptocurrency exchange Kraken had been roiled by an internal culture war, whipped up by CEO Jesse Powell and his penchant for inflammatory speech.
Via Slack, the article said, Powell “challenged the use of preferred pronouns, debated who can use racial slurs and called American women ‘brainwashed.'”
“He also questioned [employees’] use of preferred pronouns and led a discussion about ‘who can refer to another person as the N word,'” wrote reporters Ryan Mac and David Yaffe-Bellany. They alleged that Powell “told workers that questions about women’s intelligence and risk appetite compared with men’s were ‘not as settled as one might have initially thought'” and that such comments led employees to accuse Powell of cultivating a “hateful workplace.”
A workplace so hateful, in fact, that “dozens are considering quitting, said the employees, who did not want to speak publicly for fear of retaliation.”
Powell had tweeted a different account of the turmoil at his company (briefly noted 14 paragraphs down in the Times piece):
1/ We recently attempted to summarize what the @krakenfx culture has been over the past 11 years, and what we hope it continues to be.
We had a few heated debates and it turns out we have about 20 people out of 3200 who are totally not on board. ????????https://t.co/Ht6bagQ6T1
— Jesse Powell (@jespow) June 15, 2022
“As of the time that I made my tweet, it was literally 20 people” who had resigned, stating disagreement with culture or mission or culture document, Powell tells Reason. “That number is now 31,” he says, out of a 3,000-person company. He adds that 21 of those people have been at Kraken for six months or less. Most people stick around for years, he adds, but there’s also some natural employee churn each month.
Part of the reason for the exodus—if you want to call it that—may be that Powell is offering employees buyouts of four months’ severance; for the 21 employees who’ve been working at the company for less than six months, an extra four months of guaranteed pay to leave may in fact be an attractive deal.
For The New York Times, this small group at Kraken is symptomatic of a larger problem in the crypto space. “Rarely has such angst been actively stoked by the top boss,” write Mac and Yaffe-Bellany. “And even in the male-dominated cryptocurrency industry, which is known for a libertarian philosophy that promotes freewheeling speech, Mr. Powell has taken that ethos to an extreme.”
The conflict at Kraken shows the difficulty of translating crypto’s political ideologies to a modern workplace, said Finn Brunton, a technology studies professor at the University of California, Davis, who wrote a book in 2019 about the history of digital currencies. Many early Bitcoin proponents championed freedom of ideas and disdained government intrusion; more recently, some have rejected identity politics and calls for
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