SF crypto CEO says debate on pronouns and race is a distraction

Cryptocurrency markets have been roiled in recent weeks, with bitcoin losing half its value compared to a year ago while other cryptocurrencies plunge as inflation rises and fears of a recession loom.

Those gloomy economic indicators have led to large layoffs at crypto exchanges like Coinbase, which slashed close to a fifth of its staff this week. They’re also adding to internal strife at another one of the world’s largest exchanges, San Francisco’s Kraken.

Company CEO Jesse Powell said in a Twitter thread Wednesday that debate over diversity, equity and inclusion issues from a few employees had become a distraction from the company’s goals.

Powell accused activist employees of being myopic, saying, “You want to be ‘inclusive’ by asking an ESL Saudi candidate his pronouns/gender in a job interview?”

“Great talent, bad fit,” Powell wrote of what he characterized as a small group of employees who were not sufficiently focused on the company’s goals and who he later characterized as “woke.”

“When things were rosy, everybody got along. When things started to look grim, sensitivities and the misalignment came through,” he said, seeming to refer to the down crypto market. “People focused on minor slights, first world problems rather than our really big, important mission to help billions of people.”

Powell said debates around pronouns and race had become distractions from the company’s mission of speeding the global adoption of cryptocurrencies, adding, “…people get triggered by everything and can’t conform to basic rules of honest debate. Back to dictatorship.”

Powell also said he believed an employee had shared internal chats with a journalist and expected a negative article about the company to publish shortly.

On Wednesday, the New York Times published a lengthy story in which it said Powell questioned employees choosing their own pronouns and raised questions about womens’ intelligence, also starting a discussion about who can use “the n-word,” although he is white.

A company spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email seeking to verify those claims.

This is not the first time Kraken has come into conflict with its own employees. Its parent company sued employees who left anonymous reviews on the company rating site Glassdoor after a round of layoffs in an attempt to reveal their identities.

Unlike companies like Coinbase, which have sought to cut staff as Bitcoin and other crypto holdings have cratered, Kraken said it would not lay anyone off and planned to continue hiring for hundreds of positions this year — but only the right kinds of people.

“We understand that while we will always be a great place to work for some who share our mission, we may not be the most compatible company for some others,” a document outlining the company’s culture said.

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