Hi folks, it’s Shelly. There’s at least one thing more remarkable than the sheer number of employees who left Coinbase Inc. last week over disagreements with the company’s ban on political speech. It’s that they did so while the U.S. faces an unemployment crisis and rising uncertainty over the economic outlook post-election.
Sixty people, or 5% of Coinbase’s staff, opted for exit packages after the chief executive officer, Brian Armstrong, told employees to either keep their political views and social activism out of the workplace or leave. The company, which runs a platform to buy and sell Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, instituted the policy after workers staged a walkout over Armstrong’s silence on the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Everyone is asking the question about how companies should engage in broader societal issues during these difficult times,” Armstrong wrote in a blog post. “We have just made a decision to not engage in broader activism.”
While Coinbase’s actions drew stern rebukes from tech founders like Twitter Inc.’s Jack Dorsey, it garnered praise from a corner of Silicon Valley that has railed against activism in the tech industry. Regardless of who you side with, laying it all out there does make it easier for employees to assess “where we want to spend our time and invest our labor,” Code2040’s Mimi Fox Melton told the Washington Post.
And it serves as a reminder that while the rest of the economy might be in shambles, the technology job market is as competitive as ever. While the national unemployment rate stood at 7.9% last month, it was just 3.5% for tech jobs, according to an analysis of government data by trade group Comptia. That means a qualified engineer can at any time take off and go work somewhere else.
There are exceptions, of course, such as foreign workers whose visas are tied to their employers. But take Clem Freeman, a Coinbase software engineer, as an example. Freeman tweeted that he disagreed with the decisions made by Coinbase’s leadership, and within hours, dozens of inquiries from other tech companies streamed in on Twitter, openly trying to recruit him.
Some employers might think ridding the workplace of politics can achieve a utopian goal of total productivity without distraction. But one of the reasons tech workers can demand changes to workplace diversity, stage walkouts and lead social justice campaigns is because they have a lot more leverage than, say, workers in the retail or manufacturing industries.
With tech engineers still in high demand, the risk companies like Coinbase run when they take a stand that’s not aligned with what employees want is that many of them can, and will, walk out for good. —Shelly Banjo
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