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Before Going Apolitical, Coinbase Sponsored Diversity And Inclusion On Capitol Hill

Cleve Mesidor, Head of the ‘National Policy Network: Women Of Color In Blockchain’ (NPN), described the initial hurt she felt after Coinbase announced its new workplace policy that requires it to be devoid of all social and political issues. Since then, she has focused on holding Coinbase accountable and while she states there are many individuals upset with the company’s CEO Brian Armstrong, she believes she is the loudest.

Formerly a Political Appointee in the Obama Administration, Mesidor had been leading the charge on Capitol Hill with the NPN with the intention of showing how women of color can benefit from cryptocurrency and blockchain technology to policymakers. She commented that she wanted, “to make sure Congress doesn’t only see wealthy [non-diverse] people coming to Washington talking about crypto.” Last October in 2019, Mesidor led a delegation of 25 Women of Color in Blockchain to meet with Members of Congress on Capitol Hill. Three Members of Congress and one staffer visited with the delegation on their ‘Hill Day,’ and one source on Capitol Hill described it as the best blockchain event in D.C. all year.

As a follow-on event, NPN co-sponsored a February 2020 Black History month event with Coinbase and the Blockchain Association, a non-profit in Washington D.C. Mesidor described an event showing that “crypto is inclusive – [there is] gender inclusion, racial inclusion, and geographic inclusion…” Mesidor also noted, “What I loved about it was the Coinbase team that participated.” According to Mesidor, there were 15 Coinbase employees who came to the event, including Asian staffers, Black staffers, LatinX staffers, and Muslim staffers. Mesidor stated, “It was wonderful to have them there as ambassadors from Coinbase and [this] helped [us] to focus on why financial inclusion is important.” 

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I was at both events – the one in October 2019 and the one in February 2020. The title of the event in February was listed under the site Coinbase Celebrates Black History Month with a description that said, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” The event was called “Coinbase x Blockchain Association At Capitol Hill” with the discussion billed as “Financial Inclusion in the Blockchain & Cryptocurrency Economy.” Speakers included Mesidor, Kristin. Smith, the Executive Director of Blockchain Association, and Coinbase’s Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Tariq Meyers. By all accounts, the event was a tremendous success with what appeared to be at least 200 people in attendance. I personally left the event personally feeling very satisfied in the commitment of Coinbase to diversity and inclusion.

So to read and digest the blog of the CEO of Coinbase, Brian Armstrong, that came out months later regarding this new workplace policy, and since the numerous news articles covering the story, it was a disconnect for those who attended the event in February. For Mesidor, she is concerned that the only message from Coinbase is from blogs written by Armstrong, which she described, “sporadic blog posts that sound like manifestos of a crazy man…The most painful was a reference in the post to Breonna Taylor that was subsequently removed.” While she initially described feeling hurt by Coinbase, she immediately followed the Obama playbook in her quest to hold the company accountable for its actions.

Not only does Mesidor take issue with the reversal from the ‘leaning in’ Coinbase to the ‘apolitical’ version, but she also takes strong exception to the severance packages that have since been offered to anyone at Coinbase who does not wish to be in a workplace devoid of political and social discussions. “Coinbase is a federal contractor. All federal contractors are subject to government oversight. The Department of Labor monitors hiring practices for federal contractors,” said Mesidor.

Coinbase won its first government contract with the Secret Service in May 2020 and then won a contract with the IRS, using its ‘Coinbase Analytics’ tool. While both contracts together do not go beyond $300,000 in total revenue, which is likely why they are hardly of notice to Armstrong, companies that do offer consulting services to the U.S. Government are typically held to a higher standard.

Mesidor is hoping Congress will consider a Congressional Inquiry, which while not at the level of a hearing and would be in the form of a public letter seeking more information about the workplace practices of Coinbase, is still likely to bring attention to the top cryptocurrency exchange that it would like to avoid. However, it is ultimately hard to reconcile the Coinbase of February 2020 that so heavily promoted the idea of diversity and inclusion on Capitol Hill with the Coinbase of today.

It appears that Coinbase desires to be ‘mission-focused’ – a mission that involves offering and increasing financial inclusion through its products and services. While Coinbase and Armstrong may be successful in this venture and while it is most likely that ultimately, there will be little to no consequences for the cryptocurrency exchange giant, the question that lingers may be what cost Coinbase – and the crypto industry – will pay for Coinbase’s recent actions.

Coinbase declined to comment at this time regarding its role in the event earlier this year or its role as a federal contractor.

Disclaimer: Cleve Mesidor serves as a Board Member on the Value Technology Foundation, of which I am the Chair and CEO. VTF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that has lent its support to other events by the NPN Women of Color in Blockchain.

Source: Forbes – Money

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