Jesse Powell, CEO of the stock exchange kraken cryptocurrenciesthis month distributed among its 3,200 employees a 31-page document in which intended to describe the values of the company. However, based on the redacted version that was later posted online, the document seemed to reflect the values of Powell himself, who characterized his beliefs as “libertarian”, a political philosophy that emphasizes a commitment to the protection of individual liberty. Powell also promised that Kraken was committed to supporting a “diversity of thought”.
Neither theme is foreign to the rhetoric of Silicon Valley elites, but Powell’s conduct as an executive illustrates why these ideas often ring true. empty in practice. By requiring some employees to pass a “ideological purity test” On the benefits of cryptocurrencies, as Powell once described it, there is no openness to diversity of thought.
Also, promise “control the language” that people use to describe their own gender identity, as Powell reportedly said at a company-wide meeting, falls far short of demonstrating a commitment to protecting individual freedom.
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Meanwhile in slack, a tool for managing team communication, Powell has said things to employees that would make an employment lawyer pale: including that most American women have been “brainwashed” and that it remains to be determined if they are less intelligent than men (later he mentioned that these comments were taken out of context or he classified them as jokes). Then there’s that time he tried to lead a debate over who he should be allowed to say. the word that starts with “N” (NdR: for “nigger2, that they come from n”egro” in Spanish and that is considered the most racist and derogatory word in English).
So no, Powell’s toxic behavior is not rooted in his libertarianism or his commitment to diversity of thought; it’s just an outbreak of his narcissismwhich has allowed him to turn the company he runs into an ideological vanity project.
Elon Musk, another narcissist
And Powell is not alone. Earlier this month, SpaceX employees were reported to have drafted a letter asking its CEO, Elon Musk, to, please, for the love of god, stop tweeting, and generally displaying the erratic behavior that is causing chaos within the company…and that in another industry would have resulted in removal. “It is crucial to make it clear to our teams and our potential pool of talent that their messages do not reflect our work, our mission or our values.”
Musk wasted no time fire several of those employeesarguing that the letter was distracting the company from its mission (which, of course, is exactly what the letter claims Musk is doing).
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To be sure, tech companies aren’t the only firms with leaders who have taken political stances: Executives at Hobby Lobby, Martin’s Famous Potato Rolls and Bread, and Chick-fil-A have aligned themselves with a conservative political ideology, while leaders of companies like Ben & Jerry’s are unabashed liberals. Nor are they the first to wage culture wars within their own companies, as Disney and Starbucks well know.
However, Silicon Valley culture places a lot of faith in the idea that an inherent aspect of technology is changing the world and that heThe goals of the industry are noble. High-profile executives are lauded as innovators and gamechangers who have ideas that surpass those of ordinary mortals…and often produce perceived followers inside and outside their industry.
The most prominent exemplar of this phenomenon is Musk, whose supporters range from mere enthusiasts to those who are a little upset. Perhaps understandably, this has reinforced Musk’s mistaken belief that he is capable of understanding and solving problems beyond the scope of his knowledge, including rescuing Thai children trapped in a cave and solving problems. of Twitter, where the product-level experience it has demonstrated is limited for the most part to its prolific use of the platform.
They rate themselves better than others
Powell also demonstrates this expansive assessment of his own abilities, as he noted in a tweet in which he mentioned that his efforts to show tolerance by watching internal company debates were thwarted by the comparative ignorance of their employees: “The problem is that I have more understanding of policy issues, so people are bothered by everything and cannot conform to the basic rules of honest debate. Back to a dictatorship,” he tweeted.
This problem of know-it-all leaders is particularly insidious when it manifests itself in white CEOs who believe their success equips them to dictate what should and shouldn’t be acceptable to their employees, many of whom face different structural realities in workplaces where they are marginalized.
It doesn’t seem to occur to these know-it-alls that their success is at least partly due to the advantages they have because of the identity-based inequalities they seek to limit conversation about. Or maybe this idea does occur to them, but it violates their triumphant personal narratives, so they discard it. They need to believe that they are extraordinary. By this logic, the people they hire are not.
This type of leader believes that he is the main asset of the company, so it is normal that his interests are paramount and his right to do and say what he wants should be unlimited, without any consideration for the consequences. The problem, for him and his company, is both labor law and a competitive market for top talent.
Workers have the right to a workplace free from discrimination And while the meaning of that is subject to legal interpretation, it doesn’t take a team of employment lawyers to understand that workers with other options will avoid companies where it’s suggested they may be less intelligent because of their gender or where expression is discouraged. of their identities.
If a CEO suggests, even jokingly, that women are intellectually inferior or contemplates a debate about who can use racial slurs, black women and employees get the message all too well. What are the rights of an employee in this case?
If you don’t like it, find another job.
The CEO of another cryptocurrency platform, Coinbase, Brian Armstrong — who defended Powell and called the Times article about his conduct “biased” — has faced this challenge. In the Armstrong case, a wave of black employees leaving the company in 2020 occurred after incidents in which a manager turned to the racial stereotypes about drug trafficking and at a recruiting meeting Black people were characterized as “less capable.”
In all of these instances, Kraken, SpaceX, and Coinbase have asserted that they do not tolerate discriminatory conduct or hostile work environments. However, the adage that your right to throw punches ends where someone else’s nose begins doesn’t seem to hold true in the offices of those executives, where the only person who has the right not to be hit is the person in charge.
These narcissistic CEOs have a common refrain when people declare that they don’t like being bullied: you are free to look elsewhere for work. “Work where that doesn’t disgust you”a Kraken executive told company employees in a Slack group where they participate.
Powell, Musk and Armstrong send the same message: They care about individual rights, but not their employees and the diversity of thought is limited to the expression of ideas within the limits of their own pet ideologies. All criticism of his behavior is malicious in nature (Powell went so far as to sue former employees who anonymously posted critical comments about his experience working with him on the job site Glassdoor).
In the end, shareholders, employees, customers, and other stakeholders will have to choose between the companies in which they are investing their time, labor, and money, and the know-it-alls who believe that the institutions will be nothing without them. Contrary to what these CEOs believe, the two options are not synonymous.
(1) Elizabeth Spiers, a contributor to the Opinion section of The New York Times, is a journalist and digital media strategist. She was the editor-in-chief of The New York Observer and the founding editor of Gawker.
This article originally appeared on New York Times.
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In Silicon Valley there is a problem with know-it-all leaders