Former SpaceX engineer essay alleges tradition is ‘rife with sexism’

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A Falcon 9 rocket will be launched outside the Space Exploration Technologies Corp. headquarters in Hawthorne, California on January 28, 2021. (SpaceX) issued.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

A former Elon Musk SpaceX employee alleged in an essay published Tuesday that the space company’s workplace was “full of sexism” and that its staffing team did not protect victims of harassment or abuse.

Ashley Kosak, who worked at SpaceX as an intern and then as an engineer for about four years, claimed in her essay on the Lioness blog site that the SpaceX culture “is in a state of decay and dysfunction so great that the only cure after all was quit. “Kosak left SpaceX in November and now works for Apple.

“I know SpaceX is now trying to improve … what I really hope is that not only women understand how widespread this problem is, but also their male counterparts,” Kosak said in an interview with CNBC on Tuesday. “We can still try to actually hold people accountable.”

CNBC also spoke to Julia CrowleyFarenga, who was a three-time intern at SpaceX and who accused her own cases of sexual harassment and negligence in human resources.

CrowleyFarenga sued SpaceX for discrimination and retaliation in 2020 after failing to hire. The lawsuit has since been “settled,” said CrowleyFarenga. Today she works for the California Institute of Technology at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“It’s really important that people hear these stories so that hopefully those responsible will be held accountable for their actions,” said CrowleyFarenga.

SpaceX did not respond to CNBC’s repeated requests for comment.

The company has approximately 10,000 employees in the United States, many of whom would have spent Cossacks while working at its Los Angeles headquarters and launch facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Kosak and CrowleyFarenga paint a different picture of SpaceX than the company’s public image. Female engineers regularly host the company’s launch webcasts, which are watched by millions online, while Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX, has become one of the most powerful women in the space industry.

In Musk’s interview with Time Magazine, published Monday, he described SpaceX’s Starship development facility in Texas as “like a tech monastery” and said the company’s workforce was male-dominated.

“There are hardly any – there are some women here – but not many, and it’s remote and we do technology,” Musk said in an interview.

It is noteworthy that SpaceX is not only confronted with internal criticism of its culture as a space company. Earlier this year, Lioness published a similar essay by Alexandra Abrams, former director of employee communications at Blue Origin for Jeff Bezos.

Abrams’ essay, anonymously endorsed by 20 other current and former Blue Origin employees, claimed it was a “toxic” workplace that created a sexist environment. Blue Origin had a volatile year, ranging from the success of bringing 14 employees on its New Shepard rocket to the turbulence of high employee turnover.

Your experience

Kosak started as an intern at SpaceX in 2017 before the company hired her full-time position in 2019. During her internship, Kosak claimed, another intern “grabbed my bum while I washed my dishes” at the company’s home. She said she reported the incident to two colleagues, including a manager, but “the matter was never referred to Human Resources” and she “continued to live with this man”.

She wrote that over the next two years while interned for the company, “countless men” made “sexual advances on me” and alleged another incident in which “a male colleague ran his hand over my shirt.” my lower waist to my chest. ”Kosak said she reported the incident to her manager again and this time met with Human Resources.

“Nobody went any further. This man remained part of the team that I reported to and that I worked for,” said Kosak.

In 2021, as a full-time employee, Kosak brought more “incidents of sexism to HR,” including those she witnessed herself, she said.

“When we had to work from home during the pandemic, men from the company found my Instagram account and sent me a message asking me out on a date. One called my phone at 4 a.m. Another colleague came to my house and insisted on even touching me when I repeatedly asked that we remain professional, “said Kosak.

She claimed that “nothing was done” in response to every incident she reported to Human Resources.

“I was told that matters of this nature were too private to openly discuss with the perpetrators. Instead, they said mandatory company training programs were being carried out,” said Kosak.

Kosak said she had “posted a message to SpaceX’s anonymous ethics and compliance tip line” following further incidents. But “despite the advertised anonymity,” said Kosak, “the tip line was actually a Microsoft form that allows admins to see the submitter’s identity.”

“A week later, I was contacted by Human Resources and faced with invasive questions about the nature of the harassment,” said Kosak.

Before leaving the company, Kosak said, she met with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell as well as the company’s HR director.

“They assured me that they had never heard of my experience of harassment and said that senior executives are not involved in discussions about the frequency of this problem in their departments,” wrote Kosak.

Shotwell previously said that SpaceX has a “no a ——” policy. In an inaugural address at Northwestern University earlier this year, Shotwell said that “a ——-” are people who “interrupt others” and “create a hostile environment in which no one wants to contribute.” But Kosak claimed in her essay that SpaceX’s culture does not follow this policy in practice, writing that “every single man who molested me, despite the so-called non-tolerance and no-a —— Company policy was tolerated. “

“Ultimately, I was disappointed,” Kosak told CNBC. “Because I thought when I was in that meeting [with Shotwell], they would have known. “

CrowleyFarenga added that it was “absurd” that SpaceX leadership had only recently “heard of sexual harassment in the company”. She said she was on a women’s network with a mentor who would speak to Shotwell and discussed how a SpaceX male supervisor treated CrowleyFarenga when she was an intern.

“Gwynne [Shotwell] wasn’t happy to hear a manager spent two hours with his intern, “said CrowleyFarenga.

In her essay, Kosak added that “the last thing I heard was training new SpaceX interns on how to better report their harassment,” but stressed that their alleged molesters “have still not been held accountable”.

Your climate neutral plan

Kosak said she had “drawn up a plan that would make SpaceX completely carbon neutral by 2030,” also because she saw corporate culture as contradicting its mission to make humanity a multi-planetary species.

“It contained a framework for a diverse and functioning society that would learn from our colonial past and incorporate indigenous expertise,” wrote Kosak in the essay.

Kosak claimed that some of SpaceX’s buildings are “gas-powered” and said that “the funding is not dedicated to reducing CO2 emissions”.

“Although there are solar panels on campus, all attempts to make new buildings and infrastructure sustainable (LEED) are being withdrawn in favor of expanding the factory as quickly as possible,” said Kosak.

Kosak wrote that she took her plan directly to Musk, but said that he “rejected it with an email saying ‘We’ve rejected wind and solar power'” is developing it. Before leaving in November, she left my team “one last message to continue working towards a sustainable climate solution,” said Kosak.

Musk announced a corporate climate project in a tweet hours before Kosak’s essay was published Tuesday.

“SpaceX is launching a program to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and convert it into rocket fuel,” said Musk.

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