Former SpaceX Engineer Essay Claims Culture “ Replete with Sexism ”

A Falcon 9 rocket is shown near the headquarters of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) January 28, 2021 in Hawthorne, California.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

Former SpaceX employee Elona Musk said in an essay published on Tuesday that the space company’s workplace is “rife with sexism” and that its human resources department does not protect victims of harassment or abuse.

Ashley Kosak, who worked at SpaceX for about four years as an intern and then an engineer, stated in her essay the Lioness blog site says SpaceX’s culture is “in such a state of disrepair and dysfunction that finally the only option was to leave.” Kosak left SpaceX in November and now works at Apple.

“I know SpaceX is trying to improve right now … I really hope something happens that not only women understand how widespread this problem is, but also their male counterparts,” Kosak told CNBC on Tuesday. “We can keep trying to hold people accountable.”

CNBC also spoke to Julia Crowley Farenga, who interned three times at SpaceX and reported her own incidents of sexual harassment and negligence by staff.

Crowley Farenga sued SpaceX for discrimination and retaliation in 2020 after he was not hired. Since then, the suit has “been settled”, Crowley Fareng said. She now works at the California Institute of Technology at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“It is really important for people to hear these stories so that I hope the perpetrators are held accountable for their actions,” said Crowley Farenga.

SpaceX did not respond to repeated requests for comment from CNBC.

The company employs approximately 10,000 people in the United States, many of whom Kosak would spend some time working at its Los Angeles headquarters and its launch sites in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Kosak and Crowley Farenga paint a different picture of SpaceX from what the company looks like in public. Women engineers regularly host the company’s webcasts that are watched by millions online, and SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell has become one of the most powerful women in the space industry.

In an interview with Musk Time In a magazine published on Monday, he described SpaceX’s spacecraft development center in Texas as a “technology monastery” and said the company’s workforce is male-dominated.

“There are hardly any – there are several women here, but there are not many of them, and this is remote, and we are engaged in technology,” Musk said in an interview.

It is noteworthy that not only SpaceX as a space company faces internal criticism of its culture. Earlier this year, Lyonesse published a similar essay by Alexandra Abrams, former Blue Origin communications chief Jeff Bezos.

Abrams’ essay, anonymously endorsed by 20 other current and former Blue Origin employees, argued that a “toxic” workplace creates a sexist environment. Blue Origin has had a turbulent year, from successful launches of 14 people on a New Shepard rocket to a turmoil of high employee turnover.

Their experience

Kosak began working at SpaceX as an intern in 2017, before the company hired her full-time in 2019. During her tenure as a trainee, Kosak said another trainee “grabbed my ass while I was washing dishes” at the company house. She said that she reported the incident to two colleagues, including her boss, but that “the case was never brought to HR” and that she continued to “live in the house with this person.”

She wrote that over the next two years, while she was doing her internship at the company, “countless men” “sexually harassed me” and recounted another incident in which “a male colleague ran his hand down my shirt from my lower waist to breasts. “Kosak said she again reported the incident to her bosses and this time met with HR.

“Nobody was following me. This person remained part of the team that I was subordinate to and in which I worked, ”said Kosak.

In 2021, as a full-time employee, Kosak brought new “cases of sexism” to HR, she said, including the ones she witnessed.

“When we had to work from home during the pandemic, people from the company found my Instagram account and sent me messages to ask me out. One called my phone at 4:00 in the morning. Another colleague came to my house and insisted on even touching me. when I have repeatedly asked that we remain professional, ”said Kosak.

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

“I was told that questions of this nature were too private to be openly discussed with criminals. Instead, they said there would be mandatory training programs for the company, ”Kosak said.

Kosak said that after several incidents, she sent “a message to an anonymous SpaceX ethics and compliance line.” But “despite being anonymous,” Kosak said, “the prompt was actually a form of Microsoft that allows administrators to see the identity of the sender.”

“A week later, I was contacted by Human Resources and asked intrusive questions about the nature of the persecution,” Kosak said.

Before leaving the company, Kosak said she met with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, as well as the company’s head of human resources.

“They assured me that they had never heard of my experience of persecution and said that senior management was not involved in discussing the frequency of this problem in their departments,” Kosak wrote.

Shotwell previously stated that SpaceX has a no —— policy. Earlier this year, in his opening address at Northwestern University, Shotwell said that “… But Kosak argued in her essay that SpaceX culture did not follow this policy in practice, writing that“ every person who persecuted me was tolerant. despite the so-called policy of intolerance and prohibition —— “. “

“In the end, I was disappointed,” Kosak told CNBC. “Because I thought that by the time I was at that meeting [with Shotwell]they would know. “

Crowley Farenga added that it is “absurd” that SpaceX executives only recently “heard about sexual harassment at the company.” She said she was online with a mentor who will talk to Shotwell and shared how a SpaceX male supervisor treated Crowley Fareng when she was an intern.

“Gwynn [Shotwell] was not happy to hear that the manager spent two hours with his trainee, Crowley Farenga said.

In her essay, Kosak added that “the last thing I heard is that new SpaceX trainees will receive training on how to best report their harassment,” but stressed that her alleged persecutors “have not yet been brought to justice.”

Her carbon neutral plan

Kosak said she “created a plan that will lead SpaceX to full carbon neutrality by 2030,” in part because she believes the company’s culture is contrary to its mission of transforming humanity into a multi-planetary species.

“It provided the foundation for a diverse and functional society that would learn from our colonial past and incorporate the experiences of indigenous peoples,” Kosak wrote in his essay.

Kosak argued that some SpaceX buildings “run on gas generators,” stating that “the funding is not aimed at reducing carbon emissions.”

“Even though the campus has solar panels, any attempt to make new buildings and infrastructure sustainable (LEED) is deprived of the priority in favor of expanding the plant as quickly as possible,” said Kosak.

Kosak wrote that she brought her plan directly to Musk, but said that he “rejected it by sending an email that said,” We have solar and wind power. ” She said she continued to work on her plan, with other SpaceX engineers volunteering to help her. develop it. Before leaving in November, she left “a final note to my team to continue working on a sustainable climate solution,” Kosak said.

Musk in a tweet a few hours before the publication of Kosaka’s essay on Tuesday announced the company’s climate project.

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

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