Ex-SpaceX engineer’s essay accuses culture of being ‘rife with sexism’

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

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | beautiful pictures

A former female employee of By Elon Musk SpaceX alleges in an essay published Tuesday that the space company’s workplace is “fraught with sexism” and that its staff fails to protect victims of harassment or abuse. use.

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

“I know that SpaceX is trying to improve… what I really hope happens is that not only do women understand how common this problem is, but also their male counterparts.” Kosak told CNBC in an interview Tuesday. “We can keep trying to really start holding people accountable.”

CNBC also spoke with Julia CrowleyFarenga, who was a three-time intern at SpaceX and alleges her own instances of sexual harassment and personnel negligence.

CrowleyFarenga sued SpaceX for discrimination and retaliation in 2020 after not being hired. The lawsuit has been “resolved,” CrowleyFarenga said. She currently works for the California Institute of Technology at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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

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

The company has approximately 10,000 employees across the United States, many of whom Kosak has spent time at its headquarters in Los Angeles and its operating facilities in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Kosak and CrowleyFarenga paint a different picture of SpaceX from how the company appears to the public. Female engineers regularly host the company’s webcast launches, which are viewed online by millions, while SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell 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 convent” and said the company’s workforce is male.

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

Notably, SpaceX is not alone as a space company facing internal criticism over its culture. Earlier this year Lioness published a similar essay by Alexandra Abrams, former director of employee communications at Jeff BezosBlue origin.

Abrams’ essay, which was anonymously verified by 20 other current and former Blue Origin employees, is accused of a “toxic” workplace that creates a sexist environment. Blue Origin has had a tumultuous year, from the success of launching 14 people on its New Shepard rocket arrive the chaos 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 time as an intern, Kosak alleges, another intern was ” grab my ass while I’m washing the dishes” in the company house. She said she reported the incident to two colleagues, including her supervisor, but “the matter was never brought up to human resources” and that she continued “to live in the same house with this man.”

She wrote that over the next two years when she interned for the company, “countless men” were “sexually advanced on me” and allege another incident in which “a male colleague ran her hand through my shirt, from my lower waist to my chest.” Kosak said she once again reported the incident to her superiors and this time met with human resources.

“No one is following. This man is still a member of the group that I reported to and worked with,” Kosak alleged.

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

“When we had to work from home during the pandemic, the men in the company found my Instagram account, texted me asking me to go out. One called me at 4 o’clock. morning. Another coworker came to my house and asked to touch me. When I kept asking us to be professional,” Kosak said.

She alleges that “nothing was done” prior to each incident she reported to HR.

“I was told that matters like this were too private to discuss publicly with the perpetrators,” Kosak said. “They say that mandatory corporate training programs will be held instead,” Kosak said. , Kosak said.

Kosak said that after more incidents, she sent “a message to SpaceX’s anonymous line of ethics and compliance tips.” But “despite being advertised as anonymous,” said Kosak, “the tip line is actually a Microsoft form that allows administrators to view the identity of the sender.”

“A week later, human resources contacted me and faced questions regarding the nature of the harassment,” Kosak said.

Before leaving the company, Kosak said, she met with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, who is also the company’s chief human resources officer.

Kosak wrote: “They assured me they had never heard of my harassment experiences and said that executive leadership did not engage in discussions about the frequency of this problem in departments. their.

Shotwell previously said that SpaceX has a “no—–” policy. In an opening speech at Northwestern University earlier this year, Shotwell said “a ——-” are people who “interrupt others” and “create a hostile environment where no one wants to contribute.” But Kosak alleged in his essay that SpaceX’s culture doesn’t in fact follow that policy, writing that “any man who harasses me is tolerated despite the so-called zero tolerance policy and no —— of the company.”

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

CrowleyFarenga added that it was “absurd” that SpaceX management was recently “heard on about sexual harassment at the company.” She says she’s in a women’s network with a mentor who will speak to Shotwell, and discuss how a male SpaceX supervisor treated CrowleyFarenga when she was a real Novice.

“Gwynne [Shotwell] CrowleyFarenga said.

In his essay, Kosak added that “the last thing I heard, new SpaceX interns would get training on how to better report their harassment,” but emphasized that harassers Her allegation “remains unsolved.”

Her carbon neutral plan

Kosak said she “created a plan to bring SpaceX to full carbon neutrality by 2030,” in part because she sees the company’s culture as contrasting with its mission to transform humanity into a multiplanet species. pure.

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

Kosak alleges that some of SpaceX’s buildings “run on gas generators,” saying that “funding is not dedicated to reducing carbon emissions.”

“Despite having solar panels on campus, any attempt to make new buildings and infrastructure sustainable (LEED) is disenfranchised,” said Kosak. factory as quickly as possible,” said Kosak.

Kosak wrote that she gave her plan directly to Musk but said he “refuted it with an email that read: ‘We have wind and solar power.” develop it. Before leaving, in November, she left “a final message for my team to continue working towards a sustainable climate solution,” says Kosak.

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

“SpaceX is starting a program to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and turn it into rocket fuel,” Musk said. Ex-SpaceX engineer’s essay accuses culture of being ‘rife with sexism’

Emma James

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