The letter, which was posted by employees in an internal chat system, described how Musk’s actions and the recent allegations of sexual harassment against him are negatively affecting SpaceX’s reputation, reported The Verge in June 2022. The letter also claims that employees “across the spectra of gender, ethnicity, seniority, and technical roles have collaborated on” writing, but does not mention which SpaceX employees penned it. One of the complaints claims that Musk’s public comments were a “frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us…As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX — every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company. It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values.”
The letter also suggested that three action items deal with this situation:
- SpaceX should “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior
- SpaceX should “hold all leadership equally accountable” for bad behavior
- SpaceX needs to “clearly define what exactly is intended by SpaceX’s ‘no-asshole’ and ‘zero tolerance’ policies and enforce them consistently.
“Do as I say and not as I do”?
Before Musk purchased Twitter, he posted an image of Bill Gates and an emoji of a pregnant man, captioned with “in case u need to lose a boner fast.” In another tweet regarding Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company Blue Origin, he said “Can’t get it up (to orbit) lol.” As for the SpaceX’s ‘no-asshole’ policy and ‘zero tolerance sexual harassment policy” policy, is Musk’s policy “Do as I say and not as I do”?
One month before this letter was made public, Insider reported that SpaceX settled with a former company flight attendant after she accused Musk of exposing himself to her and propositioning her during a massage – (happy ending?). According to the report, Musk offered to buy her a horse but she settled for $250,000. The incident occurred in 2016. Musk emailed Insider that "If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be the first time in my entire 30-year career that it comes to light," he wrote, calling the story a "politically motivated hit piece."
Another former SpaceX employee in December 2021 detailed in an essay her experience of pervasive sexual harassment on Lioness and criticized its HR department for improperly handling complaints, i.e., doing nothing. Ashley Kosak, former Mission Integration Engineer, wrote that the company is “environmentally irresponsible… so rife with sexism, the only remedy is for women to leave”.
According to The New York Times (November 17, 2022), SpaceX held a meeting in June-- comprising 20 engineers—to discuss Elon Musk. The previous day, SpaceX “had moved to fire five employees who had written a letter calling on SpaceX to condemn the ‘harmful Twitter behavior’ of Mr. Musk, who had used the social network to make light of settling the above $250K settlement of sexual harassment against him. Jon Edwards, the vice president leading the meeting, declared that Musk could do whatever he wanted at the company.
Here is a copy of the letter, thank to The Verge:
An open letter to the Executives of SpaceX,
In light of recent allegations against our CEO and his public disparagement of the situation, we would like to deliver feedback on how these events affect our company’s reputation, and through it, our mission. Employees across the spectra of gender, ethnicity, seniority, and technical roles have collaborated on this letter. We feel it is imperative to maintain honest and open dialogue with each other to effectively reach our company’s primary goals together: making SpaceX a great place to work for all, and making humans a multiplanetary species.
As SpaceX employees we are expected to challenge established processes, rapidly innovate to solve complex problems as a team, and use failures as learning opportunities. Commitment to these ideals is fundamental to our identity and is core to how we have redefined our industry. But for all our technical achievements, SpaceX fails to apply these principles to the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion with equal priority across the company, resulting in a workplace culture that remains firmly rooted in the status quo.
Individuals and groups of employees at SpaceX have spent significant effort beyond their technical scope to make the company a more inclusive space via conference recruiting, open forums, feedback to leadership, outreach, and more. However, we feel an unequal burden to carry this effort as the company has not applied appropriate urgency and resources to the problem in a manner consistent with our approach to critical path technical projects. To be clear: recent events are not isolated incidents; they are emblematic of a wider culture that underserves many of the people who enable SpaceX’s extraordinary accomplishments. As industry leaders, we bear unique responsibility to address this.
Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks. As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX—every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company. It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values.
SpaceX’s current systems and culture do not live up to its stated values, as many employees continue to experience unequal enforcement of our oft-repeated “No Asshole” and “Zero Tolerance” policies. This must change. As a starting point, we are putting forth the following categories of action items, the specifics of which we would like to discuss in person with the executive team within a month:
Publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior. SpaceX must swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand.
Hold all leadership equally accountable to making SpaceX a great place to work for everyone. Apply a critical eye to issues that prevent employees from fully performing their jobs and meeting their potential, pursuing specific and enduring actions that are well resourced, transparent, and treated with the same rigor and urgency as establishing flight rationale after a hardware anomaly.
READ MORE CALIFORNIA LABOR LAW LEGAL NEWS
We care deeply about SpaceX’s mission to make humanity multiplanetary. But more importantly, we care about each other. The collaboration we need to make life multiplanetary is incompatible with a culture that treats employees as consumable resources. Our unique position requires us to consider how our actions today will shape the experiences of individuals beyond our planet. Is the culture we are fostering now the one which we aim to bring to Mars and beyond?
We have made strides in that direction, but there is so much more to accomplish.
Founded by Elon Musk in 2002, the private rocket company SpaceX seeks to send people to Mars and make humans a “multiplanetary species”.