SpaceX employees write an open letter to company executives denouncing Elon Musk’s behavior

An open letter to SpaceX denouncing CEO Elon Musk’s recent behavior has sparked open discussion among the company’s employees on an internal chat system. Employees are encouraged to sign the letter’s proposals either publicly or anonymously, with a signed version of the letter to be returned to SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell’s desk.

The letter reviewed by The edge, describes how Musk’s actions and recent allegations of sexual harassment against him are negatively affecting SpaceX’s reputation. The document alleges that employees “collaborated across the spectrum of gender, race, seniority and technical roles in writing the letter.” It is not known which SpaceX employees wrote the letter; The staff who posted the letter on the internal chat system did not respond to requests for comment.

“Elon’s public behavior is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks,” the letter said. “As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX – every tweet Elon sends is a de facto public statement from the company. It is important to make it clear to our teams and our potential talent pool that its messages do not reflect our work, our mission or our values.”

Musk’s been on a lot lately, and his presence on Twitter can be particularly blatant. In April, he shared a picture of Bill Gates and a pregnant man emoji with the caption “in case you need to lose a boner quick.” Last year, he also responded to a tweet about Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company Blue Origin, saying, “I can’t put it (into orbit) lol.” Musk is also currently trying to buy Twitter.

The letter, shared on an internal SpaceX Microsoft Teams channel with more than 2,600 employees on Wednesday, argues that the company is failing to live up to its often-cited “no asshole” policy and zero tolerance for sexual harassment. The document goes on to propose three distinct “points of action” to address the situation: SpaceX should “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter conduct”; the company should “hold all managers equally accountable” for bad behavior; and SpaceX must “clearly define what exactly is intended by SpaceX’s ‘no asshole’ and ‘zero tolerance’ policies and consistently enforce them.”

The number of signatures was not immediately available, but employees were asked to sign the letter by filling out a survey or scanning a QR code. The letter generated more than a hundred comments on the Teams channel, with many employees agreeing with the spirit of the letter, according to screenshots of the chat shared by two sources spoken to The edge and asked to remain anonymous. Some commenters also said they were ashamed of Musk’s behavior. Others expressed a wish to enable the company to better address managerial conduct and sexual harassment complaints.

The letter comes out almost a month after a report insider claimed SpaceX paid a former company flight attendant a $250,000 settlement after she accused Musk of exposing himself to her and proposing to her during a massage, a claim in which Musk offered to stop her to buy a horse. Musk denied the allegations and said insider there is “much more to this story”.

“If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this probably isn’t the first time in my entire 30-year career that this has come to light,” he told the outlet. On Twitter, Musk quipped about the story in a tweet reply: “Hi Chad, long time no see! Well, if you touch my sausage, you can have a horse.”

After the story broke, Shotwell sent a company-wide email to SpaceX employees defending Musk. “Personally, I think the allegations are false; not because I work for Elon, but because I’ve worked closely with him for 20 years and have never seen or heard anything resembling these allegations,” Shotwell wrote. “Anyone who knows Elon as well as I do knows that he would never condone or condone this allegedly inappropriate behavior.”

This isn’t the first time the issue of sexual harassment has surfaced at SpaceX. In December, a former SpaceX employee wrote an essay on the Lioness platform describing her experience of what she described as pervasive sexual harassment at the company. She also criticized the response of SpaceX’s human resources department to her complaints. The edge spoke to four other former SpaceX employees at the time, all of whom argued that the company’s human resources department had failed to properly handle harassment complaints. Before the story broke, Shotwell emailed the company reiterating the “no asshole” policy.

“We also know we can always do better,” Shotwell wrote in December. “For this reason, HR has sought feedback from groups across the company to ensure the process is effective. HR will also conduct an internal audit followed by a third party audit.”

A copy of the letter can be read below:


An open letter to SpaceX executives,

In light of the recent allegations against our CEO and his public denigration of the situation, we would like to provide feedback on how these events are impacting our company’s reputation and, in turn, our mission. Contributing to this writing were employees from all walks of gender, race, seniority, and technical roles. We believe it is imperative to have an honest and open dialogue with each other in order to effectively collectively achieve the main goals of our company: making SpaceX a great place to work for all and making humans a multiplanetary species.

As SpaceX employees, we’re expected to challenge established processes, innovate quickly to solve complex problems as a team, and use mistakes as learning opportunities. Commitment to these ideals is fundamental to our identity and core to our redefinition of our industry. But for all our technological achievements, SpaceX fails to apply these principles to promoting diversity, equity and inclusion with equal priority across the organization, resulting in a workplace culture that remains firmly entrenched in the status quo.

Individuals and groups of employees at SpaceX have made significant efforts beyond their technical scope to make the company a more inclusive space through conference recruitment, open forums, feedback to leadership, outreach and more. However, we feel unequally burdened to undertake this effort as the company has not given the issue the appropriate urgency and resources consistent with our approach to critical path engineering projects. To be clear, recent events are not isolated incidents; They are symbolic of a broader culture that underperforms many of the people who make SpaceX’s extraordinary achievements possible. As an industry leader, we have a unique responsibility to address this.

Elon’s public behavior has been a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, especially over the past few weeks. As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX – every tweet Elon sends is a de facto public statement from the company. It’s important to make it clear to our teams and our potential talent pool that its messages do not reflect our work, our mission, or our values.

SpaceX’s current systems and culture fall short of its stated values, as many employees continue to experience uneven enforcement of our oft-repeated “No Asshole” and “Zero Tolerance” policies. That needs to change. As a starting point, we present the following categories of action items that we plan to discuss in person with the leadership team within a month:

Publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior. SpaceX must quickly and explicitly part with Elon’s personal brand.

Hold all leaders equally accountable for making SpaceX a great place to work for everyone. Keep a critical eye on issues that prevent employees from fulfilling their jobs and fulfilling their potential, and pursue specific and enduring actions that are well resourced, transparent, and treated with the same rigor and urgency as justifying an escape after a hardware anomaly.

Define all forms of unacceptable behavior and respond to them consistently. Clearly define what exactly is intended by SpaceX’s “no asshole” and “zero tolerance” policies and enforce them consistently. SpaceX must provide safe reporting channels and maintain clear consequences for any unacceptable behavior, whether by the CEO or an employee beginning their first day.

SpaceX’s mission to make humanity multiplanetary is very close to our hearts. But more importantly, we take care of each other. The collaboration we need to make life multiplanetary is incompatible with a culture that treats employees as expendable resources. Our unique position requires us to think about how our actions today will shape the experiences of people outside of our planet. Is the culture we are promoting now the one we want to bring to Mars and beyond?

We have made progress in this direction, but there is so much more to achieve.

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