Former SpaceX workers say company has a culture of sexual harassment

Tesla isn’t the only company in Elon Musk’s portfolio to have issues with sexual harassment. Women who previously worked at SpaceX, including mission engineer Ashley Kosak and four others speaking to The Verge, have accused the company of doing little to stop sexual harassment. Male staff reportedly made numerous unwanted advances, lewd comments and physical contact. Kosak claimed one coworker went so far as to visit her house and insist on touching her, while former intern Julia CrowleyFarenga (who sued SpaceX in 2020) said a male employee blocked her from getting hired after she reported his controlling behavior.

SpaceX was allegedly reluctant to take significant action. While the women did report incidents to SpaceX’s human resources, the company appeared to be more interested in keeping the company’s plans on track than on dealing with harassment. HR asked Kosak to propose solutions to sexual harassment, but there was no follow-up — and both HR lead Brian Bjelde as well as company president Gwynne Shotwell were apparently unaware of her allegations when she met them.

We’ve asked SpaceX for comment. In an email The Verge obtained, however, Shotwell was aware of Kosak’s web essay on the matter and said HR would conduct both in-house and independent audits of its practices. She also reiterated SpaceX’s “no A-hole” policy and that targets of harassment should still report incidents to HR or managers. Shotwell didn’t touch on concerns of retaliation, though, and the news came just as six more Tesla workers sued over sexual harassment claims.

All of the affected women pinned the problems on a leadership and company culture that prioritized the mission over workers’ wellbeing. Elon Musk sees engineers as a “resource to be mined,” Kosak said, rather than people to be cared for. Throw in an overwhelmingly male workforce that leaves women isolated (one complainant likened it to a “boys’ club”) and women may have little chance of meaningfully addressing harassment. If that’s the case, any long-term solutions may require management and policy changes, not just better enforcement of the policies that exist.

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