On the heels of a similar report on Blue Origin, five whistleblowers in two different exposes from Lioness and The Verge allege that SpaceX effectively fosters a work environment that is extremely hostile and unresponsive to women.
Above all else, all five former employees describe experiencing sexual harassment, inept responses from human resources (HR), and varying degrees of retaliation after attempting to pursue a fair corporate response. Ashley Kosack, a Rochester Institute of Technology Dean’s List graduate of mechanical engineering and a former SpaceX mission integration engineer and intern with almost four years of experience at the company between January 2017 and November 2021, is at the center of both reports.
First, it’s crucial to note that while several recent Blue Origin exposes alleged rampant sexual harassment and major internal issues that threatened the safety of its projects and of the space tourists that fly on its rockets, none of the whistleblowers attempting to hold SpaceX accountable for its poor treatment of women employees raised concerns about the company’s approach to safety. Nevertheless, Ashley Kosack, Julia CrowleyFarenga, and three other anonymous employees raise allegations that should still be taken seriously.
Above all else, the five describe an environment where women and nonbinary employees are regularly harassed by their male colleagues (ranging from fellow interns and entry-level engineers to managers and senior technicians), whose behavior is then effectively ignored or swept under the rug by SpaceX’s human resources department. In some cases, not only did HR fail to rectify the situation in any way, but they apparently made harassers aware of the allegation and the person alleging harassment. Some were then harassed more and retaliated against, often leading to severe stress and sometimes causing the harassed employees to quit outright.
In two particularly egregious examples, Kosack discovered that SpaceX – an almost two-decade-old company – apparently has no official HR system or mechanism in place to ensure that employees who harass other employees are not only punished accordingly, but at all. It’s difficult to assume anything good about the work culture of a company that explicitly refuses to ensure that sexual harassers face predictable repercussions for their actions. Later, when attempting to take advantage of SpaceX and COO Gwynne Shotwell’s often-advertised “Ethics and Compliance tip line,” Kosack discovered that the tip line wasn’t actually anonymous – making a farce of a tool theoretically meant to make internal whistleblowers feel comfortable enough to speak up.
One source that spoke to Teslarati revealed that that was also the case years ago and has even resulted in at least one employee being fired in retaliation for attempting to raise what they believed were real safety concerns. Shotwell, among others, reportedly receives all content submitted via the tip line. However, SpaceX has achieved an incredible record of success over the last five years, successfully completing more than 100 Falcon launches in a row. SpaceX, with NASA oversight, has also completed five crewed launches since May 2020, successfully launching 18 people in less than a year and half. If there are or were major safety concerns about how SpaceX was building, testing, or flying its Falcon rockets and Dragon spacecraft, that evidence suggests that the company is able to effectively deal with them.
All five whistleblowers still agreed that SpaceX is managing those feats despite consistently treating its workforce like an expendable resource – especially in the case of nonbinary and women employees. Even for men at SpaceX, it’s incredibly rare for employees to last more than five years – which, at least a few years ago, happens to be when accrued equity vests. As long as that remains the case and as long as employees feel like they’re hopeless in the face of egregious harassment, it’s hard to imagine that those retention issues will ever change or that SpaceX’s poor workforce diversity will ever significantly improve.