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SpaceX and Tesla sexual harassment allegations reveal an endemic issue

SpaceX and Tesla have a sexual harassment problem.

San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images/Hearst Newspapers/Getty Images

SpaceX is “so rife with sexism, the only remedy is for women to leave.”

That’s according to an essay published Tuesday on Lioness by Ashley Kosak, a former mission integration engineer at SpaceX. Kosak cited multiple instances of sexual harassment and claimed the company’s human relations department failed to act.

The essay came the same day as six women moved to sue Tesla in separate complaints about sexual harassment in its workplaces. That followed a previous lawsuit filed by Jessica Barraza last month that cited “nightmarish” working conditions and multiple forms of harassment.

Following Kosak’s essay, four further employees at SpaceX came forward to The Verge citing sexual harassment at SpaceX. Kosak spoke to the New York Times after the essay was published, saying she felt compelled to come forward after reading a similar essay about Blue Origin.

The stories all point to major issues at Elon Musk’s companies, previously subject to a safety investigation and a fine over racial abuse. Kosak wrote in her essay that Musk “uses engineers as a resource to be mined rather than a team to be led.”

As SpaceX aims to build a million-strong city on Mars as early as 2050, Kosak points to the working conditions at the company to ask: “What will life on Elon’s Mars be like?”

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SpaceX sexual harassment essay: what it says

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket.Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Kosak worked to integrate the Demo-2 mission, SpaceX’s first crewed flight. She joined as an intern in 2017 before being promoted in 2019. She left in November 2021, after her psychiatrist wrote to SpaceX to recommend a leave of absence.

During her time, Kosak claims:

  • An intern “grabbed my butt while washing dishes.” Although she reported it to a superior and a colleague, it never reached HR.
  • “Countless men” made sexual advances, including an incident in 2018 where a male colleague ran his hand over her shirt. She informed HR, but the department did not follow up.
  • Colleagues found her Instagram account and used it to ask her out. One colleague phoned her at 4:00 a.m.

Kosak’s attempts to bring this to attention fell on deaf ears.

  • She submitted a tip through the ethics and compliance line. Although she was told it was anonymous, the form tool enabled HR to see who submitted it. The department subsequently phoned her and asked questions.
  • She later met with company president Gwynne Shotwell and head of HR Brian Bjelde. Kosak told the New York Times that “it was a meeting where I spoke at them, they spoke at me, and we all left and that was that.”

Other women have also come forward with their own complaints. In 2020, Julia CrowleyFarenga claimed in a lawsuit that a manager ultimately stopped her from getting a promotion after she reported a harassment incident involving a different manager.

The Inverse analysis — Musk’s companies are not the first in tech to be accused of sexual harassment — see Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon for starters. In a 2020 survey published in Forbes, 44 percent of women founders reported experiences of harassment.

Musk suggests his companies are different, with plans to solve global issues with climate change and future extinction. However, the accusations suggest that Tesla and SpaceX are just like other tech companies — failing to support victims of sexual harassment.

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