Musk’s alleged crossing of personal lines with employees points to a broader issue: a seeming indifference or persistent blindness to issues of race and gender in the workplace.
Ashley Cusack, a former SpaceX engineer, published an article online in 2021 that described a culture in which sexism was rampant and the company did nothing to stop it. She described “countless men” coming forward sexually. After “one of my co-workers ran his hand over my shirt, from below my waist to my chest,” she reported the incident but said no one followed her up and the man stayed on her team.
Soon after, The Verge spoke to several former employees who supported the core of Kosak’s account and said they had experienced similar harassment and retaliation for reporting it.
SpaceX has not responded to Verge’s allegations. The publication obtained an email written by SpaceX chief Gwen Shotwell saying that the company takes sexual harassment seriously, and that we “also know we can always do a better job.”
After reporting the alleged horse show, SpaceX employees wrote an open letter criticizing Musk’s behavior and the distraction he created. Some of the employees behind the letter have been fired, according to a letter from Shotwell obtained by The New York Times. In her letter, Shotwell said that people who were asked to sign the letter felt “uncomfortable, intimidated and intimidated”.
At Tesla, black workers for years made well-documented complaints about racism on the factory floor. Earlier this year, the California Civil Rights Agency filed a lawsuit against the company on behalf of thousands of workers.
Black workers complained that managers called them monkeys and other racial slurs, including the routine use of the N-word. Some claimed that black workers got the worst jobs, regardless of their qualifications. When they complained to HR, several said, it only got worse, and some were fired.
Tesla disputed the workers’ accounts at the time, saying, “Tesla prohibits discrimination in any form.”
Musk was not directly involved in any of the complaints. Nor has he shown any sign of taking them more seriously than he has dealt with previous allegations of bias in his company’s workplaces or criticism of his deportation. His response: an email to workers advising victims of racism to have “thick skin.”