Recently, news broke that some SpaceX employees have written an open letter criticizing CEO Elon Musk’s behavior on Twitter. The employees have been terminated by the private space firm, with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell explaining the rationale behind the company’s decision.
The open letter argued that SpaceX is not living up its “No Asshole” and zero-tolerance sexual harassment policies due to Elon Musk’s behavior. The open letter demanded that SpaceX should “publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior,” among others. “Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks,” the letter read.
In her letter to SpaceX employees, Shotwell clarified that the people behind the open letter had been terminated. She noted that SpaceX had received complaints from several employees who complained about the open letter because the initiative made them feel “uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views.”
Shotwell also highlighted that the letter interfered with workers’ ability to focus on their work, especially amidst SpaceX’s busy schedule. “We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism — our current leadership team is more dedicated to ensuring we have a great and ever-improving work environment than any I have seen in my 35-years career,” she wrote.
Following is Shotwell’s letter to SpaceX employees about the matter:
You may have received an unsolicited request from a small group of SpaceX employees for your signature on an “open letter” yesterday and your participation in a related survey. Based on diverse employee feedback, this has upset many. That is, the letter, solicitations and general process made employees feel uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied, and/or angry because the letter pressured them to sign onto something that did not reflect their views.
Employees also complained that it interfered with their ability to focus on and do their work. We have 3 launches within 37 hours for critical satellites this weekend, we have to support the astronauts we delivered to the ISS and get cargo Dragon back to the flight-ready, and after receiving environmental approval early this week, we are on the cusp of the first orbital launch attempt of Starship. We have too much critical work to accomplish and no need for this kind of overreaching activism — our current leadership team is more dedicated to ensuring we have a great and ever-improving work environment than any I have seen in my 35-years career.
We solicit and expect our employees to report all concerns to their leadership, senior management, HR, or Legal. But blanketing thousands of people across the company with repeated unsolicited emails and asking them to sign letters and fill out unsponsored surveys during the work day is unacceptable, goes against our documented handbook policy, and does not show the strong judgement needed to work in this very challenging space transportation sector. We performed an investigation and have terminated a number of employees involved.
I am sorry for this distraction. Please stay focused on the SpaceX mission, and use your time at work to do your best work. This is how we will get to Mars.
The open letter of SpaceX employees about Elon Musk’s behavior can be viewed below.
An open letter to the Executives of SpaceX,
In light of recent allegations against our CEO and his public disparagement of the situation, we would like to deliver feedback on how these events affect our company’s reputation, and through it, our mission. Employees across the spectra of gender, ethnicity, seniority, and technical roles have collaborated on this letter. We feel it is imperative to maintain honest and open dialogue with each other to effectively reach our company’s primary goals together: making SpaceX a great place to work for all, and making humans a multiplanetary species.
As SpaceX employees we are expected to challenge established processes, rapidly innovate to solve complex problems as a team, and use failures as learning opportunities. Commitment to these ideals is fundamental to our identity and is core to how we have redefined our industry. But for all our technical achievements, SpaceX fails to apply these principles to the promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion with equal priority across the company, resulting in a workplace culture that remains firmly rooted in the status quo.
Individuals and groups of employees at SpaceX have spent significant effort beyond their technical scope to make the company a more inclusive space via conference recruiting, open forums, feedback to leadership, outreach, and more. However, we feel an unequal burden to carry this effort as the company has not applied appropriate urgency and resources to the problem in a manner consistent with our approach to critical path technical projects. To be clear: recent events are not isolated incidents; they are emblematic of a wider culture that underserves many of the people who enable SpaceX’s extraordinary accomplishments. As industry leaders, we bear unique responsibility to address this.
Elon’s behavior in the public sphere is a frequent source of distraction and embarrassment for us, particularly in recent weeks. As our CEO and most prominent spokesperson, Elon is seen as the face of SpaceX—every Tweet that Elon sends is a de facto public statement by the company. It is critical to make clear to our teams and to our potential talent pool that his messaging does not reflect our work, our mission, or our values.
SpaceX’s current systems and culture do not live up to its stated values, as many employees continue to experience unequal enforcement of our oft-repeated “No Asshole” and “Zero Tolerance” policies. This must change. As a starting point, we are putting forth the following categories of action items, the specifics of which we would like to discuss in person with the executive team within a month:
Publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful Twitter behavior. SpaceX must swiftly and explicitly separate itself from Elon’s personal brand.
Hold all leadership equally accountable to making SpaceX a great place to work for everyone. Apply a critical eye to issues that prevent employees from fully performing their jobs and meeting their potential, pursuing specific and enduring actions that are well resourced, transparent, and treated with the same rigor and urgency as establishing flight rationale after a hardware anomaly.
Define and uniformly respond to all forms of unacceptable behavior. Clearly define what exactly is intended by SpaceX’s “no-asshole” and “zero tolerance” policies and enforce them consistently. SpaceX must establish safe avenues for reporting and uphold clear repercussions for all unacceptable behavior, whether from the CEO or an employee starting their first day.
We care deeply about SpaceX’s mission to make humanity multiplanetary. But more importantly, we care about each other. The collaboration we need to make life multiplanetary is incompatible with a culture that treats employees as consumable resources. Our unique position requires us to consider how our actions today will shape the experiences of individuals beyond our planet. Is the culture we are fostering now the one which we aim to bring to Mars and beyond?
We have made strides in that direction, but there is so much more to accomplish.
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