Musk’s alleged crossing of personal lines with employees points to a broader problem: an apparent indifference or persistent blindness to issues related to race and gender in the workplace.
Former SpaceX engineer Ashley Kosak published an essay online in 2021 that described a culture where sexism was rampant and the company did nothing to stop it. She described “countless men” making sexual advances. After a co-worker “ran his hand down my shirt, from my waist to my chest,” she reported the incident but said no one followed up and the man remained on her team.
Shortly after, the Verge spoke to several former employees who supported the gist of Kosak’s account and said they suffered similar harassment and retaliation for reporting him.
SpaceX has not responded to Verge’s allegations. The publication received an email written by SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell, in which she said the company takes sexual harassment seriously and that “we also know we can always do better.”
After the report of his alleged horse offer, SpaceX employees wrote an open letter criticizing Musk’s behavior and the distraction it created. Some of the employees behind the letter were fired, according to a message from Shotwell obtained by the New York Times. In his letter, Shotwell said people who were asked to sign the letter felt “uncomfortable, intimidated and bullied”.
At Tesla, black workers have made well-documented complaints about factory racism for years. Earlier this year, California’s 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 alleged that black workers had the worst jobs, regardless of their qualifications. When they complained to human resources, several said, things 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 allegations. Nor has he shown any sign of taking them any more seriously than previous allegations of bias in his company’s workplaces or criticism of his own behavior. Their response: an email to workers advising victims of racism to grow a “thick skin”.