A group of 21 current and former employees of Blue Origin, the rocket-side hobby of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, wrote an open letter describing the company as fostering a culture that is sexist, intolerant of internal dissent, and optimistic about safety.
Blue Origin said the lead author was fired and the letter’s claims were false.
The letter, revealed today and titled “Bezos Wants to Create a Better Future in Space.” Her company Blue Origin Is Stuck in a Toxic Past “is attributed to” Alexandra Abrams, former employee communications manager at Blue Origin, and 20 other Blue Origin employees and former employees in New Shepard, New Glenn, Blue Engines, Advanced Development Programs, Test & Flight Operations and Human Resources teams.
The letter opens with allegations that Blue Origin’s workforce is “predominantly male and predominantly white” and that “100% of technical and program managers are men.”
This situation has created “a particular brand of sexism” in which “many senior leaders are known to be systematically inappropriate with women”.
A common question at high-level meetings was, “When will Elon or Branson get on the plane?” “
âA senior executive in CEO Bob Smith’s inner circle has been repeatedly reported to human resources for sexual harassment. The letter alleges that Smith “personally appointed him to the search committee to take a leadership role in human resources in 2019.”
“It appeared to many of us that he was protected by his close personal relationship with Bezos – he had to physically grope a subordinate for him to be finally released,” the letter said.
Other male leaders used demeaning terms like âlittle girl,â âbaby doll,â or âsweetheartâ when talking to women and asking them questions about their love lives. Some women at Blue Origin have warned their female colleagues to avoid the old executive.
Security concerns could be put aside for billionaire ego considerations, according to the letter.
âAt Blue Origin, a common question at high level meetings was, ‘When will Elon or Branson fly? Competing with other billionaires – and “making headway for Jeff” – seemed to take precedence over security concerns that would have slowed the schedule, “the letter said.
Dissent was therefore not tolerated. The letter details occasions when senior executives ended discussions about the safety of the New Shepherd rocket and discouraged using company town hall meetings to raise such concerns.
CEO Bob Smith, according to the letter, once asked for lists of staff members who disagreed so they could be advised by managers. Smith also ignored senior technical staff and made decisions among a small group of employees who did not challenge his point of view.
Sexism permeated these deliberations. âConcerns about the New Shepard robbery have been systematically closed and women have been humiliated for raising them,â the letter read.
An engineer, an anonymous signatory of the letter, reportedly said: “Blue Origin has been lucky that nothing has happened so far.” Others say they wouldn’t fly the rocket for safety reasons.
The rocket business has also worked to silence internal critics. “Critics within the company were forced out for speaking out and offered payment in exchange for signing even more restrictive nondisclosure agreements,” the letter said, adding that some of those who were invited to leave included “engineers who ensure the very safety of rockets.” “
In 2019, the letter adds, all staff were asked to sign new contracts that included a non-denigration clause that bound them and their heirs. Some staff contracts “require them to pay the company’s legal fees if the company decides to sue them for breach of contract.”
The document also describes how staff have been overworked, sometimes on the assumption that they should be grateful for the historic opportunity that a Blue Origin concert represents. An unnecessary tension between the desire to achieve program goals, while not burning too much money, was another feature of the workplace.
The letter was updated with a statement from Blue Origin noting that Abrams “was fired for cause two years ago after repeated warnings over issues involving federal export control regulations.” Blue Origin’s response also states that the rocket industry “has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind.”
âWe provide many opportunities for employees, including an anonymous 24/7 hotline, and will promptly investigate any new malpractice complaints. We maintain our safety record and believe New Shepard is the safest spacecraft ever designed or built. “
Blue Origin is planning the second crewed launch of New Shepherd on October 12. Two crew members – former NASA engineer and Planet Labs co-founder Chris Boshuizen, and Mediata co-founder Glen de Vries – have been revealed as the crew. Blue Origin has promised to reveal the other two crew members in the coming days. The rumor mill suggests that actor William Shatner – Star TrekCaptain Kirk – could take a seat. Â®