- On Thursday, an open letter written by Blue Origin employees was made public wherein workers at the space firm made complaints of incidents of sexism, lack of proper safety measures, and harassment.
- After a media scandal regarding these allegations, Blue Origin CEO wrote a letter to his employees denying the same.
- The safety concerns raised by employees have launched an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration regarding the firm’s New Sheperd rocket.
Blue Origin CEO, Bob Smith wrote a letter to the employees of the company in response to the allegations expressed in an open letter that was made public earlier in the day. This open letter was co-written by nearly 20 former and current employees of Amazon ex-CEO Jeff Bezos’ space exploration company Blue Origin. The letter accused the space company of promoting a gender bias and of ignoring the safety of its employees.
The open letter which shook Blue Origin
The explosive letter which prompted a swift explanation from Blue Origin was written by Alexandra Abrams who functioned as the former head of employee communications at the spaceflight company. Under her leadership, former and current employees came out proclaiming that the work culture at the firm reflected the worst possible treatment of employees in the world.
The letter was published on a forum known as Lioness. In this draft, the employees have complained about the openly prevalent gender bias in the organization. Workers allege that although it is common knowledge that male employees get paid higher in the space industry but at Blue Origin, the female employees are actually victims of sexism. These female employees are suffering due to a massive and unfair wage gap which the management has refused to address in spite of repeated communication. The women have noted that a majority of the employees at the company are male which might be because they are denied opportunities in spite of being equally capable as their male counterparts. Such men are also chosen over women for occupying important roles and positions of power.
Next, the employees have also complained about a relatively unsafe working environment. According to the letter, the company’s leadership compromised safety protocols in return for speed to ensure commercial opportunities for its New Sheperd rocket. This allegation surfaces due to the space race between the owner of the Virgin group, the English business magnate Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos in July 2021. Bezos along with three crew members went on a sub-orbital flight which carried him 62 miles above the Earth, a point which is recognized as the boundary between the atmosphere and space merely nine days after Branson did the same traveling 52 miles above Earth. During this course, to secure better speed under mounting time constraints imposed by the leadership, Blue Origin engineers were forced to cut down on the safety of the New Sheperd rocket. The employees had apparently voiced their opinion regarding these safety concerns but were not taken seriously.
Further speaking on the safety concerns, claims were made by female workers against the employment of a senior executive at Blue Origin who has several sexual harassment cases to his name. In the letter, employees have talked about the reluctance of new female recruits to work under said executive due to safety concerns. This reluctance reportedly flared up after an incident of groping of one such recruit by the said executive. Moreover, certain employees of diverse cultural backgrounds have also complained about the lack of representation at the space firm, alleging most of the workforce consists is white. The sum total of all these allegations has clearly painted the picture of a toxic work ecosystem at Blue Origin.
Blue Origin’s response
As soon as the open letter from employees was made public, it created a necessary uproar in the community. Blue Origin quickly stepped in to put out the fires of public opinion. A spokesperson of the firm spoke to journalists completely dismissing the claims made in the letter. On the allegations of gender bias, sexism, and workplace harassment as stated by the female employees, he ascertained that the space company had strict policies in place against the same. He was quoted saying that employees are protected against such evils at all times and are also provided remedies via a 24X7 anonymous hotline in case of an unfortunate incident. Furthermore, the spokesperson confirmed that the safety concerns about the New Sheperd rocket were totally baseless and that the rocket is one of the safest space vehicles ever designed.
On Thursday itself, the day the letter was published, Blue Origin CEO, Bob Smith sent out a letter to his employees in response to the allegations made by Abrams. He declined the integrity of the points raised as being factually incorrect and an uninformed opinion. He reassured his employees that the firm’s rockets were absolutely safe. In response to the concerns regarding sexism and harassment, Smith expressed his disappointment. He commented on his dissatisfaction with his entire team at the company being characterized in the same box. Saying that allegations of gender bias might be difficult to digest because it doesn’t keep up with the core values he has observed in his team every day since the firm was found. Also, he invited any such victims to directly speak to him regarding incidents.
Today, you may have seen that some claims were made against our team.
As with any criticism, whether personal or professional, and whether the criticism is fair or baseless, it is never easy to hear. It requires reflection and humility to sort through what is useful and what is not.
It is particularly difficult and painful, for me, to hear claims being levied that attempt to characterize our entire team in a way that doesn’t align with the character and capability that I see at Blue Origin every day.
Yet, one of our Blue Leadership Principles states that “Leaders are sincerely open-minded and examine their own strongest convictions with humility. They value diversity, in all of its forms, since different viewpoints result in novel ideas. Their openness enables them to trust those around them – and to earn the trust of others in turn.”
We wrote and published that principle, and others, and will today, and always, be self-critical and hold ourselves to the highest standard.
While we reflect on what we can learn and improve, I do want to reassure the team on a few points.
First, the New Shepard team went through a methodical and painstaking process to certify our vehicle for First Human Flight. Anyone that claims otherwise is uninformed and simply incorrect. That team is appropriately proud of the work they’ve done and we should be as well.
It should also be emphatically stated that we have no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind. We provide numerous avenues including a 24/7 anonymous hotline for employees, we investigate and act on any findings, and we will promptly investigate any new claims of misconduct. As always, I welcome and encourage any member of Team Blue to speak directly with me if they have any concerns on any topic at any time.
Finally, it should never be doubted that we have an amazing team that is doing amazing work. Our team is comprised of the best and brightest professionals in the aerospace industry. People who are dedicated, work hard, and are passionate about our mission.
We’ll continue to rapidly grow that talented team, stay focused on our efforts, and support each other. And, step by step, we will make even greater strides.