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Blue Origin: Essay Alleges Sexism and ‘Dehumanizing’ Culture in Jeff Bezos’ Rocket Society

By on October 1, 2021 0

All but one of the signatories refused to be publicly identified for fear of professional reprisals.

Only one – Alexandra Abrams, who worked for the company for two and a half years during which she worked in public relations before setting up the company’s employee communications department before being laid off in 2019 – agreed to make an official decision. .

In a statement, Blue Origin said it has “no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind. We provide many opportunities for employees, including an anonymous 24/7 hotline. , and will promptly investigate any new malpractice complaints. ” The company did not respond to requests for comment on specific claims in the trial.

Blue Origin’s goal is to develop technology that will expand humanity’s presence in space under the declared conviction that “to preserve the Earth, our home, for the grandchildren of our grandchildren, we must go to space to harness its unlimited resources and energy”.
In the 2,200-word essay, which was published by Lioness, who works with whistleblowers and represent the pro bono signatories, they describe themselves as space enthusiasts who believed in Blue Origin’s mission. They include men and women, most of whom have spent at least two years with the company, and include engineers and senior executives who have worked in various departments and programs, according to a list of signatories reviewed by CNN Business.

But their passions dissolved after experiencing what they described as a “dehumanizing” work environment.

“Suppression of dissent” and sexism

The essay claims that Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith, who took over the company in 2017, has installed a “inner circle” of trusted senior executives who make “unilateral decisions, often without the buy-in of engineers. , other experts or senior managers from various departments. ”

Fear and anxiety of stepping out of Smith’s inner circle is pervasive, according to the essay. At one point, he also distributed a list of perceived “troublemakers” to senior leaders. The existence of the list has been corroborated by CNN Business.

The signers of the trial also speak out against alleged sexist behavior at Blue Origin, describing a workplace in which the ideas of women are routinely rejected and some male executives are known to condescend to female employees.

A senior executive – also a member of Smith’s alleged circle – has been the subject of “multiple” HR complaints arising out of his ” [behavior] with women, ”says the essay. CNN Business also corroborated several examples of what female employees characterized as sexist behavior, including adopting ideas presented to it by a man who had previously been raised by women and commenting on women’s bodies. .

Blue Origin did not respond to an inquiry into the executive.

‘Burnout’

Blue Origin describes itself as a business content with slow and methodical rocket development that covets safety above all else. The company even adopted the mascot of a turtle, a reference to the famous fable in which “slow and steady” wins the race.
The company garnered extensive media coverage last July when it launched Bezos itself to the edge of space, weeks after the plan was announced. After Bezos made his own intentions public, Richard Branson’s company, Virgin Galactic, announced their own plan to send the British billionaire into space, and managed to do so nine days before Bezos launched.

“At Blue Origin, a common question at high level meetings was, ‘When will Elon or Branson fly? “” the essay reads, adding that competing with other billionaires was a big motivator. Abrams said she was present at at least one of those meetings. A 2018 internal rating, obtained by CNN Business and mentioned in the essay, sets out a roadmap for Blue Origin to emulate the culture of SpaceX – in which “burnout is part of their work strategy” and there is a desire to “bend the rules”.

While every rocket launch is inherently risky due to the complexity and power of the vehicles involved, some engineers at the company also pushed back what they saw as a desire to prioritize speed over safety, according to the company. test and internal documents. A senior engineer, for example, resigned in April 2020 to protest “schedule-driven conduct [that] is unable to produce safe systems engineering. “

“In this environment, security is not an option, although we repeatedly state that it is our top priority,” said the resignation letter, obtained by CNN Business.

The essay released Thursday also says many of its authors “say they wouldn’t fly a Blue Origin vehicle.”

The Federal Aviation Administration, which authorizes commercial space launches, said in a statement on the trial Thursday that it “takes all safety claims seriously and the agency is reviewing the information.”

Blue Origin has not publicly identified any technological or mechanical issues with the test flights – of which there have been more than a dozen – or the New Shepard crewed flight in July, which flew over Bezos, his brother Mark. Bezos, an 18-year-old. whose father paid for his seat, and Wally Funk, 82, who trained for NASA’s Mercury program but was denied the opportunity to go to space.

During webcast From Blue Origin’s latest test flight, the company reiterated that safety is the “top priority” of every mission.

Why Abrams came forward

Abrams told CNN Business that she was drawn to a job in the so-called new space industry because she believed in its stated ideology – advancing technology to achieve an exciting new future in which people live and work in. space. But she fell in love with space exploration during her time at Blue Origin.

“It was death by a thousand cuts,” she told CNN Business.

A turning point for Abrams, she said, was the company’s decision to draft new labor agreements that included forced arbitration clauses – essentially depriving workers of their rights to sue the company in case wage claims and harassment – after a turning point. Supreme Court decision in 2018. Since the ruling, such clauses have become increasingly common in employee contracts. A left-wing nonprofit think tank, the Economic Policy Institute, along with the Center for Popular Democracy, has estimated a report that more than 80% of non-union workers in the private sector will be covered by forced arbitration clauses by 2024.

Abrams said she hit back at meetings, arguing that while such agreements are considered binding, they are abusive and unethical. Abrams was successful in getting the company to create an exception for harassment claims, according to Abrams and a copy of a Blue Origin employment contract obtained by CNN Business.

But having to fight Blue Origin’s decision to include the clause has put her off.

“I was like, ‘Wow, now I see how the most powerful person in the world is using their power.’ They use it to continually consolidate their position and weaken the people around them, ”she told CNN Business. “And that sort of thing broke my mind about everything I communicated about space and the best future of mankind… It was the last straw.”

Blue Origin did not respond to a request for comment on this matter.

The company added the forced arbitration clause to employee contracts in 2019, according to Abrams and a document obtained by CNN Business. In the same year, Abrams said she was transferred to a new boss, someone from CEO Bob Smith’s inner circle. In November 2019 – after two and a half years in the company – she was fired because her superiors said they “couldn’t trust her anymore”, and she was escorted out the door by HR, a- she declared.

(A letter Blue Origin sent to Abrams on Monday says she was fired for “poor performance and decision making on your part which resulted in senior management losing confidence in your judgment and ability to perform your job. effectively, ”and a Blue Origin statement to reporters say she was fired“ after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations. ”Both claims, Abrams said, are baseless. )

She agreed to a separation agreement that also included nondisclosure and nondisclosure clauses.

Due to her decision to come forward, Abrams said she expects the company to sue her. After Lioness, the public relations agency she works with, alerted Blue Origin to her intention to come forward, she received a letter on Monday from Blue Origin’s legal director of labor and employment, claiming that the the company “reserves the right” to take legal action against it and attempt to recover its severance pay as well as damages and legal costs.

But Abrams said she decided no amount of money was worth it.

“I don’t necessarily think Blue Origin is the most important thing to talk about on planet Earth right now,” she said. “However, I think telling these stories is how we create sparks that create fire, and I’m not going to be silenced anymore.”


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