Jeff Bezos’s space flight firm ‘rife with sexism’, employees’ letter claims

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Jeff Bezos’s space flight firm ‘rife with sexism’, employees’ letter claims

Open letter by current and ex-staffers alleges ‘consistently inappropriate’ behaviour by Blue Origin leade

Global technology editor

A group of current and former employees at Blue Origin, the space flight company owned by the Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, has accused the business of operating a work environment that is “rife with sexism” and prefers “breakneck speed” to safety.

An open letter written by Alexandra Abrams, the former head of employee communications at Blue Origin and 20 other current and former workers, says the company’s culture “reflects the worst of the world we live in now” and must change.

The letter, published on the whistleblower forum Lioness, says: “Workforce gender gaps are common in the space industry, but at Blue Origin they also manifest in a particular brand of sexism. Numerous senior leaders have been known to be consistently inappropriate with women.”

The letter goes on to allege that a senior figure in the organisation was reported a number of times for sexual harassment and that new female employees were warned to stay away from another executive, who had allegedly groped a female colleague. It adds that the workforce was “mostly male” and “overwhelmingly white”.

A Blue Origin spokesperson said: “Blue Origin has no tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind. We provide numerous avenues for employees, including a 24/7 anonymous hotline, and will promptly investigate any new claims of misconduct.”

Going on to make allegations about safety, the letter says: “What are the blind spots of an organisation whose stated mission is to enable humanity’s better future, yet is rife with sexism? Blue Origin’s flaws extend further, unfortunately.”

The letter alleges safety concerns were raised over Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket by women but were “consistently shut down”. In July, Bezos and three crewmates took a suborbital flight – reaching the edge of space – lasting 11 minutes, touching down in the Texas desert, with the Amazon billionaire describing his experience as “the best day ever”.

However, the letter alleges Blue Origin prioritised speed over safety. “In 2020, company leaders demonstrated increasing impatience with New Shepard’s schedule of a few flights per year; their goal, routinely communicated to operations and maintenance staff, was to scale to more than 40. Some of us felt that with the resources and staff available, leadership’s race to launch at such a breakneck speed was seriously compromising flight safety.”

The Federal Aviation Administration, the US regulator, said on Thursday it “takes every safety allegation seriously, and the agency is reviewing the information”.

A Blue Origin spokesperson said Abrams “was dismissed for cause two years ago after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations”. Abrams told CBS News, which first reported the allegations, she never received any warnings related to export control issues.

The Blue Origin statement added: “We stand by our safety record and believe that New Shepard is the safest space vehicle ever designed or built.”

Bezos’s flight came nine days after Richard Branson flew to the edge of space on Virgin Galactic’s successful inaugural suborbital flight.

Bezos “started becoming impatient and [SpaceX’s] Elon [Musk] and Branson were getting ahead”, Abrams told CBS News. “And then we started to feel this increasing pressure and impatience that would definitely filter down from leadership.”

The letter says a 2018 team at Blue Origin “documented more than 1,000 problem reports related to the engines that power Blue Origin’s rockets, which had never been addressed”.

Blue Origin announced this week New Shepard’s 18th mission would lift off on 12 October.

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