Alexandra Abrams has finally gone public, and she has Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin space company in her crosshairs.
Abrams, the former head of employee communications at Blue Origin, took to the Lioness website to air her grievances, but she was not alone – she had twenty other current or former Blue Origin employees backing her up.
In a scathing essay posted to the website, Abrams and company called out Blue Origin for its toxic workplace, one that has company workers sign strict nondisclosure agreements, clamps down on internal feedback, has total disregard for safety with their spaceship, and worst of all creates an extremely sexist environment for the women working at Blue Origin.
No longer worried, Abrams told CBS in an interview, “I’ve gotten far enough away from it that I’m not afraid enough to let them silence me anymore.” The essay also gave examples of the sexual harassment the essay writers allege to have happened under Bezos’ watch.
While Abrams had no issue signing her name to the essay, the other 20 remained in the background, keeping their identifications anonymous. You can read the entire essay here.
It appears Blue Origin is trying to paint Abrams as a vengeful ex-employee. Blue Origin’s vice president of communications, Linda Mills, spoke to CNBC about Abrams, saying Abrams was “dismissed for cause” in 2019 “after repeated warnings for issues involving federal export control regulations.”
Abrams countered by telling CNBC that she “never received any warnings, verbal or written, from management regarding issues involving federal export control regulations.”
Abrams did admit to CBS Mornings that she was fired from her job at Blue Origin. She claims she was shocked to be told she was being relieved of her duties. She was just as shocked when her manager revealed that “Bob and I can’t trust you anymore.” The “Bob” her manager was speaking of is Blue Origin CEO, Bob Smith.
Claims of sexual harassment and sexism were also on display in the essay. The authors acknowledge that workforce gender gaps are very common occurrences in the space industry, but they say Blue Origin has its own particular brand of sexism.
They leaned on two examples concerning Blue Origin’s senior leadership. In one example, they alleged that a “senior executive in CEO Bob Smith’s loyal inner circle” was time and again reported for sexual harassment claims to human resources. Even after the numerous claims against this senior executive, Smith surprisingly made the executive a member of the Blue Origin hiring committee when the company was looking to fill their empty senior human resources slot.
The second example given steered more toward sexual harassment. The authors noted that a former executive was constantly demeaning towards the women employees by calling them “baby doll,” or “baby girl,” or “sweetheart”, while also being very curious about their dating lives. Abrams says some at Blue Origin would warn new female employees to steer clear of this executive who was said to have a very close and personal relationship with Bezos, founder of Amazon and one of the richest men in the world.
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The essay alleges, “It took him physically groping a female subordinate for him to finally be let go.”
Safety, though, was another huge issue raised in Abrams’ essay. In it, she states that some of the engineers were either forced out or paid off after they voiced concerns about the rockets.
According to the essay, “In the opinion of an engineer who has signed on to this essay, ‘Blue Origin has been lucky that nothing has happened so far.’ Many of this essay’s authors say they would not fly on a Blue Origin vehicle.”
Abrams and her co-authors state that when a new person took over a team in 2018, they discovered that the team had reported over 1,000 problem reports that involved the company’s rocket engine. Not one of those problem reports was addressed.
When teams made requests to bring on additional engineers or staff, the Blue Origin higher-ups frequently denied them. Instead, the teams were forced to take on additional duties that the smaller teams simply couldn’t handle.
Watching Bezos make the first manned flight for Blue Origin earlier this summer was a hard watch for many who helped Abrams pen the essay. “When Jeff Bezos flew to space this July, we did not share his elation. Instead, many of us watched with an overwhelming sense of unease. Some of us couldn’t bear to watch at all,” the authors wrote. “Competing with other billionaires—and ‘making progress for Jeff’— seemed to take precedence over safety concerns that would have slowed down the schedule.”
The Federal Aviation Administration has begun to review the numerous safety concerns raised by Abrams’ essay, telling CNBC that “The FAA takes every safety allegation seriously.”