For much of its history, spaceflight company Blue Origin, which is funded by former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, was intensely secretive. But following Bezos’s summer flight to the edge of space aboard one of the company’s rockets, Blue Origin firmly entered the public consciousness.
Perhaps that new spotlight is what led more than 20 of Blue Origin’s employees to step forward last week, complaining in an open letter about the company’s “toxic” culture. “We believe exploring the possibilities for human civilization beyond Earth is a necessity,” the letter begins. “But if this company’s culture and work environment are a template for the future Jeff Bezos envisions, we are headed in a direction that reflects the worst of the world we live in now, and sorely needs to change.”
The letter, which reveals that Blue Origin has 3,600 employees in six U.S. states and multiple countries, also suggests there are diversity issues among the staff: “The workforce dedicated to establishing this future ‘for all’ is mostly male and overwhelmingly white. One-hundred percent of the senior technical and program leaders are men.”
That lack of diversity, it continues, translates into a culture of rampant sexism. If that wasn’t bad enough, the employees also allege that Blue Origin isn’t overly concerned with its industrial processes’ impact on the environment, and that its corporate culture emphasizes speed and cost savings over quality and employee burnout: “Internally, many of us did not see leadership invest in prioritizing sound systems engineering practices. Systems engineering products were created for New Shepard [Blue Origin’s rocket] after it was built and flying, rather than in the design phase; this impacted verification efforts.”
A spokesperson from Blue Origin told Business Insider that the company would investigate the claims, and that it has a zero-tolerance policy toward harassment.
Earlier this year, CNBC reported that roughly a dozen prominent engineers had left Blue Origin over the past several months, with some migrating to SpaceX and other spaceflight companies. At the time, Blue Origin retorted that it was on track to hire 650 more employees in 2021, including leadership roles in manufacturing, quality, and engineering.
SpaceX, which is run by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, has devoted its existence to big tasks such as building reusable rockets and launching satellites into orbit. Meanwhile, Blue Origin’s short-term goal seems to be space tourism (according to reports, it’s sold $100 million in tickets for future launches like the one Bezos took). If Blue Origin wants to fulfill Bezos’s wish to lift humans off Earth and onto floating space colonies, it will need all the talent it can get—and a culture where that talent feels supported.