Tech

Unveiling Workplace Scandals in Silicon Valley: A Closer Look

In the fast-paced world of Silicon Valley, where innovation meets controversy, recent allegations of workplace misconduct have sparked heated debates across the tech industry. The spotlight shines on none other than Elon Musk, with accusations of workplace harassment and gender bias surfacing against the tech mogul.

From demanding female employees to bear his children to facing legal repercussions, Musk’s actions have brought attention to the broader issue of workplace misconduct in the tech sector. This scandal sheds light on the prevalent “boys’ club” culture in Silicon Valley, where inappropriate behavior and gender discrimination have long been tolerated.

But Musk’s case is not an isolated incident. Other tech giants, like Uber, have also faced internal scandals related to sexual harassment. The exposure of these scandals has prompted a much-needed industry-wide reflection on gender equality and workplace culture.

As the tech world navigates these turbulent waters, the call for change grows louder. Companies and individuals are beginning to push for a more inclusive and equitable work environment, aiming to create a culture that values respect, equality, and accountability.

In a realm known for disruption and innovation, the time has come for Silicon Valley to disrupt the status quo and pave the way for a more just and inclusive future.

“Energetic” is the standard for successful people. While they are still building revolutionary electric cars, they can start thinking about how to lead humans to immigrate to Mars, and then buy one of the world’s largest social media platforms, Twitter (now renamed “X”).

That’s right, we’re talking about Elon Musk, who is at the top of the list of the world’s richest people.

However, for Musk, such energy will not be limited to the business field. Recently, he has been on the hot topics for alleged sexual harassment and discrimination against women in the workplace.

On June 12, local time, eight fired space exploration technology company SpaceX engineers (including four men and four women) filed a lawsuit in court, accusing SpaceX founder Elon Musk of alleged sexual harassment and promoting a culture of sexism. and retaliatory firings after they protested.

Although SpaceX has denied all accusations and said the engineers were fired based on performance evaluations and not as an act of retaliation, Musk’s troubles go far beyond that.

On the day SpaceX engineers filed the lawsuit, the US media broke heavy investigative reports. The reporter interviewed more than 40 people related to Musk and said that Musk had a sexual relationship with an employee and a former intern, and asked a woman in the company to bear his child.

As of now, Elon Musk himself has not responded in detail to these new accusations.

Being cautious about this is the right strategy. In earlier times, this might have been seen as a “love affair” for male entrepreneurs, but today it is a real issue that touches the legal boundaries.

 “Following the guidance”

In 2017, a female engineer who had just graduated a few years ago received a job offer from Musk himself – to become a member of the SpaceX management team.

For young people with less qualifications, this is almost a perfect career springboard. Of course, the female engineer had no reason to say no to this, and she immediately moved from New York to Los Angeles.

This is not the first time the female engineer has worked for SpaceX. She had a summer internship here while she was in college. This is not the first time she has directly interacted with Musk. At that time, she once proposed ideas to Musk to improve SpaceX.

She told friends that it was her own initiative that led to their first date, and then their sexual relationship with Musk – but after the report was published, her lawyer sent a letter to the media denying that the two had sex. What is certain is that the two ended their relationship a year later.

Now, after joining the company as a regular employee, according to normal development, she should have been greeted by a busy work adaptation period, but Musk does not seem to want her to be “distracted” from work. What Musk wants is to restart the relationship.

The female engineer also discovered that what was waiting for her was not as simple as a “good opportunity.” Because he invited her to drink, Musk, who seemed to be trying his best to be a landlord, stretched his hand towards her breasts.

Next, Musk began to send her frequent messages and repeatedly invited her to come to his mansion in Los Angeles to “visit” at night. She sometimes accepted Musk’s invitations, but friends recall that she complained that Musk’s behavior made her job more difficult and worsened her anxiety disorder.

Six months after she joined the company, Musk resumed his harassing behavior of texting intensively.

“Come here!” he wrote. When she didn’t respond, he sent her more messages: “Either me or a 6 a.m. workout” “Are you coming? If not, I might pass out. Too much pressure to fall asleep naturally.” “

 Finally, he wrote: “It would be best if we didn’t meet.”

Eventually, the female engineer left SpaceX in 2019. But before she left, she signed a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA. In one of the affidavits, she said they remained friends after she severed ties with Musk.

NDAs are often used to protect confidential company information and trade secrets, but many times, they are also a tool to protect the identity of the perpetrator and prevent victims from speaking out, often in cases of sexual harassment.

The same method was used on at least three female SpaceX employees.

As early as 2022, “Business Insider” broke the news that Musk had exposed his private parts to a flight attendant during a flight in 2016 and offered to buy her a horse in exchange for sex.

 Musk is accused of buying a horse for this flight attendant in exchange for sexual favors

The flight attendant claims SpaceX cut her shift after she turned down Musk’s “offer.” In the separation agreement she signed when she left, SpaceX paid her $250,000 in compensation. In exchange, she promised not to sue Musk.

The third woman involved once worked for Musk. Their relationship soured after Musk asked her to bear his child. She eventually chose to leave the company. The woman received more than $1 million in cash and stock, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The fourth former employee has always been close to Musk because of work reasons. In addition to her work at SpaceX, she also handles Tesla affairs and is responsible for Musk’s personal life.

One day in the fall of 2014, Musk suddenly invited her to his house for a drink, and the two subsequently had sex. The next morning, Musk promised the woman Tesla stock in bed as compensation for the extra work.

As the relationship progressed, she wanted to do more than “drink and have sex,” but Musk rejected her offer. As the relationship between the two began to become strained, Musk assigned Teller, his chief of staff, to handle the woman’s departure, according to people familiar with the matter.

But Musk did not give the woman Tesla shares as promised, but paid a lump sum of $85,000 in cash. Just to get the money, she also signed an agreement promising that she would not expose Musk to any potential legal risks.

When Musk knows that the impact of his power is mixed with temptation and interest exchange, in a vague zone, he still chooses to play wantonly with the inherent weaknesses in human nature.

 This is not a personal matter, but a systemic violation.

 Silicon Valley’s “Bad Habits”

SpaceX is not the only company under Musk’s name that this has happened to.

As early as 2021, the media reported on scandals that occurred within Tesla. At that time, six female victims filed a lawsuit against Tesla in a California district court on the grounds that they had been sexually harassed by male colleagues and supervisors during their work.

Although someone complained, Tesla transferred them to other positions and gave them a “friendly reminder” to wear loose-fitting clothes to avoid sexual harassment.

A plaintiff who works at a Tesla manufacturing plant wrote in the lawsuit that the working environment here is more like a “vulgar, outdated fraternity” than Tesla’s corporate image.

A plaintiff who works at Tesla’s customer service center in Los Angeles said, “Whenever Musk posts a tweet, male colleagues in the company rush to read it and tell dirty jokes as if they are following the trend.”

Musk has been operating a “bad boy” character on his social platform X. In his opinion, this is the key to expressing masculinity, but a lot of the content contains uncomfortable sexual implications.

In 2022, Musk joked in response to sexual misconduct allegations: “It’s perfect to finally use ‘Elongate’ as a scandal name.”

He has also said that he is considering starting a university, named “Texas Tech College”. The acronym for the name is “TITS,” which stands for “woman’s breasts,” he said.

This kind of bad corporate culture is not unique to the companies under Musk’s name. In the United States, many technology companies have a culture like a “boys club.” Casual talk about sex and cheap jokes act like a special glue that creates a unique tacit understanding among male employees.

These male leaders have become role models at the top of the male food chain in the eyes of those below them, and they compete to imitate them.

Kalanick, the founder of Uber, was exposed for similar “bad habits.” When chatting with people, he likes to call the employees responsible for dispatching cars “pimps” and jokingly calls Uber “Boob-er” (a vulgar slang term for female breasts). This is because he believes that since Since the success of his business, Uber has brought him many opportunities to interact with women. 

 He said that finding a woman is as easy as calling an Uber.

This affects the workplace culture within Uber and contributes to internal sexism and sexual harassment. A senior female engineer at Uber once wrote on her blog that she received a series of sexually harassing text messages from her manager on her first day at the company.

When she reported the screenshot of the chat to HR, HR’s first reaction was to plead for mercy on behalf of the other person, hoping to forgive him “because he is a first offender” and said that this person’s performance has always been outstanding, and reporting it was important to him. Probably an “innocent” mistake, not wise.

After her resistance failed, she was transferred to another team. It was also after this that she discovered that her former superior had sexually harassed many female colleagues. Every time HR interviewed them, they told the female victim that “he was a first offender.”

Because of the senior female engineer’s revelations, Uber was forced to conduct an internal investigation. Kalanick resigned as Uber CEO in 2017 under tremendous pressure.

Uber may not have expected that it would be the first shot against sexual harassment in Silicon Valley.

 The return of barbarism

2017 is an important year for the American technology circle. This year, not only did artificial intelligence technology develop rapidly, but the movement to expose sex scandals also swept the entire technology circle.

In the same year, the real reason why the famous “Father of Android” Andy Rubin left Google was exposed – because of a “sex scandal.” In order to protect the company’s image and thank Rubin for his contribution, Google gave him a large severance package and suppressed the sex scandal completely.

There are many other industry leaders who have been pulled down, including Dave McClure, the co-founder of the world’s top venture capital firm 500 Startups, and Justin Carano, a partner at Binary Capital.

This even triggered emotions in the industry: “2017 is the beginning of the end of white male dominance in the United States.”

Indeed, next, Silicon Valley welcomed Sheryl Sandberg (former COO of Meta), whose long-time New York Times nonfiction bestseller “Lean In” about female empowerment It topped the book list and influenced countless female practitioners in the technology industry.

But in recent years, Silicon Valley’s female leaders and those gentle and disciplined idealists have left. First, in 2021, the original Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey left. This CEO who was passionate about meditation, loved the Tao Te Ching, and supported female programming careers. After taking away the delicate workplace culture and asceticism, Musk brought Savage style enters the game strongly. In 2022, Sandberg also left Meta. It was the end of a brief era in which Silicon Valley unabashedly showed its true colors.

“When I started working in this field [ten years ago], it was male-dominated, but everyone would pretend,” said Joel Emerson, CEO of Paradigm Strategy, a Silicon Valley consulting firm that specializes in diversity. There’s a place for women…Right now, it’s still very male-dominated, but no one feels the need to pretend anymore.”

According to McKinsey’s “Women in the Workplace” report released in 2023, the proportion of women in technology leadership positions has dropped from a peak of 33% to 28%. At the same time, women are leaving technology companies faster than ever before.

Amid a sluggish economy, Silicon Valley, like other businesses, has become more reliant on male leaders. And these men, now more than ever, value strength and muscle. American columnist Zoe Bernard keenly captures the new trends in Silicon Valley today – an era led by “traditional masculinity”.

These male leaders practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and meet to duel in the Octagon. They can do 200 push-ups in a 20-pound vest and are keen on taking testosterone and protein at regular intervals every day. Even Zuckerberg, who has always maintained a classic nerd image, has become obsessed with posting some sweaty shirtless selfies on Instagram.

Of course, Musk is a typical example. His almost brutal management style has become more resolute and authoritarian with the blessing of his masculine traits.

When a SpaceX employee accused Musk of promoting a culture of sexism within the company, many people within SpaceX dismissed it. “Musk is SpaceX, SpaceX is Musk,” a former SpaceX engineer heard at the meeting His supervisor said this. At the time, employees who were critical of Musk had just been fired.

When muscle is equated with leadership, power also expands. Among them, the exclusion and harassment of women are only the most obvious part.

More importantly, it confirms one thing: Silicon Valley, a frontier known for its innovation and diversity, is no different from other companies in the world. When markets start to move, they retreat even further.

As has been said many times, a lot of things look like they have changed, but they never have.

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