Thursday, December 16 2021

Dive In


Whatever was said about the communication that happened about the decision that was made was inaccurate. I was contacted one and half hours before the selection meeting on 8th for the Test series and there was no prior communication to me at all since I announced my decision on T20 captaincy.

That’s Virat Kohli politely calling the Board of Control for Cricket in India and its president Sourav Ganguly a liar. No, Ganguly did not personally speak to Kohli about stripping him of his ODI captaincy. He was instead informed by the chief selector just 90 minutes before the selection meeting. And no, the BCCI never asked Kohli to reconsider his decision to step down from leading the T20 team. ESPN Cricinfo has more details, while Indian Express has more background on the lead up to this latest plot twist. Scroll has a good take on this embarrassing spectacle.


Stuff to check out: On the latest episode of the splainer podcast ‘Press Decode’, the splainer team looks at the internet, past and present—suicide sites on Google search and the future of Web3. Be sure to head over to the IVM website, Spotify or Apple Podcasts to listen to it.

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Big Story

Elon Musk’s big #MeToo problem

TLDR: Both of his high profile companies—SpaceX and Tesla—are facing a barrage of sexual harassment allegations. They point to a toxic work culture—a problem that, as always, starts at the top. 


Editor’s note: Our big story today is free to read. So if you liked it be sure to share the link widely! It helps splainer find new subscribers:)


Researched by: Sara Varghese & Ankita Ghosh


Let’s start with Tesla

The lawsuit: Six female employees have filed six separate lawsuits alleging that the company fosters a culture of sexual harassment at its facilities. The women were subjected to a barrage of sexual heckling and remarks—often from their superiors. And little changed even when they complained. Some allege they were moved from their work stations after reporting the behavior.


A pattern of harassment: Here are some examples of what the women had to deal with on the factory floor. A woman who joined as an 18-year-old states this in her lawsuit:


“Within her first weeks at work, her own Supervisor told her that with her 'big butt’ she should … be an exotic dancer, and tried to slap her on the backside as she changed out of the bodysuit she had to wear when painting Tesla’s cars.”


Another employee who started work soon after giving birth said: “[A] co-worker would comment on her breastmilk-stained shirts, calling her a ‘cow’ or saying ‘oh, I see you’re milking today.’” There are other complaints of sexual overtures from supervisors, as well. In each case, the complaint was either ignored—or the woman was punished and moved to a less desirable position.


Also this: At Tesla, women’s body parts were referred to using the number system and subjected to lewd comments. And “the Supervisors or Leads were often the harassers.”


Point to note: A former employee—who alleged racist abuse and harassment at the same factory—was recently awarded $137 million in damages. He too said that his complaints were ignored, and he was threatened with demotion. 


Tesla’s response: The company strongly contested the racial discrimination verdict, saying, “[W]e strongly believe that these facts don’t justify the verdict reached by the jury.” But it has not responded to the sexual harassment allegations so far. 


Moving on to SpaceX…

The allegations: It all kicked off when Ashley Kosak—a former Mission Integration Engineer at SpaceX—wrote an essay on Lioness describing her experience at the company. The harassment started when she was an intern:


“Over my next two years as a SpaceX intern, countless men made sexual advances toward me. In 2018, during a team bonding event, a male colleague ran his hand over my shirt, from my lower waist to my chest. I told my supervisors what he had done, then met with HR and reported the inappropriate behavior, but no one followed up. This man remained part of the team I reported to and worked for. Given my tenuous position at the company, I felt powerless.”


This pattern would continue even after she became an engineer. Each time, HR told her that “matters of this nature were too private to openly discuss with the perpetrators.” There was no system to punish harassers at SpaceX.


Three other former interns: confirmed Kosak’s allegations of a toxic culture to the New York Times. One was uncomfortable with a manager who repeatedly asked questions about and commented on her dating life. She was allowed to transfer—but the same manager made sure she didn’t get a job at the company. The second intern did not experience any harassment but said at least half of her female peers “had stories about situations that made them uncomfortable.”


A third intern was harassed like Kosak at the shared housing that SpaceX offers its trainees:


“In 2012, one former intern said she encountered a male employee who was invited over for drinks by her male housemate. The man became drunk and tried entering her bedroom as she was coming out of the shower, banging on the door and rattling the doorknob after asking her if she was naked.”


Despite an HR investigation, the man is still at SpaceX.


SpaceX says: As the story went public, the company’s president and CEO, Gwyne Shotwell sent a staff email that seemed to place the burden on the women: “Timely reporting of harassment is key to our maintaining SpaceX as a great place to work; we can’t fix what we don’t know.” This despite the fact that Kosak says she shared one of her complaints with Shotwell—and, again, nothing happened.


The Elon Musk factor

All the women—be it at Tesla or SpaceX—draw a direct line between Musk’s personal behaviour and the culture at his companies. Musk is notorious for making sexist tweets, the most recent of which read: “Am thinking of starting new university: Texas Institute of Technology & Science. It will have epic merch. Universally admired.” He is also known for frequently slipping in references to ‘69’—shorthand for a sexual position—into his tweets, and sharing soft-pornesque images like this:


And the women say such behaviour eggs on their male colleagues—almost greenlighting their behaviour:


“When Mr Musk did this, everyone at the service center would read the tweets. The managers and technicians would bring up the tweets, laugh about them, and make their own jokes, riffing on the sexual themes.”


Or as Chandra Steele notes in PC Magazine:


“[T]weeting like you’re the manager at a local Hooters instead of one of the tech industry’s top figures is, aside from being an embarrassment, harassment. And it gives license for others in the industry to also treat women as the literal butt of jokes.”


Important point to note: This isn’t just a Musk-led company problem. In September, 21 former employees of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin wrote a piece calling out its toxic work culture. Here too male executives were allegedly protected despite sexually harassing their juniors. And others have separately called out its “authoritarian bro culture.” But no one has sued yet.


The bigger picture: The sexual harassment is a symptom of a male-dominated tech industry. At Tesla, women make up just 21% of its US workforce and 17% of its leadership. In aerospace, men outnumber women roughly eight to one. Silicon Valley itself has a big MeToo problem. In a survey of 200+ women working in the valley—with at least 10 years of experience—60% reported receiving sexual advances—of which 65% had been propositioned by a male superior. And 1 in 3 have felt afraid of their personal safety because of work-related circumstances.


The bottomline: Madison Avenue bros, Wall Street bros, Silicon Valley bros… The more things change, the more all else remains the same for women.


Reading list

Washington Post has the most details on the Tesla lawsuits, while the New York Times has an exclusive on the SpaceX allegations. Read the Lioness essays by the SpaceX engineer and the Blue Origin employees. Florida Today has a very good overview of misogyny in the space industry. The Atlantic asks: ‘Why is Silicon Valley so awful to women?’ Read the results of the Bay Area survey here.


Headlines that matter

iPhone has a morbid update

On Monday, Apple released iOS 15.2 which includes a Legacy Contact setting. It allows you to specify who can access your Apple account—everything from your photos to notes, mail and more—when you die. So choose wisely. How to do it: Go to Settings > General > Software Update, then follow the prompts. This is only for iPhones and iPads. (Wall Street Journal)

An ape-sized error

The Bored Ape Yacht Club is a collection of 10,000 NFTs, each depicting an ape with different traits. It is one of the most expensive in the world—with lots of celebrity collectors. All this to explain why it’s noteworthy that one guy made a monumental ‘fat finger’ error—when he listed his Bored Ape for 0.75 ether instead of 75 ether, which is $300,000—at one hundredth the intended price. Even unluckier for him: “It was bought instantaneously.” Also: Why we absolutely hate online banking. (Cnet)


In today’s edition

Sanity Break

  • BBC News’ collection of the most striking images of the year


I Recommend

  • Digital content creator Sonia Mariam Thomas recommends her favourite podcasts, newsletters and awesome people to follow on the internet

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