SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell email about Juneteenth, diversity

SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell

Jay Westcott / NASA

SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell sent a company-wide email on Friday to clarify CEO Elon Musk’s declaration about Juneteenth, as well as to tell employees about new diversity initiatives at the company.

“Next year, Juneteenth will be an official company holiday,” Shotwell wrote in the email, which was seen by CNBC.

Juneteenth, a combination of the words June and nineteenth, honors the end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day in 1865 when Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger landed in Galveston, Texas, and told slaves in the city that the Civil War was over.

Shotwell’s note came about two hours after Musk tweeted that “Juneteenth is henceforth considered a US holiday at Tesla & SpaceX.” But Musk also tweeted that employees wanting to observe the holiday will “require use of a paid-time-off day,” a trade off that two current Tesla employees told CNBC they found offensive, especially given that the announcement came midday.

Shotwell’s clarification is key because it means SpaceX employees will be paid for the day moving forward, as official company holidays are considered paid time off.

“As a follow-up to my communication two weeks ago, I met with some of our Black employees to hear directly from them about their experiences at work,” she wrote. “Micro-aggressions all the way to explicit race-based name calling and other intolerable aggressive behaviors occur here and this is completely not OK. SpaceX does not tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind (and in these cases we will strictly uphold our no A-hole policy).”

A handful of other organizations within the space industry also unveiled diversity initiatives on Friday. 

Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism company Virgin Galactic announced that it would begin a program for Black scholars pursuing STEM education in aerospace ― beginning with an $100,000 commitment to start the program. The CEO of Virgin Orbit, a spin-off of Virgin Galactic, published some of his company’s demographics data and said that Virgin Orbit employees all had the day off. The Brooke Owens Fellowship, a well-known non-profit that places undergraduate women in many of the top aerospace companies, unveiled changes to its executive team, with three women of color being appointed in place of co-founder and former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket about to launch the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is seen before the Demo-2 mission with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard.

NASA/Joel Kowsky

“We are the world’s leader in Spaceflight,” Shotwell also said in the email. “We should absolutely be the world’s leader in creating and maintaining a workplace free from bias and injustice where everyone can do their best work so that we can accelerate our goal of making humanity multi-planetary.”

SpaceX did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Read Shotwell’s full email to employees here:

SpaceX Team,

Today is Juneteenth. I encourage each employee to learn more about this day and to reflect on how to effect positive change here at SpaceX and in your community. Next year, Juneteenth will be an official company holiday. If you’d like to observe Juneteenth for the remainder of today, you may use paid time off (PTO) or unpaid time off. All requested time will be approved gladly. Please work with your manager if you would like to observe today.

As a follow-up to my communication two weeks ago, I met with some of our Black employees to hear directly from them about their experiences at work. I also heard in the follow [sic] discussions that the injustices that our Black employees are experiencing extend to other minority employees. Micro-aggressions all the way to explicit race-based name calling and other intolerable aggressive behaviors occur here and this is completely not OK. SpaceX does not tolerate discrimination or racism of any kind (and in these cases we will strictly uphold our no A-hole policy). If you are aware of or have experienced these acts, please-please-please let HR, your manager or met know immediately (we cannot fix problems that we do not know about). SpaceX must be a place where every employee can do their best work — and being Captain Obvious here: Employees cannot do their best work if they are being treated badly or unjustly.

We are kicking off two new employee networks — BlackX and LatinX. Every employee network is open to all employees and can be very effective in generating positive change. 

Last year we made bias training mandatory for all people leaders. We are now making bias training mandatory for all employees. The Diversity & Inclusion and Training team will work on a strategy to to scale in-person sessions across the company, at all sites in addition to the existing online training. Stay tuned for local communication on next steps. [Ed. link redacted]

We will begin to host fireside chats focused on diversity & inclusion in the next couple of weeks. We will leverage external experts and internal employees to participate in these conversations. You are encouraged to attend, whether in-person or virtually. [Ed. link redacted]

We are kicking off a minority mentorship program. We have seen success in our Women’s Network mentorship program and we are excited to expand that.

Our executive team will engage their employees on this topic and we want each manager to do the same. We all need to participate in this conversation.

These steps are just the start and you have my commitment that we will continue to work for, celebrate, enhance and protect our diverse employee base so that everyone can do excellent work free from bias and inappropriate behavior. We are the world’s leader in Spaceflight – We should absolutely be the world’s leader in creating and maintaining a workplace free from bias and injustice where everyone can do their best work so that we can accelerate our goal of making humanity multi-planetary.

— g

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