Transcript: Sexism & Toxic Work Environments

This is a raw, unedited transcript of the Dot Dot Dot Conversation “Sexism & Toxic Work Environments: Are Women Safe in Space?”
You can listen to the full recording here.

Laurie Segall  00:01

We are hosting these conversations every Tuesday. In our Dot Dot Dot Media conversations, we have talked about everything from Q anon to revenge porn to cults, and this week is very near and dear, it’s about sexism and toxic work environments and specifically we’re going to talk about space. If I don’t know if folks so who are joining but I had a piece come out this week on CBS. I’m also part time at CBS along with Dot Dot Dot Dot. A woman named Ally Abrams, who’s a former Blue Origin employee was speaking out for the first time talking about a sexist and toxic work environment and how it could lead to safety concerns when we’re talking about the space race. I thought this was such an important conversation, because we have seen, especially in the media, so much excitement over the space race. It’s something to be excited about but it seems from a lot of my sourcing that there’s so many women who want to speak out and who have things to say about what’s going on behind closed doors that we don’t hear about. So her coming on television and she wrote an essay in in a publication called Lioness which I would say everybody should read. She signed it with 20 other employees who remained anonymous talking about some very serious allegations against Blue Origin. I give her props for having the courage to come on and put her face on national television and her name on an essay that she will most certainly receive blowback for because she is going up against Blue Origin and one of the most powerful men in the world which is Jeff Bezos. That’s a little bit of background for folks who are joining. You know, I would love. We’re still waiting on you know we’re still waiting on one other person before we can fully get started. Caleigh, let’s start with you while we’re waiting on on Bailey and Kristi to join. Do you want to introduce yourself because you you’re we met because you tweeted at me. You are a co-organizer of a space support group for women across the country so tell me a little bit about what it is that you do. And you’re on mute, so you might have to unmute.

Caleigh MacPherson  02:46

Sorry about that first time using Clubhouse.

Laurie Segall  02:49

If it’s any consolation, this happens every time I do these. That’s always something, “Oh you have to unmute.” So go ahead, let us talk a little bit about the support group, and a little bit about your background.

Caleigh MacPherson  02:59

Yeah, Sure. So my background, I’m a mechanical engineer, you know, most importantly, I am a female mechanical engineer. I’ve since moved into management. As I’m sure many of you are aware, being female in the engineering industry is not easy. I was in the space industry for a while I was working on satellites which I absolutely loved. I’ve since moved into the defense industry which I also love, but I have a lot of friends in the space industry still, some of whom are here tonight. Sexual harassment, and misconduct, anything of the sort, is prelevant in all of these industries and incidents were starting to happen to my friends. Two other women and I created a Facebook support group, that kind of picks up where the companies leave off. So oftentimes, if you say you sue your employer or something like that. That end is when you know when the case or the legal battle ends. And then, the women are just kind of drifting or they don’t know that there are other people out there or that there’s support so we are there as kind of emotionally and mentally and psychologically picking up the women when either an incident ends or an incident starts or anywhere in between.

Laurie Segall  04:41

One of the powerful things about this platform is you can just hear emotion and folks voices like I can just hear when you’re talking about having a support group for engineers and for women in space, you can actually hear in your voice that it’s almost emotional. That this is something that you’re frustrated about, that this is something that’s ongoing and that you believe it’s something that’s needed.

Caleigh MacPherson  05:03

Oh yeah, I mean I’ve had incidents myself with previous employers, and outside of that. Luckily for me they didn’t go very far and I had the opportunity to take legal action and things like that but the majority of women don’t. They either don’t know what to do or they have no option. So, you know we’re everything from a shoulder to cry on, if someone just needs a hug or sometimes we are the first people that these women are telling their stories to. We had one, this past week where she kept the story for the last two decades, and she was referred to our group and she finally had the courage to tell us. We had a face to face zoom and she told her story for the first time in 20 years. That is so incredibly validating to me that she trusted me enough for that, and that we can try to help her.

Laurie Segall  06:08

Can you give us any insight into that, into her story, not to name names, but can you give us any insight into these conversations and what you hear.

Caleigh MacPherson  06:16

Sure. With this one in particular, it isn’t a space industry though it’s more on the academic side of things. It’s a space-related University, and essentially one of her professors, she was 18 at the time started an extremely inappropriate relationship with her, emotionally and sexually. It went on for years and pretty much culminated in suicide attempts. She cut herself off from the university, dropped out of school, and everything, cut herself off from her entire group of friends, and changed industries completely.

Laurie Segall  07:02

Well, it’s devastating to hear that. And I think something that I took from doing some of the reporting on the Blue Origin Story, and speaking to multiple sources. You know who aren’t going to go, you know aren’t going to put their face on this because they fear retaliation is the mental health toll, right. That you could hear, speaking to a lot of these women, a fear but also how traumatizing some of these incidents have been and I want to get into that. I also want to introduce the rest of the folks, because we have such a cool fascinating group of women tonight. Bailey, welcome. You are a systems engineer, and I just tell me if I want to make sure that your title right because it’s pretty cool, you’re a systems engineer. You have a history of working in mechanical engineering in the space industry. I think it says you’re an aerospace engineer on life support which sounds very cool and very important. If you just unmute yourself and if you want to describe a little bit about your background, I’d love to hear it.

Bailey Burns  08:06

Yeah, thank you so much and just the fact that we have this room is really, really exciting. I am an engineer. I work now as a systems engineer at a company called Paragon. And we do life support so it’s basically everything, keeping humans alive in space. I am one of those people that says I’m excited about my job now, which is really exciting to say. I’m really proud of that I absolutely love where I work. I’m really excited to be here right now because I have a huge passion for going to space and putting humans in space. For lack of a better term, making it a safe space, honestly. You know, we’re all comfortable to go there and everything like that. And I mean a huge shout out to Caleigh, she brought me into this community that she’s talking about. I can’t tell you, I’ve actually had to use it multiple times and open arms and everything that she’s creating and everything like that has really altered my perception of the industry. You know I had a really good childhood, but you can almost draw the line between high school and college of going into an engineering college and seeing the kind of shifts that we’re talking about and trying to figure out how to navigate that. I’m still very early in my career I’m three years out of college. I’m still trying to figure all this out and it’s really great to have a place where I can go to other women and say, “How did you handle this? What can I do?” So that’s why I’m excited to be here today. Thank you so much for having me. 

Laurie Segall  09:29

Of course, and tell me about how you guys met so you guys met because you joined this support group.

Caleigh MacPherson  09:36

We actually met prior to the support group, I think. The space industry is a small tight knit community for the most part. So Bailey and I have run into each other at events and things like that. Our circles have overlapped for a while. So we connected I don’t know, maybe a year beforehand.

Laurie Segall  09:58

Yeah. Bailey, when you went to this group you were obviously looking for some kind of support. Right. I think it’s so sad, right, that we have to have a conversation about, you know, female engineers early in their career for seeking support groups online for toxic behavior and in tough environments. In an ideal world or in the utopia meritocracy that we’d love to hear about in Silicon Valley that wouldn’t have to be the case but it most certainly is. Especially in the time I’ve covered over the last 12 or 13 years, so tell me when you were going to the support group, what were you looking for?

Bailey Burns  10:38

I think more than anything I’ve been, I’ve been really working on finding my voice. The coolest thing about the support group is seeing other women with such strong powerful voices and saying oh that can be me one day or it’s becoming me right now. And that was kind of what I was looking for is that support system of kind of showing me the way because they’ve done it in their careers. And so, as opposed to sitting in my corner saying, this is the way it is, this is the way it’s always been, you know, finding women that say, “No, no, we can make it better, and we can do things differently,” and that’s exactly what I found.

Laurie Segall  11:12

How would you describe your experience as a female engineer in the space industry, you’re early in your career, How would you describe your experience so far.

Bailey Burns  11:26

It’s definitely a roller coaster. Now I’m at a company that I feel valued, we have a lot of women in leadership positions. And if anyone’s out there looking for a good company in the space industry that actually values minorities, I highly recommend mine. But, you know, outside my company online or at my previous company or at college. It’s a huge mixture of things like, “I’m doing things to put humans in space, I’m doing cool engineering things I’m changing the world,” to, People say things about you or to you, questioning your authenticity, your technical abilities. It’s just this constant, it’s kind of like an emotional roller coaster of really high highs and really low lows.

Laurie Segall  12:13

What do you mean when you say questioning, as if you just thought there’s a different standard.

Bailey Burns  12:17

100% Oh yeah, it’s talked about a lot that women have to do to prove themselves three times over before they’re truly believed. And then there’s always this kind of like background question of, it’s kind of a shame. I’ve had a lot of really amazing opportunities in my career, as young as it is, and a lot of the times I have to question, “Why are they doing this? Why am I getting this opportunity? What do they want from me?” And that’s like a weird thing to have to question like, “What am I supposed to be providing to them?” This is really frustrating when you’re just trying to you know, figure out engineering.

Laurie Segall  12:57

Right. Thanks for being candid on this. By the way, these things are weird and hard to talk about. And I like the idea of having a conversation in this capacity which is more casual people being able to share their own experiences.  Kristi I was looking at your background. What a fascinating background, you’re an Amazon veteran. You’ve held various leadership roles during your 12 years there and left and you wrote about your journey to sobriety which is fascinating. You’ve also said tech culture is drinking culture. Thank you for being here. When you hear the folks who are here today, when you hear them talking, do you find similarities to your own experiences in big tech? You got to make sure to unmute. This is my caveat to everyone out there.

Kristi Coulter  13:53

There and there we go. It always takes me a minute to remember how this works.

Laurie Segall  13:57

I got you. I got you and everyone. I’m telling you you’re not alone, everyone forgets to unmute.

Kristi Coulter  14:04

Yeah, it’s interesting I found myself wishing just now that when I was young in my career that I had a support group. I think it would have made a difference. Yeah, when I read the Blue Origin Story as I commented on Twitter I was not surprised coming from the Amazon universe. And it’s not because I have experienced anything directly like that at Amazon, but my experience is that Jeff Bezos, just the Amazon culture in general. It’s not that it’s necessarily actively misogynist but it doesn’t regard misogyny as a big issue either. My experience with Amazon was that it is a company that tried very hard to pretend that gender just didn’t really exist. And because my level I was sort of upper middle management, it was 70 to 80% male, the norm is maleness. It’s just the air that you breathe, and to succeed kind of required women to become a little bit, male. Like you have had to pass as a man, but only far enough that you didn’t freak anyone out. So it’s a very very tight rope to walk which is exhausting and I used to describe it as I have a little I don’t know if people have watched the Key and Peele sketch where there’s like Obama’s anger translator. This guy’s saying everything that Barack Obama couldn’t say. I kind of installed a little Amazon translator in my head without knowing it. I had to translate all my ideas and words and thoughts into something that men would listen to,because that was my audience, that was who I depended on for my success. And it happened, you know, without me even realizing it that it started to bleed into my entire life. Everything I did was for an audience of men. I think that, in the larger scheme at Amazon and anything you know related to Jeff Bezos where you have mostly men in charge. It’s kind of just what’s happening. That is the way that things are. That’s the norm. That’s the neutral state: maleness, and everybody else is, the women are just deviating from that norm and to one extent or another. So it’s very insidious, I mean, in some ways it’s even more insidious than blatant sexual harassment, which at least can be named in a report it. And often the right things don’t happen then but it’s you can start to feel kind of crazy in that environment.

Laurie Segall  16:45

So interesting to hear you say that one of the things that I think is important to talk about. The me too movement was so important, and I think it was a wonderful thing for women. It gave a lot of media attention and permission for some of these stories to be told. But I always say, one of the things we need to do a better job of talking about is, you know what you’re talking about right. Which is, like, “Am I crazy? Sexism, right? Like the, “Wait a second, something doesn’t feel right here.” or the death by 1000 cuts with the microaggressions. Because it’s very easy to say, “Oh, this person did something that was blatantly wrong. He was horrific and then you know violated me and that is wrong.” But here’s all of this spectrum and this is what I hear from a lot of the folks I spoke to in the background from Blue Origin. This is a lot of what I hear in technology in general. I understand this from having a media background. It’s death by 1000 cuts which is much harder to define and much harder to figure out a solution to. I’m curious, Bailey, Caleigh, and Kristi, if you guys relate to that at all?

Kristi Coulter  18:02

This is Kristi, I absolutely do. I mean, that was my main experience. I’m also a Generation X woman and I think that we were brought up with the expectation that we were just going to barrel ahead, no matter what. You know, be twice as good as a man, unfortunately. “This is not difficult,” and all that. I was probably over 40 before I even let myself stop and think “Wait, the deck is really stacked against me.” To me that was a shameful thing to admit that I couldn’t overcome, you know, a systemic inequality. I thought my individual effort should be enough to overcome it. It’s very tiny things I mean most of the men that I worked with were certainly pleasant enough people to me. Who would, a lot of them would be horrified to think that they were sexist. They just they don’t know it. I was on a panel at Amazon once, and a woman asked me the one woman on the panel what it was like to be a woman at Amazon and I, you know, explained my point of view, and then all three men on the panel contradicted me and they said “No, actually it’s really great to be a woman.” and because I’d give it a measured point of view, you know. They said, “No, it’s terrific.” And they all thought they could explain the female experience better than I could and I just found that so strange. It was almost an out of body moment, right, um, that I didn’t know my own experience but these guys did, and that was probably the moment when emotionally, separate from Amazon. Because you know, same thing to do.

Laurie Segall  19:45

Yeah. I’m curious for you, Caleigh, Bailey, you guys are part of these meetings. I know you do them on Facebook I know any of us who have any type of connection realized Facebook was down yesterday so you guys had to reschedule. Tell me about what happens in these meetings and what kind of resources and support you guys are providing to folks. 

Caleigh MacPherson  20:14

Sure, we try and pick a topic every week about some form of advocacy or education. Last night’s was going to be what different types of harassment look like and how I recognize them. We have a number of male allies in our group, but they’ve all expressed an interest in how to recognize if something happens. Because unfortunately they were around at some incidents down at Kennedy Space Center when things did happen and they didn’t know what was going on. So they requested that topic. And then we do things like we have updates. If anybody wants to share a story or something that happened to them, you know, between then and the last meeting or, you know, anything. We listened to it we offer any advice or feedback that they request. It’s a little mix of everything with, you know, the main purpose of being trying to educate and share stories.

Laurie Segall  21:25

Yeah. Bailey, I’m curious if you can share any more specifics about your experience and something you wish you’d known walking in or any specifics. It’s interesting to hear, Kristi, talk about these microaggressions and it’s things that are just hard to put your finger on. Do you have anything specifically like that that’s impacted you and your work experience? It sounds like where you are now is a much better environment, but in the past,

Bailey Burns  21:56

100%, and I’m sure if you were to go to any female engineer or anyone in STEM, female. I’m sure someone would have similar answer, but specifically what comes to mind for me. It’s kind of the ghosts that I’m about to air out to 100 of my closest friends, apparently. I have this deep seated fear that I’m not technical enough for my role. And it’s just come from hearing that over and over again from different men. That’s that microaggression, that’s the death by a thousand cuts. You know like, that’s exactly what it is. It’s when you hear it so many times you start to believe it. And so I’m starting to work on, like I’ve got a mentor here, who is a male, who’s male ally. Shout out to all the male allies out there because they really do help. He’s working with me to get that confidence back up to, to show my more technical side and to bring that up to stop listening to those people that have said things like that for, you know, since freshman year of college. So it’s, it’s been good to work on that but it’s you know, I’m doing this young in my career I can’t even imagine if it was later in my career I have to retrain my brain to think that I am smart enough to do it, I can’t even imagine how hard that would be.

Laurie Segall  23:10

I mean that’s truthfully it’s devastating to hear. I just want to say I’m sorry that’s something that, you know, you, you feel if it’s, if you want me to go there be vulnerable with you. I’ve been a medium I have my whole career and oftentimes, you know I’ve covered tech my whole career and there was always some guy that just rediscovered that just discovered social media and had an opinion on it, that it seems like people trusted, very much, you know, and so I think I in some ways would face my own. Am I good enough. Am I smart enough, wait a second, I’ve been covering this for so long, you know why. Why is there always some, some guy who gets a seat at the table so I appreciate you being honest about it, and, and I, and I’m glad you’re surrounding yourself I’m glad there are support groups for that type of, you know, for that type of what they call imposter syndrome, that’s, you know that sounds like it’s only made worse by some of these environments. I’m curious, Caleigh if you have any reactions in that.

Caleigh MacPherson  24:14

Yeah so, I mean I live with imposter syndrome too. I’m a female mechanical engineer. I’ve been an engineering you know the whole time and now I work with the military where it’s worse. Yeah, we’ve seen imposter syndrome be a really common theme throughout the group. And you know, throughout my own life, but another one we’ve seen a lot that seems to go hand in hand, is there’s, there’s not really a phrase for it but when people are viewed as interest influential, they tend to. I know I’m not explaining it very well, but women have a hard time sometimes saying no, if people are influential and if those influential people then take advantage of that. We’ve seen that happen a lot in the space industry lately because some of these incidents are really high profile people in our little world. And it gets really hard to try and you can’t really teach someone like just because, you know, it’s an astronaut or something that they’re still a human being, just because they have this cool job title doesn’t give them the ability or the privilege to you know be an asshole to.

Laurie Segall  25:47

I can imagine that you add in this idea of technology at this tech and the cult of personality, right, where people love to love type personalities to some degree and then you add in the hype, and for good reason right but around the space race and how much money is poured into it and it seems like a recipe for, for making it harder for for also amplifying some of these issues that you, you guys are talking about that are happening behind the scenes.

Kristi Coulter  26:16

Yeah, it’s something I would add about imposter syndrome is that well first of all, I have come to the point in my life I’m 51 where I think everybody has imposter syndrome, to some degree, or most people including, I knew so many men at Amazon, who would I would get to know them well with at some point confess like I don’t know why they let me work here. I feel so incompetent, and that you and I’m at a point now where I’m like, you just have to barrel forward and just proceed even, even though you may feel like you don’t know what you’re doing because you’ll figure it out. But I will also say that Amazon. The Amazon universe thrives to some extent on making people feel bad about themselves. When Jodi Kanter reported her New York Times story there was a quote that like Amazon is where overachievers go to feel incompetent or something like that it is a company that thrives on fear, and the fear of employees that they’re not doing quite enough and they’re not quite good enough. So, I think it actually kind of encourages imposter syndrome, and it must work for them in the short term, because they get more out of people. But I think that also just feeds into women’s fears especially technical women I was not on the tech side but any fear you have, you know, that’s coming from our culture at large is only going to be amplified in an environment like that where it actually works to the company’s benefit for you to think that you are not enough

Laurie Segall  27:46

and curious I mean, it’s, it’s a pretty sounding thing to say about anything, I think a lot of us remember when that report came out about Amazon and I think a lot of us are gonna remember this report about Blue Origin in this essay that was written, I’m curious to see if there are specific examples where you were made to feel this way or anything specific you could point to that, you know, that led you to this and that would cause you to say something like that. 

Kristi Coulter  27:49

It’s kind of a death by 1000 cuts sort of thing, I mean it’s, there’s a tendency after any project to maybe celebrate the success for a couple of minutes, and then to go on to talking about what’s wrong. There’s a constant emphasis on eliminating defects, which is great you know we’ve been nobody wants defects in their products, versus, you know, this is, this is what we’ve done this great for customers, I had a friend I think he’s actually talked about in The Times article, who was gay, having his performance review convinced he was about to be fired because it was so harsh and was told at the end that congratulations you’ve been promoted. It’s, there’s, there’s just a hefty hefty emphasis on fixing your flaws. Now in the past few years I think the performance review system have been shaped has been changed to some extent to focus more on, you know, what are your natural strengths or what are your, your superpowers. But, but for most of my time there, it was very oriented around your weaknesses and they were often things that are kind of enculturated in you things that you can’t necessarily change. In my case, one of Amazon’s leadership principles is disagree and commit and that means that they like, productive arguments, productive argument. You’re supposed to have backbone and stand up for yourself and, and I was constantly dinged for not doing that enough, And the thing is, I did. I disagreed when I had something to disagree with, I just wasn’t a jackass about it. And it came across to a lot of people, and I mean because I didn’t fit the culture, as too soft. And so I was completing this in this unit where you need to disagree more. You need to be tougher. And I was basically being asked to disagree in a way that was not natural to me and never would have been, you know. So it’s that kind of thing where it’s, it’s a sort of bone as one of my bosses said it’s a What have you done for me lately culture.

Laurie Segall  30:23

You know it’s so interesting in hearing you say that is, I’m thinking back to last week when I was sitting with Ally right former Blue Origin employee who was speaking out for the first time right this is the head of her publishing this essay. And she looked at me and she said that she and she said the exact same thing about disagree and commit and this leadership level at Blue Origin and some of the negative things that came out of it, and how it could lead to a sexist environment so I think I find it very interesting. To connect the dots right between you saying that, yeah, this woman saying, you know, well, there was this, there is, there is this culture there, that in many ways is guided by this principle. So, it’s just fascinating to hear, to hear that and, you know, something else I heard from some of the folks they spoke with is, and I think really this kind of goes into what you were saying, especially when it comes to the space race. And some of these technical issues, is a lot of the women I spoke to Kelly included, you know, talked about, about, if there were issues, you know, there was this idea that they had to stay on schedule Blue Origin, wanted to stay on schedule and whatnot. And if there were concerns. A lot of the women felt like they were disregarded when they tried to bring any types of concerns to their bosses into leadership, which could lead to or they would dismiss and they believed in many times as a sexist they also believe that this was because board was trying to, you know, was, was trying to stay on schedule, you know, but they said that they believe that the sexist and toxic work environment, lead and this is an I heard this from multiple people led to an actual safety issue, because you you know you, you don’t want some of these concerns from any employee to go ignored. I’m curious if you hear about that Kelly doll in the space group in this brace support group that you have if you hear similar stories to that.

Caleigh MacPherson  32:28

Oh yeah, we’ve heard similar stories and to connect the dots, a little more, you know, obviously, the person who’s going to stay anonymous but we were in have been in touch with one of the anonymous authors have the Blue Origin Story. Prior to coming out so it’s it’s really as a small world.

Kristi Coulter 32:49

Yeah. And how did you, you’re all connected in some way, how did you and for folks joining. You know this story that came out on Blue Origin which I, you know, it was a woman who came out and spoke people to me we would this is on CBS. She also put out a really compelling essay on on a blog called Lioness which I would suggest to anyone who’s here is obviously interested in these issues, I would suggest you read it. It was signed by her 20 Other anonymous employees and it really outlines certain specific alleged certain specific sexist behavior from leadership and it also talked about how some employees themselves said that they would not ride on. You know on a Blue Origin vehicle which was pretty shocking so there was some really some real allegations in there and I and I think it really opened up the eyes of a lot of folks in the space industry and I hope, and we’ll see if things change from there. What else will come out, I think. 

Laurie Segall

I can imagine a lot of folks, you know, a lot of folks have reactions to it so I’m curious Bailey, Kristi, Caleigh. I’m sure all of you have read it or have seen these reports. What went through your head when you saw this report come out about this other side of the space race. 

Kristi Coulter

I was honestly shocked by the safety concerns. And I and I. And as soon as I thought that I realized that I had been somewhat naive in my time on various products at Amazon. You know, there were times I returned to Amazon Go, you know, that was hard to get right. And there were times that you know we needed more time we needed to push back and the company was very patient and very supportive of the fact that we needed to get it right you know you only have one chance to make that first impression, but I started to think about Amazon’s operational issues with, you know some of the labor issues we’ve seen in the fulfillment centers, which as a corporate employee you, I was very much shielded from you’re very much on the other side of a tall wall, but it made me think of a little bit of just we need to get this done, we’re on what we call sometimes a death march for certain projects at Amazon. We’ve gotten to deliver this, and damn the consequences so even though it’s not in my personal experience and it’s actually something I give Amazon, a lot of credit for. I could, I could see how uncertain, especially when there’s a sense of competition, you know, space race doesn’t get much more competitive than that, how it could happen. Yeah.

Laurie Segall  35:25

Caleigh, Bailey, same question to you, how did you guys feel when you read this or when you saw this?

Caleigh MacPherson  35:32

To me, it was, you know, I tend to compartmentalize a lot but to me it was just confirming something that we already partially knew and suspected. Honestly it was like, “Add another company to the list.” Because we’ve seen this at a lot of the other big space companies we’ve seen it with primes we’ve seen it with the subcontractors we’ve seen it with just about every NASA division out there so far so it just goes to show how widespread sexism and harassment is and that things haven’t gotten better.

Laurie Segall  36:15

I mean, do you think that one of the things that I really took from this essay is that a lot of these folks feel that things haven’t gotten better, but that sexism when it comes to the space race is also a safety issue, and could have life and death consequences. Is that something that resonates?

Caleigh MacPherson  36:34

Definitely. And there’s also been this thing that we’ve seen that people think that because it’s a space race that it’s in a little bubble because everybody’s working towards the same goal, because it’s so cool and exciting that you know bad things don’t happen there. And all of this goes to show it is just like every other industry out there, you know, the bubble has been popped, if there ever was a bubble. It happens to everyone, it’s, you know, I keep using the word rampant but it’s everywhere.

Laurie Segall  37:08

Bailey, what were your thoughts when you saw this?

Bailey Burns  37:12

Definitely echo what was said that shocked but not surprised is probably what comes to mind. Yeah, we, the story is, I know it kind of shook the rest of the world because there’s a big name on it, but it’s very common in the space industry in the tech industry. I honestly my first reaction was, okay, so how do we fix it. You know, a million dollar questions how do you how do you fix it now, but I think exactly what Kelly was saying is like this isn’t it pops the bubble on the space side of you know space isn’t this perfect industry that we’ve got it all figured out and now we’re going to take humanity to the next plane because, you know, we don’t want to take this garbage with us when we go to space we want to make sure to resolve these issues here on Earth, so that we do have the safety and inclusion that we need in space. And so for me at least, it was really frustrating. But part of it on the other side was like, Oh my gosh, thank goodness, people are listening now, like they think this is a big enough name and the whistleblowers did a good enough job to get people listening that now we have rooms like this in the clubhouse and people are like, oh wait a minute, maybe we should talk about this and it was exciting. I just don’t want it to lose momentum.

Laurie Segall  38:32

Yeah, I’m curious for everyone here I mean so what now right but you know the, it’s one woman has come out I’m sure everybody in my industry in the journalism industry everyone’s doing their homework and digging and, and, you know, trying to get more folks to talk about some of these things and get a deeper understanding of it, but one thing I’ll say is, I spoke to so many women who were afraid of being blacklisted for speaking out space is a small industry. And I spoke to some women who said they can’t get another job, and they were terrified. Is there. How is there a cost for having a voice in, you know, in trying to make change and how can you know how can we create a safer environment for women to come forward and talk about some of these issues.

Caleigh MacPherson  39:25

There’s a massive cost. I’ve had plenty of friends who have literally left the industry because they’ve been blacklisted. It’s happening a lot with space journalists right now. You know a lot of this has also come on because keyboard warriors are now a thing. You know before social media was really prevalent, it wasn’t as bad, honestly. But, yeah we I’ve totally have personal friends who have been blacklisted who have had to literally change jobs. A couple people have literally moved out of the state to get away from people, yeah it’s it’s absolutely insane.

Laurie Segall  40:11

I mean, Can you give me specifics, it just seems so I mean, it seems like we’re living in another world, that something like that could happen. Can you, can you give me specifics of someone so someone came forward with a complaint and it got so aggressive. I mean, can you just just walk us through it.

Caleigh MacPherson  40:28

So there’s a lot but the first one that comes to mind is there. So Kennedy Space Center has a, has a media pool for all the launches. And, You know one of my friends was has been harassed, multiple times by different people. And those people have influential friends at NASA, sometimes, and can they start to spread rumors, and they get their badges their media badges pulled. Got my friends badges pulled, and, you know, if you don’t have the badge to get in, you can’t cover these launches and covering their the launches are is their form of income. So they lose out on contracts on jobs on all of these things, actual monetary losses on top of the emotional ones.

Laurie Segall  41:37

I mean that’s devastating so I mean I want to, You know, take some time to talk about how real change can happen I mean it sounds like you’re doing that, grassroots way right by having a support group, where you know folks who are talented people in the industry folks like Billy can come and find other women, and talk about some of these shared experiences on a larger level what, what do you all think needs to happen, you know, besides I think continuing to pursue this and talk through that and you know get the story out there what do you think will actually create change in this industry.

Caleigh MacPherson  42:17

So one of the things that we’ve been doing lately is trying to contact a number of space companies, and we try to get either statements, put out or for them to change their code of conduct. Sometimes we’re successful, sometimes we are not. But, you know, that’s, that’s something that’s fairly easy to do right now and it does make a difference because then if there is an incident at that company, and if they do have that paperwork, then it makes it a heck of a lot easier for the women to be able to do what they need to do. Apart from that we’ve talked with NASA a little bit. And they’ve changed their code of conduct to cover all NASA locations and sites now, which is huge. It’s a lot a lot of email writing right now.

Laurie Segall  43:17

Yeah. When curious Bailey what would make things easier for you.

Bailey Burns  43:23

Yeah, I was trying to think about what that would look like as as as a senior and I thought about actually this specific being invited to do this, this clubhouse room. Caroline and I went back and forth a while and I was like, Do I even want to do this. Can I just be an anonymous profile and then starting the call and kind of shaky I was physically shaking because I always get scared about these topics and now I’m feeling a lot more confident, and I just happen in the course of what is this 45 minutes now. So I think that’s kind of a good example, what we need to do is, is make it comfortable and inviting for people to come forward and as it kind of gets more ingrained, you know, over the course of 45 minutes, you know, people might start feeling more comfortable and confident. But the big thing is just opening the door it’s, it’s not like you have to go out with pitchforks and fighting, I mean that’s one option but opening the door and allowing people to kind of come forward at their own pace and as as timidly until that trust is built up, I think, I can’t say it enough how much Kelly’s group has helped me. So from a very kind of surface level those those little bricks, you know, step by step kind of thing is, I might be young, but that’s what’s helping me the most right now.

Kristi Coulter  44:38

And I have from a perspective of somebody who’s not young, I still feel 17 I think, to kind of macro things need to happen one, we need women in leadership, because what can happen is you can have these circular discussions among women about helping women and it’s great but at some point, there’s no access to power to make the change has happened. I mean I know at Amazon women have been trying to get company, you know on site daycare for like 20 years now and it’s not gotten anywhere. And I think that might be different if there were, if there were more women at the senior table where the decisions are made. The other thing is men aren’t going to do something. You know I’m not convinced that even a lot of the very what I would call good men that I know at Amazon or other places are really intervening when they hear sexist language or see sexist things happening I think some of them probably are, but I think some are probably just letting it go by men have the lion’s share of the power. And so men are going to have to help solve the problem and I fear that for that to happen, companies are going to have to get hit where it hurts. They’re going to have to start understanding that this kind of behavior, costs the money costs and recruits cost the business, and, and then it will hit home. Sorry to be the pessimistic voice in the room but I think we can get there.

Bailey Burns  46:06

Can I change my answer to Kristi’s answer.

Laurie Segall  46:10

No, I think all answers are great and attitudes and and I will say just for folks listening, you know, I’m curious, I won’t call you up if you don’t want to come up but just, I’m curious how many folks in this room have experienced toxic or sexist or micro aggressions in their workplace if you want to raise your hand. You know I, I’d love to kind of get a sense of folks in this room, and, and understand, you know where, you know, if other folks share that and we also have two folks who’ve joined the stage and I want to give. I want to give y’all some an opportunity to talk so Vinnie you, you were here. And you were here for a little bit so if you want to introduce yourself to everyone and we’d love to hear your story. And also I’m the reminder to go off mute which you just did. I just do that as a caveat.

Vini Kaul 47:10

Thank you so much Laurie Thank you Caroline for pinging me here, and thank you everyone and I was literally when Bailey says she was shaking because I’ve been there. So, I still shake, because these are difficult conversations but we have to speak about it if we want to have some change. So, I’m a corporate leader, working for Fortune 500 and I’m in doing sales a new business development in it and tech so you can understand the layers of working in a male dominated world. So, while Kristi was saying, we need to have more allies like, you know, we can talk to them and in my case, what happened was, one, we didn’t have many women leaders at executive level. And I had just entered the industry as a young leader. And while I was eager to learn from my peers and others, and I always been open. When I saw that newly minted boss, he. I don’t know, for lack of better word, was insecure, what happened, my numbers were anyway, falling to him which would have made him look better, but he started that bullying or harassment in terms of nitpicking micromanaging using derogatory words, quote unquote, totally inappropriate, not only for me, I had couple more male peers. Now, I have always been one of the people, even if I’m scared. I don’t take BS from anyone because I have learned it to stand up for myself. So what I did is I, I went to my super boss so super boss asked me this question, He said, Oh, is he sexually harassing you, I said no, but He’s harassing me is bullying, and I went from I had listed all the points I had what I had done, I had documented everything the day timing, I was doing the due diligence, and what he tells me well Vini sometimes, you know, you may be on the different pages have a conversation with him, which I did. And for a day or two, it was okay, and then it went downhill again. So I went to him again. And I said, I want to model this group. What happened after that. I think it’s going to HR, called Intel, and then I raised this to there’s a group and, you know, most of the companies is a group, which deals with these harassment or these issues. And to my surprise how it ended was, I felt that, like I was working in a hostile environment, like you said because things are connected. And, and then he was okay, he stayed back in the company, and I had to leave because the environment was not good enough for my safety. And I went to the another peer, because he was getting bullied too. I said, Can we go together because it would make my case stronger, and I don’t fault, this person because this guy had green God going on this, he said Vini I just think about my family, so which brings to the point that I was able to be the, I was able to stand up for myself because I was not having these hurdles, a lot of people don’t speak up because they have green cards going on, they can threaten that you will be sent back. They have family to feed in, They have to look for different other angles, and although, of course, it was my bread and butter but I was relatively better space to do that. So it brings me to a point, Laurie, I would love to hear from you because I’m thinking going back, because I had a very, I came across a person who had taken their life because of some bullying at work, play, so I have reached to a point where I want to be the voice, and I want to raise it up. Where do you go, I mean if you have any tidbits for me too, what are, what is my right to fight, because I think time has gone for us to come collectively and fight for it. So if we can just talk about those points to me, I’ll be grateful to you. Thank you very much.

Laurie Segall  51:45

Sure. You know, I will thank you for sharing your story that’s really powerful and I, and I can just give you my experience in it and I want to make sure we have time for some of the other women up here to chat, but I’m happy to share. You know what I think is helpful when storytelling around this because storytelling around women in the workplace and harassment is important and is also not easy, You got to get all your ducks in a row, right, and an important way right like these are stories I’ve bought for my whole career, and I understand that come at a price for, it’s not easy. I think for me, what was that, I’ll use Ally as an example, the woman who came for when it came to Blue Origin. This is a woman who, you know, who had 20, she had spoken to 20 other folks she had been signing this letter, I was able to do my due diligence and confirm on my end with quite a few of those folks and hear very different stories that all had a similar theme. And, you know, she came with a lot of that credibility because she done a lot of the work I mean she talked about having a burner laptop that she brought to her place where people would come and share their stories because they were so afraid, I mean it was to understand and it didn’t surprise me given that she did internal communications for Blue Origin, but it didn’t, you know, it was, it was really noteworthy the links that she went to, I think she’d been working on this for months and months. And so I would just say, these stories are really important. And, you know, I think what you’re doing and documenting these things, developing relationships with journalists. There is, of course, power and numbers, you know, these are all important factoids. When you go to the press and when you want to have a voice or when you’re speaking out, and some of these ways and then I encourage folks to speak out, and I also am someone who understands that it is not easy, and anytime I have someone who wants us to, you know, speak, speak up in a way that will put their career at risk and this and that they have to be emotionally ready for it. I think that’s another thing I’ll say, I never tried to convince someone to go on camera or go on the record. If they are not emotionally ready for what’s gonna happen afterwards because some amazing things can happen like taking power back and getting control back and then also, you know you always get the keyboard warriors, right, as we say, who have negative things to say. So you got to be really emotionally ready for that so I will say that but I want to make sure we have some time and hopefully that’s helpful anyway and you can always reach out to me I’m at Lori at does that I’m happy to hear anybody’s story. And, you know, always an ear for this type of thing. I Jennifer you’ve been here for a while too. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this or if you have any questions for folks up here, I’d love to hear you because I know you’ve, you’ve given us some time and waiting up here.

Jennifer Bassman  54:46

Oh sure, I’m completely fascinated fascinating, listening to all this. I managed to fasten on burnout and boundaries strategist and coach, and I work a lot with female business owners. I’m female business owner myself I have been for 20 years and I have an unusual lineage in that respect that my mom was a business owner, my grandmother, my great grandmother, they were all female business owners before that was a thing for women to do. And every women, every Thursday on this app. I host a room about women in the workplace because I started seeing stories in the media trickle out about how we were losing millions of women in the workforce throughout the pandemic. I believe we can close to losing a generation of women. And I just, you know, started the conversation on clubhouse because I didn’t really see it happening anywhere else. And these rooms for the last, I don’t know, maybe 10 or 12 weeks it’s been fascinating. It’s, it’s, you know, more of an issue with mothers. We still punish women for becoming mothers for being working mothers. We still haven’t changed the rules we still haven’t changed, you know, much around the laws, you know, maternity leave is difficult. I’m not a mom I don’t have children, but I see the ramifications of all these women, leaving the workforce. Some of it has already been mentioned in this conversation, we’re talking about, you know, lack of female leadership. But one of the things that comes up in this conversation frequently that surprises me, and I would love to hear from anyone and everyone on the stage, is how unsupportive female bosses, tend to be with female colleagues. You know there’s a lot of psychology and, you know, books written about that you know queen Bee syndrome, etc, etc. But, you know, it seems like we all want the same thing, but we don’t always want to help each other, and I know that we need the support of men, for sure, you know, we need to find the Allies men. But if women are fully together on this and willing to work together to move ahead and support each other, so that we are seeing, you know, you know, less toxic workplaces and less sexual harassment and women not being scared to report, you know, toxicity or violence or harassment in the workplace. I don’t see us moving forward.

Laurie Segall  57:41

I think it’s a really good point, and I would love, you know, Kristi, Caleigh, you know, it’s there’s some new ones here right they’re the things we talked about with sexism, and then they don’t talk about right and I would love to just like end this like blowing it out of the water I’m talking about, talk about, which is what our own roles as women, and what can we do and I, and like what are we not doing and so yeah,

Kristi Coulter  58:08

I think this is Kristi, I know that as my in my role at Amazon, I often had as many as 30 requests for formal mentorship, at any given time, from women from junior women and it’s not because I was some special snowflake it’s because there were not many senior women, and, and we tend to look same gender for mentorship often. And at some point, you just burn out. I was always a believer in bringing other women up with me, but there was a time when I thought, this is like a whole second job. And, and I think that women who were higher than me in the company probably who are often very generous to me I should say, but it only gets worse, it’s kind of my best friend said once, have you ever noticed that every thing designed to help women and Amazon is done by other women. It was like this. Again this closed circuit and I think that it’s a real problem I think queen bee syndrome is a real issue, but I also think some of it is just burnout and just the lack of time, and, and bandwidth to to help.

Caleigh MacPherson  59:15

And echoing on what Kristi said, you know, I’ve been in the industry about 12 years now. I’ve never had a female boss ever. Like there’s that few of us in the engineering world.

Bailey Burns  59:31

I’m so sorry. This is like my, one of the things that I’ve been trying to figure out, like I said, All through college through sweet through all that like women empowerment things I’ve done, they were like be scared of the old white guy, right, they’re the guy that’s going to to pull you down and so I was ready, I was ready for that Boogeyman. And it was just I mean, I have had my issues. But the thing that gets me, that hurts me the most is when I have this backlash from other women and it’s not just leadership positions, it’s women my own age who are supposed to be my peers have this, and I, this is something I am trying to figure out how to fix now because I don’t know and it’s honestly one of the most painful things that I’ve had in my experience, so if you have more about this or you want to talk to me about it. This is one of the things that I’m trying to take on because it is so painful.

Laurie Segall  1:00:17

Yeah. Can you explain that I mean Caleigh, can you explain that I think you mentioned before that you guys have seen this idea of folks, you know, not supporting each other. You know what I would think, and you know maybe this is such a simplistic view that it sounds like it is and there’s much, if there’s a lot of nuance here people are freaked out, there’s a lot going on in all levels but that women want to support women what, what do you see when it comes to some of these trends of, you know, women who are seeking help who aren’t getting the support they need.

Caleigh MacPherson  1:00:50

So, at work, I don’t see women supporting women, because it’s so cutthroat, because there are so few of us and there’s so much pressure for us to succeed. Outside of work, you know I have this amazing support group with people like Bailey, who say we support each other we are there for each other on a bad day we’re there for each other on a good day, whether it’s work related, whether it’s at at work, I don’t see women supporting women because it’s so cut throat because there’s so few of us, and there’s so much pressure for us to succeed outside of work. I have this amazing support group with people like Bailey, who we support each other. We are there for each other on a bad day. We’re there for each other on a good day, whether it’s work related, whether it’s a personal issue, whether it’s just like, hey, send me memes. It’s just been a crappy day. Yeah. At work, it is. You know, the majority of my friends are male. I don’t know if that’s because I’m a tomboy or a mechanical engineer. But there were seven women in my graduating class out of 80 people.

Laurie Segall


Caleigh MacPherson

And the numbers haven’t gotten better since then, and that was ten years ago.

Laurie Segall

Yeah, I know. I know we have. Is that how you say your name? I want to make sure I get it right. You’ve been up here for a while. It’s great to have you up here and thank you for being patient with us. And I’m very curious for your story, and I know we have to wrap. So I want to be mindful of everyone’s time, but welcome and tell us a little bit about yourself. Then if you have any questions for folks or if you want to tell your own story.

Tiye Robinson

Oh, sure. Thank you for having me and I go to Caroline a little bit, and you always curate wonderful spaces. So thank you for having this one as well. I just wanted to say that I do diversity, equity and inclusion work for a living. I’ve been classically trained in social justice theory at the University of Michigan. And one of the things that when I’m talking to people about sexism or the culture around it, I remind folks that people are a product of how we’ve been socialized in our society. Right. And so we need to think about what did we learn from our parents? What did we learn from the TV we watched? What did we learn from what was happening in the schools that we went to and other institutions that we were a part of and what messages about this were reinforced and which ones were challenged and by who and how and often times I find that what we do very well for women is we tell women how not to get themselves in hot water. We tell women if you’re going out traveling groups or some of the other stories we’ve heard up here about just be ready for the white guy who’s going to make your life miserable because you’re the woman in the office. We tell and train women how to be prepared for that. But what we don’t tend to do as a society is how to teach our young men as they’re growing up, how not to do these things for me when I think about what to do now, now, asking the question what to do now is too late because usually their 30s, 40s, 50s, you’re trying to undo decades worth of learning something that’s not okay. And trying to undo that learning with a two hour training or even over the course of a few months is not going to work. I think as a society as a whole, we need to start looking at what we’re teaching our young men and boys as they become men much sooner, so that they don’t do these kinds of things that are hurtful to women, not just in the world place, but in a lot of other places. So I work in the collegiate realm, and I see a lot of harm done to young women in the collegiate realm that just keeps going on as they get older. And so that’s what I would offer is to really think about what are we teaching our young men and boys about what that really means in a safe and productive and healthy way.

Laurie Segall

This is and that’s really great advice helpful. And I would just say as we end, I’m curious. Kristi, Bailey, Caleigh, the story that just came out on Blue Origin, which is kind of this is beginning to talk about this. Do you think that this will change things? Would you go work at Blue Origin after this? Is this going to have ramifications for women safety and space in the realm and working here? 

Kristi Coulter

I think the safety aspect might lead to change if this was just about women being sexually harassed. No, I don’t think anything would change, but I think it can if the dots can be connected, that this actually put people’s lives in danger, then yes, something might change.

Caleigh MacPherson

And I second that I think it’ll unfortunately, make a splash for a couple of weeks. And then if nothing happens, I think things will go back to how they currently are. So I think we really need to keep the momentum going on. It because this is a really good public view of what actually happens, and it’s a great opportunity for everybody to kind of rise up and try and make some permanent.

Laurie Segall

And Bailey, I’d love to end with you because I know you are nervous about coming on and you were able to really get some insight into what it is to be a young female engineer early in their career doing great things when it comes to the space. So I’d love to end with you. Is there anything you want to add or is there anything you think is important for folks listening to know?

Bailey Burns

I guess, honestly, just from a lot of us, probably younger women. First of all, thank you for being role models. It definitely doesn’t go unnoticed. So I guess keep that in mind as you move forward that we are watching. And we are kind of taking notes on how we want the future to look and the support that we’ve gotten in rooms like this and everything like that. It’s slow but steady, and I think there will be change over a very long period of time. So if we want to get that faster so that we can get to the moon and Mars and everything else, we should start having these conversations a lot more.

Laurie Segall

Yeah, I’m excited for it. I’m going to bring you guys back so we can talk about going to the moon and Mars and all the fun things soon, because I love that that’s going to be a fun conversation, too. And I really hope that some good change happens out of this. And I thank you all for joining us, and we will definitely do more of these. I think they’re important before we go. Caleigh, if anyone wants to join this group or is there a place where they can, how can I find you?

Caleigh MacPherson

Sure. We’re on Facebook solely right now. We’re called Astro Advocacy and Support trying to catch your name, but that’s what we are right now. It’s a private group, but it is visible. We just ask that, you know, anybody who wants to join goes with and approve the Code of Conduct, because first thing we’re going to do is put a code of conduct to keep our members safe. And I can always share a link if needed.

Laurie Segall

Wonderful. Thank you all. We are doing these conversations every Tuesday. And if you enjoy, you can look at my Instagram or Twitter. It’s just Laurie Segall and also send me tips on anything. And also you can preorder. My book is coming out in 2022 in March. It’s called Special Characters, My Adventures of Text, Titans and Misfits. And this is a personal conversation to me because in the book, we talk a lot about death by a thousand cuts, sexism and some of the things in the media industry. So I hope you guys will check it out and thank you all. Have a wonderful evening.