Tesla — the manufacturer of the first electric sports car — may have a harassment problem, The Guardian reports.
According to the publication, female engineer AJ Vandermeyden is a victim of “pervasive harassment.” But despite raising concerns with her superiors, the company has ignored repeated complaints, she told The Guardian.
The 33-year-old is accusing Elon Musk's car company of paying her a lower salary than other male colleagues doing the same work, while promoting men who are less qualified than her. She has also said the company has retaliated after she brought up concerns.
Whenever Tesla received workplace-related complaints, the answer was dismissive. Often, employees were told that “we’re focused on making cars. We don’t have time to deal with all this other stuff.”
While Vandermeyden still works for the electric car manufacturing company, her allegations seem to suggest the environment at Tesla is toxic to women. The assertions are prompting many to suggest her case is very similar to engineer Susan Fowler's, whose accusations against Uber were mostly ignored by the ride-sharing giant.
Fowler claimed the company dismissed her complaints and superiors protected a repeat offender of sexual harassment because he was a “high performer.”
Last year, Vandermeyden filed a lawsuit against Tesla. In an interview, the engineer said that she decided to take this route because if somebody doesn't stand up, “nothing is going to change.”
“I’m an advocate of Tesla. I really do believe they are doing great things. That said, I can’t turn a blind eye if there’s something fundamentally wrong going on.”
Vandermeyden started working at the electric car company in 2013 and was promoted to a manufacturing engineering position in the firm's general assembly department. Her colleagues were mostly men, and according to her complaint, she quickly learned that she was being paid less than the male engineers whose work she had taken over. In many company meetings, she said she was often the only woman among 40 to 50 men.
Aside from harassment issues, Vandermeyden said that there are other problems with the company, such as the quality testing of vehicles. She complained she would often bring up the inadequacies her superiors missed, coming up with solutions on her own. Still, men were granted positions above her.
Some of the harassment she suffered included “inappropriate language, whistling, and catcalls,” which she experienced on the factory floor.
This is not the first time Tesla is accused of mistreatment. Recently, factory workers claimed they worked long hours in unsafe conditions and for low wages. While Musk denied those claims at the time, Tesla has yet to respond to questions about Vandermeyden's suit.
It looks like Silicon Valley will have to do a lot more work to become as inclusive as engineers like Vandermeyden wish it to be. Even as Tesla claims in an email to The Guardian that it “understands the importance of fostering an inclusive workplace that is reflective of the communities we call home,” its leaders will only be able to identify the root of the problem when they are ready to admit they have one.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Henry Nicholls