SAN FRANCISCO — When new employees join Uber, they are asked to subscribe to 14 core company values, including making bold bets, being "obsessed" with the customer, and "always be hustlin'." The ride-hailing service particularly emphasizes "meritocracy," the idea that the best and brightest will rise to the top based on their efforts, even if it means stepping on toes to get there.
Those values have helped propel Uber to one of Silicon Valley's biggest success stories. The company is valued at close to $70 billion by private investors and now operates in more than 70 countries.
Yet the focus on pushing for the best result has also fueled what current and former Uber employees describe as a Hobbesian environment at the company, in which workers are sometimes pitted against one another and where a blind eye is turned to infractions from top performers.
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Interviews with more than 30 current and former Uber employees, as well as reviews of internal emails, chat logs and tape-recorded meetings, paint a picture of an often unrestrained workplace culture. Among the most egregious accusations from employees, who either witnessed or were subject to incidents and who asked to remain anonymous because of confidentiality agreements and fear of retaliation: One Uber manager groped female co-workers' breasts at a company retreat in Las Vegas. A director shouted a homophobic slur at a subordinate during a heated confrontation in a meeting. Another manager threatened to beat an underperforming employee's head in with a baseball bat.
Until this week, this culture was only whispered about in Silicon Valley. Then on Sunday, Susan Fowler, an engineer who left Uber in December, published a blog post about her time at the company. She detailed a history of discrimination and sexual harassment by her managers, which she said was shrugged off by Uber's human resources department. Ms. Fowler said the culture was stoked — and even fostered — by those at the top of the company.
"It seemed like every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor's job," Ms. Fowler wrote. "No attempts were made by these managers to hide what they were doing: They boasted about it in meetings, told their direct reports about it, and the like."
Her revelations have spurred hand-wringing over how unfriendly Silicon Valley workplaces can be to women and provoked an internal crisis at Uber. The company's chief executive, Travis Kalanick, has opened an internal investigation into the accusations and has brought in the board member Arianna Huffington and the former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. to look into harassment issues and the human resources department.
To contain the fallout, Mr. Kalanick also began more disclosure. On Monday, he said that 15.1 percent of Uber's engineering, product management and scientist roles were filled by women, and that those numbers had not changed substantively over the past year.
Mr. Kalanick also held a 90-minute all-hands meeting on Tuesday, during which he and other executives were besieged with dozens of questions and pleas from employees who were aghast at — or strongly identified with — Ms. Fowler's story and demanded change.
In what was described by five attendees as an emotional moment, and according to a video of the meeting reviewed by The New York Times, Mr. Kalanick apologized to employees for leading the company and the culture to this point. "What I can promise you is that I will get better every day," he said. "I can tell you that I am authentically and fully dedicated to getting to the bottom of this."