Workers at hot start-ups say : ''they were belittled and punished if they spoke up''.

Onstage at an industry conference last year, Henry Ward, chief executive of the financial technology start-up Carta, described his vision for transforming the way that workers get paid.

Working for a paycheck had evolved from indentured servitude and serfdom, he said. In the next era, employees would own a stake in their companies.

''Our mission is to create more owners in the world,'' Mr. Ward said.

Carta has turned that message into $3 billion valuation and become one of Silicon Valley's hottest start-ups.  But even as it espoused its ownership-for-all  creed, the company behaved inequitably as to many of its own 838 workers, according to interviews with over a dozen current and former employees, along with reviews of emails, internal communications and corporate documents.

Many of those who were mistreated were women, the current and former employees said. One was ford after an emotional outburst in a meeting. Another was pushed out after raising regulatory concerns.

Some former workers are now pushing back. Three of them, including a former top operations executive, have sued Carta in the last year accusing it of wrongful termination.

In a suit in July, Emily Kramer, a former Carta marketing executive, said she had been pain less than her male peers and that Mr. Ward had disparaged her with a vulgarity after she voiced concerns about a presentation. She said that incident had forced her out of the company.

Ms. Kramer's lawsuit and others said Mr. Ward set the tone by denigrating employees and dismissing concerns. While his blunt management style fostered loyalty among some, the current and former employees said, it alienated many others.

The discontent at Carta has emerged as the mission-driven facade of many idealistic tech start-ups has started cracking.

In recent months, workers at the apparel start-up Everlane, the feminist work space the Wing and the therapy app Talkspace  have criticized the mismatch between their employers public messages of empowerment and justice and their private actions.

The current and former Carta employees said what they experienced was directly at odds with the start-up's crusade for fairness for workers and equality for women.

Mr. Ward not only stated those goals publicly but had Carta advertise them on billboards in San Francisco, including one that implored other tech companies to close a ''gender equity gap'' faced by women.

''This is a company that makes a conscious decision to market itself as a company that cares about fair practices,'' Ms. Kramer said in an interview.

''I know it's smoke and mirrors.''

The honor and serving of the latest global operational research on gender and equality and fair practices, continues. The World Students Society thanks author Erin Griffith.


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