Reeling from a storm of complaints of workplace harassment, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation announced Wednesday morning that CEO Emmett Carson had stepped aside, effective immediately. The news came following a two-month investigation that found Carson's leadership style had condoned bullying and other misconduct as long as it delivered results.
The investigation by the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, which is available in summary online, largely corroborates complaints by SVCF staffers that the organization had fostered a toxic culture. These allegations, which the Voice has previously detailed, first became public in April.
In acknowledging the past misconduct, the SVCF board of directors said in a statement that they would seek to rebuild the organization's reputation.
"The Board recognizes that this failure happened under our watch, and that many current and former staff were deeply impacted," the board said in the statement. "We are dedicated to restoring our community’s trust in SVCF and look forward to our next chapter together."
Many complaints focused on Mari Ellen Reynolds Loijens, a star fundraiser who was regarded as Carson's second in command. Loijens was described as an abusive manager who berated her subordinates and often made racially or sexually inappropriate remarks. Despite her misconduct, many former SVCF employees say that Loijens was "untouchable" due to the fact that she was credited for netting prestigious donations from wealthy Silicon Valley billionaires. Loijens resigned in April.
The investigation also noted that SVCF's internal system for workplace complaints was deeply flawed. While the nonprofit's executives promoted a "culture of candor" at the organization, they actually stifled dissenting views, according to the investigation. Employees said there was fear of retaliation if they spoke up. Taking concerns to the nonprofit's HR division was viewed as a pitfall since confidential complaints would be shared with SVCF executives, staffers said. Daiva Natochy, the nonprofit's HR executive, resigned from her position in April as more complaints surfaced. Loijens and Natochy are almost never named in the investigation summary, but many of the report's allegations by staff members target "certain former SVCF executives."
As more employees began speaking out, they made clear they viewed Carson as being complicit in the workplace abuse. Through his Twitter account, Carson tried to deflect these attacks by highlighting his "zero tolerance" policy for inappropriate conduct. In private messages to the board, he portrayed the complaints as cherry-picking bad episodes, and he gave assurances that most of the workforce was content under his management.
But the damage to his reputation continued to worsen. Influential donors began to publicly warn that they had lost faith in Carson's leadership. In late April, the SVCF board of directors announced they were placing Carson on paid leave until the investigation was completed.
Carson, 59, has been a towering figure at SVCF as well as the global philanthropic world. He first made waves about two decades ago due to his management of the Minneapolis Foundation, more than tripling its total assets and proving his talents as a rainmaker.
That recognition led him to be picked in 2006 to help create the SVCF by merging two longstanding nonprofits, the San Mateo-based Peninsula Community Foundation and San Jose's Community Foundation Silicon Valley. That merger remains intensely controversial -- former staff who left afterward still criticize the SVCF, saying the organization abandoned its focus on helping the Bay Area's local problems. Carson described the new role of SVCF as helping to solve the worldwide issues that arise from the tech sector's global supply chain. Given that guidance, SVCF pushed forward an aggressive strategy of fundraising that targeted Silicon Valley's wealthiest residents.
Under Carson's leadership, SVCF's coffers expanded to unprecedented levels -- its assets grew nearly tenfold to more than $13 billion. Meanwhile, Carson was rewarded with an annual compensation package just under $950,000, according to the nonprofit's tax filings.
The new investigation report only examined workplace issues, but it emphasized that it found no evidence of "financial improprieties."
Earlier Wednesday, Carson's SVCF Twitter page was taken down. In a statement put out on Wednesday, Carson listed off his achievements during his 11-year tenure at SVCF."
"Recent events have brought to light that in the pursuit of these ambitious goals, some staff felt they were not sufficiently heard," he said. "I am sorry that this occurred and regret any role that I may have played in contributing to these feelings."