June 27, 2018; San Jose Mercury News
As part of the investigation, we asked Boies Schiller Flexner to advise on the continued employment of our CEO, Dr. Emmett Carson. Today, Dr. Carson will end his employment with SVCF after more than a decade of service, effective immediately. This will enable SVCF to continue to rebuild its workplace environment and execute its mission as effectively as possible. We have hired the national search firm, Spencer Stuart, to conduct a nationwide search for a new, full-time President & CEO of SVCF. Greg Avis will continue in his role as Interim President & CEO.
Thus, this online statement from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SCVF) announces the long-anticipated news that Emmett Carson has effectively been removed by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation board as the findings of an internal investigation are released.
Carson, a well-known figure in philanthropic circles, had been placed on paid leave in April when allegations of bullying and sexual harassment by one senior executive surfaced, followed by closer examinations of the foundation’s internal culture, which has been described as toxic, “overly hierarchical,” and enabling of the abuse. SVCF, of course, is well known as the fastest growing community foundation in the country, with 83 percent of its assets parked in donor-advised funds. After a mere 11 years, and with $13.5 billion in assets under management, it still had its founder on board, his eye on the prize of that continued rapid growth. The executive who staff said was abusive, Mari Ellen Loijens, was the head of development and very successful at it. Reports suggest that Carson did not welcome complaints about her.
Other reports at Glassdoor, which in part provides reviews of workplace conditions, including assessments of leadership, presaged—by years, in some cases—the media reports of that culture, sometimes in excruciating detail. One has to wonder how the board and Carson felt they could claim ignorance.
Once external criticism heated up, and an investigation commissioned by the administration of the foundation had begun, the board finally took the reins and commissioned its own internal investigation, a public version of which can be accessed here, which it now says substantiated “many allegations from current and former employees” against Loijens. Carson was called out for his indifference to concerns about the highly productive fundraiser and his tight grip on the flow of information to the board, who were in the dark about the extent of the problems.
“The unacceptable workplace behavior that took place at SVCF as outlined in the investigative report should never have happened and there is no excuse for it,” the foundation’s online statement said. “We are deeply sorry to our entire community, especially our past and present employees.”
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But a sorry should always be accompanied by the intention to reform and the board went on to summarize the rest of the work ahead of them:
At our last board meeting on June 14, 2018, we reviewed the confidential results of the entire investigation. The investigation found that many allegations from current and former employees were substantiated. SVCF clearly failed to provide a safe and inclusive workplace environment for its employees. The Board recognizes that this failure happened under our watch, and that many current and former staff were deeply impacted. We sincerely thank all who shared information with our investigators, as well as their honest and constructive feedback on how to improve SVCF’s workplace. As we share this report, we are acutely aware of our great responsibility to act on all of the report’s recommendations. These include changes to SVCF’s policies and procedures, as well as board governance, committee structures and reporting. We are committed to fully and expeditiously undertaking these actions.
But they quickly went on to add, “Although not the focus of the investigation, the investigation did not find any financial improprieties at SVCF.” In other words, please continue to entrust your mega-gifts to us. By the way, one of the factors cited by the report as contributing to the culture that existed was that very growth-at-all-costs mentality.
Carson, who was SVCF’s founding director and watched it grow at unprecedented levels through mega-contributions from tech moguls, released his own statement, though one sadly devoid of much acceptance of responsibility. Though he was grateful for “the privilege of a lifetime,” it said, “recent events have brought to light that in the pursuit of these ambitious goals, some staff felt they were not sufficiently heard.”
Others felt that they could not trust that they could rely on the multiple systems in place, including an anonymous hotline, to report complaints or concerns and have them fully and fairly addressed. I am sorry that this occurred and regret any role that I may have played in contributing to these feelings.
And, he said, apparently without irony, “Most importantly, the ethos of Silicon Valley runs deep in the bones of SCVF.”—Ruth McCambridge