Carson Officially Out At Silicon Valley Community Foundation

This story has been updated from a previous version.

Emmett Carson is officially out as president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (SVCF). He had been on paid administrative leave for the past two months pending an investigation into a hostile workplace environment at the $14 billion organization.

The organization’s board reviewed the results of an independent investigation at its June 14 meeting. According to an announcement from the board today, 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.”

There will be “changes to SVCF’s policies and procedures, as well as board governance, committee structures and reporting,” according to the statement.

Carson has been on paid administrative leave since April as an investigation by law firm Boies Schiller Flexner was launched. The full report can be found here.  Carson’s last day was officially today.

Mari Ellen Loijens who headed up branding and business development for SVCF, resigned in April after reports alleging bullying and remarks viewed as sexually inappropriate. Former employee Sarah Lorraine Goodman told the Mercury News in San Jose, Calif., that she worked at SVCF for nine months and that complaints to human resources were not addressed. The head of human resources also resigned.

Goodman was quoted in the Mercury News as having said: “It was such a brutal experience working there. A big part of that culture is Emmett. It was understood that Mari Ellen was untouchable. Emmett covered for her. He used to call her his bulldog. She was the one he’d unleash on people, and he just thought she was the greatest thing ever.”

The board has hired the national search firm Spencer Stuart to conduct a nationwide search for a new, full-time president and chief executive officer. Former board chairman Greg Avis will continue in his role as interim president and CEO.

The board apologized to staff via a statement: “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. We are deeply sorry to our entire community, especially our past and present employees.”

Carson was not specifically mentioned in the portion of the report made public. He did not respond to a voicemail message seeking comment and his previously active Twitter account (@EmmettCarson) was shut down. He issued a 544-statement on his departure via Tunheim, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based communications consulting firm.

Amid a review of accomplishments and expressions of gratitude to the board, Carson 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.”

SVCF declined comment beyond the statement on its website. It’s unclear if Carson or any other senior executives that left will receive severance payments or deferred compensation.

Since SVCF typically files its annual tax form in November, any compensation for the 2018 fiscal year will not appear until the tax form is filed, likely in November 2019 but in May 2019 at the earliest. On the most recent form, for the year 2016, Carson earned total compensation of $949,179, including base compensation of $660,000. The foundation reported total revenue of $1.905 billion, including contributions of $1.256 billion, and total expenses of $1.35 billion, including grants distributed totaling $1.295 billion.

According to the law firm’s report, BSF conducted 82 interviews, primarily of current and former employees and board members. BSF also reviewed 45 memoranda. The firm’s investigators interviewed people in a range of positions in every SVCF division, with differing tenures of employment and levels of leadership.

Rebecca Dupras worked at the foundation for nearly three years, until early 2017, but is no longer involved with nonprofits as an attorney in Rhode Island. She was asked three times to be interviewed for the report but declined. “I felt like the report was going to be self-serving to the board, obfuscating from their responsibility. I feel like that’s what is the result,” she said.

Dupras said Loijens was her direct supervisor and after a promotion to vice president of development became part of the leadership with direct access, theoretically, to Carson, she said. Loijens was personally harassing and objectifying to her but Dupras also witnessed it with other employees.

The SCVF board failed in its oversight responsibility, never questioned significant turnover within her division, Dupras said, or reached out to her counterparts who had been employed there even longer. The board

Described in the report was a general distrust of former human resources leadership which discouraged employees from raising workplace concerns. “Employees legitimately feared that information shared with HR would not be kept confidential by former HR leadership and instead would be shared with other SVCF executives. As a result, many allegations of workplace misconduct reported to us had never been raised with HR,” according to information in the report.

Recommendations from the investigators include:

  • Reporting and Addressing Workplace Misconduct: Implement Clear Reporting Practices and Apply Standardized Protocols. To ensure staff have an effective outlet to raise workplace concerns, SVCF should ensure multiple public and anonymous reporting mechanisms for staff to report concerns about workplace behavior and should set clear guidelines about how reports submitted through each of these processes will be handled.
  • At a minimum, employees should know how to raise a formal or informal complaint with (1) their supervisor; (2) human resources; (3) a board representative; and, (4) anonymously through an appropriate workplace tool.
  • Enforce a Zero Tolerance Policy on Retaliation. SVCF’s employee handbook contains a policy prohibiting retaliation for raising workplace complaints. SVCF management should clearly articulate and enforce a policy of zero tolerance for any SVCF manager who is found to have retaliated against an employee for raising workplace complaints.
  • Focus on Confidentiality. SVCF should review and strengthen policies for maintaining the confidences of employees who raise complaints based on what the employee feels comfortable sharing and with whom. SVCF should implement policies applicable to all SVCF management concerning when HR information should be shared and with whom. It is important that complaints about workplace misconduct get addressed but to do so in a way that, to the extent possible, protects information that an employee does not want disclosed. Where such information is legally required to be disclosed, SVCF should ensure the employee is fully informed as to what must be shared and why before the information is disclosed.
  • Institute a Process of Addressing Informal Reports and “Open Secrets.” SVCF should institute a formal policy on receiving, documenting, and responding to informal reports of workplace misconduct or cultural concerns made to SVCF management. “Open secrets” in which “everyone knows” about certain misconduct can serve as important indicators of deeper concerns, notwithstanding the absence of formal reports. Informal reports also provide an important insight into workplace issues, particularly where an organization is suffering from a more pervasive cultural problem as opposed to an isolated incident of misconduct.

In 2006, Carson headed up what at the time was one of the largest mergers in the charitable sector, the Peninsula Community Foundation with the Community Foundation Silicon Valley. Established in 1954, Community Foundation Silicon Valley managed more than 650 charitable funds with total assets of $919 million. Peninsula Community Foundation, established in 1964, managed assets of $612 million, including more than 750 charitable funds. The merger created one of the top community foundations in the nation, with more than $1.5 billion in assets under management and 1,400 philanthropic funds.

Before SVCF, Carson was CEO of The Minneapolis Foundation. Prior to that, he was the first leader of the Ford Foundation’s U.S. and global grant-making program on philanthropy and the nonprofit sector.

Carson is the recipient of honorary degrees from Indiana University, Morehouse College, Becker College and The National Hispanic University. He received both his master’s and Ph.D. degrees in public and international affairs from Princeton University and his bachelor’s degree in economics, Phi Beta Kappa, from Morehouse College. He has been listed 17 times among the charitable sector’s most influential executives in The NonProfit Times’ annual Power & Influence Top 50.

This story will be updated as more details become available.