The Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s chief business, development and brand officer Mari Ellen Loijens has resigned, less than 24 hours after a lengthy exposé in the Chronicle of Philanthropy which detailed years of alleged verbal abuse levied at employees under her command.
The Foundation said in a statement it is still committed to completing an outside, independent investigation it launched this week:
The investigation into alleged incidents of misconduct will continue, and at the conclusion of that investigation SVCF will take whatever action is necessary to preserve the integrity of our organization. SVCF remains committed to further cultivating a safe and welcoming workplace.
The Chronicle talked to 19 former employees, half a dozen of whom went on the record, accusing Loijens of bullying them and others. A number of those people said they tried unsuccessfully to take their concerns to CEO Emmett Carson and to the Human Resources department.
Rebecca Dupras, a former VP for development who left last year, says she was warned when she was hired that Loijens would eventually turn on her, too — and that management would do nothing. "HR knew. I had conversations with the VP of HR pretty frequently, and she would say things like 'Yeah, well, we know how she is, but we just have to, like, manage around it,'" Dupras says.
One reason Loijens may have been allowed to continue with impunity: her role in raising big money for the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which boasts roughly $13.5 billion in assets and gives some of that to a wide variety of organizations across the globe, including KQED.
Many community foundations have a local focus, but SVCF reflects the globally diverse backgrounds and giving interests of its donors in Silicon Valley. Carson told Inside Philanthropy recently that SVCF wanted to “build an entity that can respond to all of those individuals."
But the Foundation appears to be less responsive to its own employees. The Chronicle report quoted liberally from scathing reviews on Glassdoor, the company review site, with comments like:
- Incompetent leadership
- Major firings happened regularly without explanation
- Fixed mindset...not a learning organization, making same mistakes repeatedly
- Phony "culture of candor," can't speak truth to power and most ideas get dismissed out of hand
This week, Carson has been tweeting responses to various public reactions at @emmettcarson.
As CEO of @siliconvalleycf I am responsible for workplace culture. I am deeply troubled and regret that former staff felt they could not report inappropriate behavior and urge any other staff to come forward. Listening and fixing this is Priority#1.
— Emmett Carson (@emmettcarson) April 19, 2018
But his promises ring hollow for Dupras. Now an estate, tax and charitable planner in Rhode Island, Dupras says the investigation appears to her to be a belated reaction to a situation that management at the Foundation was well aware of, including Carson. "It’s been going on for a decade. Either he is clueless and ineffective, which I don’t believe is true. Or he’s been ignoring it," Dupras says.
Erica Bleicher was a development officer for the Foundation for almost two years, from November 2015 to October 2017. She says she was shielded from the worst of Loijens' behavior because she worked in the Foundation's San Francisco office — and also because her direct supervisor was Dupras.
Bleicher says "Rebecca shielded our department from Loijens' toxicity. She was kind of like tortured and put down in front of other people, in front of her own team. Everyone saw it or experienced it. It just depends on how close you were flying to the sun."
Bleicher adds she's happy about the latest developments, but argues Carson and the board of directors are culpable, too. "Emmett and the leadership and the culture he’s created has allowed Loijens to treat people the way she did. They worked together for 10 years. He had her back and she had his."
"It would have been better if she had been fired," says Daniel Hoebeke, who was the Director of Planned Giving for all of five months. He describes an incident in which he says Loijens chewed out his wife because she couldn't get Hoebeke to answer the phone while he was driving.
Hoebeke adds, "I have had a 40-year career as an charitable estate planning attorney and fundraiser. No job is perfect, but the five months at SVCF were the longest of my life."