Employees of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation have accused a top executive of sexual harassment, bringing the #MeToo movement that has rocked powerful abusers from the worlds of entertainment, politics and business to one of world’s biggest philanthropic organizations.
The philanthropy’s top fundraiser Mari Ellen Reynolds Loijens is accused of chronic bullying and lewd behavior in a scathing article posted Wednesday evening in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which interviewed more than a dozen current and former employees who also claimed the foundation’s high-profile CEO knew about her caustic management style but failed to act.
(Click here, if you are unable to view this video on your mobile device.)
Bay Area burned home sells for close to a million, #MeToo scandal hits major Silicon Valley philanthropy nonprofit and Warriors’ Kerr comments on death of Erin Popovich are some of today’s Current stories.
Emmett D. Carson, the foundation’s president and chief executive, acknowledged the scandal in a Tuesday post on the organization’s website that said the nonprofit had hired a law firm to investigate “allegations by former employees of sexual harassment by a senior staff member at our workplace.” The statement didn’t name the staff member or detail the accusations.
Sources reached by this news organization also identified the accused senior staff member as Loijens, 48, the foundation’s chief business, development and brand officer. Loijens also was called out in anonymous complaints posted on Glassdoor, an online workplace rating website.
“She is constantly saying inappropriate things,” one unnamed poster said on Glassdoor in which she said Loijens “does not care about anyone under her management.”
Foundation spokeswoman Sue J. McAllister said that Carson and Loijens would not comment beyond the official posted statement, but later provided an additional statement from Carson. Neither Carson nor Loijens could be reached by phone or email Wednesday evening.
“As we have firmly stated, SVCF does not tolerate inappropriate conduct of any kind, and we investigate all claims of misconduct,” Carson said in the statement. “SVCF immediately launched a third party independent investigation led by Thompson Hine LLP upon hearing these allegations of sexual harassment for the first time, with the exception of a 2008 claim cited in the Chronicle of Philanthropy story, which was investigated at that time. We are committed to taking whatever actions are necessary at the conclusion of the investigation.”
The Chronicle of Philanthropy said in the article that it interviewed 19 male and female former foundation employees. The report said the foundation didn’t launch its own investigation until a reporter from the publication confronted the organization about the torrent of complaints.
In named and unattributed statements, they described Loijens as a brilliant fundraiser but disrespectful taskmaster who often made inappropriate remarks in the workplace. The article blamed a toxic environment for excessive employee turnover at an organization that was obsessive in coveting donors while building up more than $13.5 billion in assets.
Rebecca Dupras, a former vice president for development, was quoted as saying Loijens “made a lot of inappropriate comments about how people looked and how they dressed.” Another former employee Elizabeth Dressel told the Chronicle of Philanthropy that while taking a new employee out after work, Loijens began “talking about vibrators.” Dressel and Dupras could not be reached Wednesday.
One former worker was quoted anonymously stating that Loijens asked to “make out” with her at an after-work party and that despite complaints to Carson and the foundation’s human resources department, she still had to report to Loijens and ended up quitting without another job.
An unnamed former fundraiser said in the article that workers even had “a word of warning — muskrat — that they told Loijens they would say out loud when they felt she had crossed a line.”
“We had a picture of a muskrat on the wall, you can’t make that up,” the former fundraiser told the Chronicle.
In the foundation’s online statement, Carson stated that “We do not tolerate inappropriate conduct of any kind at SVCF, and we investigate all claims of misconduct. Immediately after learning of these recent allegations, we retained the services of Thompson Hine LLP to conduct a full investigation into the claims. At the conclusion of that investigation, we will take whatever action is necessary to preserve the integrity of SVCF.”
But the article, Glassdoor critics and others indicated that complaints about Loijens, as well as the foundation’s workplace culture in general, date back to its founding in 2007, when it was created in a merger of the Community Foundation of Silicon Valley and the Peninsula Community Foundation.
And employees complained that Carson tolerated the lewd behavior from the organization’s most-prolific fundraiser for years.
“It was well-known among all of SVCF leadership that Emmett did not entertain anyone complaining about Mari Ellen,” Dupras told the Chronicle of Philanthropy. “Anytime I tried to bring it up with Emmett, he immediately changed the subject. As a CEO, he either knew or should have known. He should have asked questions, particularly as he saw the turnover in her division and saw the exit interviews from staff.”
The news rocked Silicon Valley’s non-profit world, which welcomed news the foundation was confronting the issue.
“We are pleased to see that the SVCF has stepped up to take this workplace issue seriously and in our heightened awareness on issues of harassment within the #metoo movement and beyond this is an important step,” said Patricia Gardner, CEO Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits, who called the foundation “a local, regional and national asset.”
The foundation announced in February that its charitable assets have grown to $13.5 billion, putting it in league with such major donors as the Ford Foundation. The foundation said that under Loijens’ leadership, the organization has raised over $8.3 billion and won numerous awards for its marketing and communications work.
But the foundation also has drawn criticism from those who complain that not enough of donors’ generosity goes toward local needs.
Loijens earned her fundraising chops early. At age 24, she gave up an aspiring career as a scientist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (she holds a genetics degree from Mount Holyoke College) and was hired as a fundraiser at a downtrodden all-girls high school in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.
“It was like a war zone,” Loijens said in an interview with this news organization in 2009. “But it had nuns who really believed in these girls. I walked home from that job and thought, I don’t care what they pay me, I have to help. I know I can.”
By the time she left two years later, she had raised enough money to build a computer lab and repaint the school and re-carpet with remnants she found discarded at the nearby convention center.
In California, Loijens raised millions of dollars for Second Harvest Food Bank in Silicon Valley before moving to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in 2004. She served as president of the San Jose Junior League in 2009.
Staff writers Julia Sulek and Jason Green contributed to this report.
- Greatness and the Silicon Valley Gold Rush
- Washington DC Suburbs Resemble Silicon Valley Before Bubble Burst
- Is Silicon Valley Over-charging for the Products They Produce?
- Where is Silicon Valley's A-Team?
- Silicon Valley Brain Drain; Bad Trade Policies, Why?
- Romantic City Guide: San Jose and Silicon Valley
- Bengaluru - The Silicon Valley of India
- Do Celebrities Benefit from Philanthropy?
- Major Donor Recognition - Use National Philanthropy Day To Spotlight Your Major Donors
- Podcasts For Nonprofit Organizations: Development for Leaders, Board Members, Staff and Volunteers