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Inside the ‘toxic’ Silicon Valley charity that counts Zuckerberg as a billion-dollar donor – where bullying, sexual violence and racism are widespread
- Former and current employees of Silicon Valley Community Foundation say top executives ignored complaints of a toxic environment
- Mari Ellen Loijens, the foundation’s top fund-raiser, was accused of making racist and sexually charged remarks and bullying her colleagues
- Employees said the company’s CEO Emmett Carson ignored complaints because of how much money Loijens brought in
- Loijens has since resigned and Carson was placed on administrative leave
- Mark Zuckerberg has donated more than one billion to the foundation since 2011
On the outside Silicon Valley Community Foundation touted itself as an organization dedicated to building and strengthening the community – but behind close doors employees reported widespread bullying, sexual violence and racism.
In the 11 years the foundation has been around it has reeled in big-time donors such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings. Both have donated billions of dollars to the organization over the last few years.
According to the foundation’s website, the company is the largest community foundation in the world and manages assets worth some $13.5billion.
In a bombshell report last month, the Chronicle Philanthropy reported that employees at the company were routinely targeted by the foundation’s top fund-raiser Mari Ellen Loijens.
Mari Ellen Loijens (left) resigned following allegations she bullied her colleagues and made racist and sexually charged comments. CEO Emmett Carson (right) was placed on administration leave
Several current and former employees, like Maria Moreno, said the environment at Silicon Valley Community Foundation was toxic and Carson ignored complains
Several current and former workers spoke out about the allegations telling the New York Times in an article published Friday that Loijens often bullied and demeaned her colleagues and made sexually and racially insensitive remarks. One employee even said Loijens threatened ‘to kill’ someone.
‘I personally went to HR on more than five occasions, and I was only there for one year,’ Elizabeth Dressel told the Times. ‘But the culture was supported by (CEO) Emmett (Carson) because the sole focus was to increase the size of the funds.’
Dressel, who left the foundation in 2012, said she had tried twice to talk to Carson about the toxic environment but he brushed her off.
‘He was definitely not open to a conversation about her at all,’ she said.
According to Dressel, Loijens also made racist remarks and one time referred to a black employee as a ‘slave’.
She told the Times that the woman was working late and Loijens approached the woman and, ‘OK, slave, come into my office’.
Several employees said Loijens was allowed to get away with her behavior because of how much money she brought in for the company.
‘She brought in the money, made the place bigger,’ said former executive Rebecca Dupras, adding that Carson allowed it because he could ‘go out and be a superstar’.
Dupras left Silicon Valley Community Foundation last year telling the Times that working with Loijens had become too much.
Carson claimed in a tweet that he was unaware of what was happening. Several workers said they left the foundation because of Loijens’ behavior
Moreno called Carson out after he issued a statement saying fixing the issues within the company was his number one priority
‘(Carson) could have stopped this and reined her in, and he didn’t,’ she said.
Another employee, Dory Gannes, said Carson pushed his team to raise as much money as possible because he wanted the foundation to be one of the nation’s biggest philanthropies.
‘There was this bigger is better mentality,’ Gannes said.
She left in 2016 after two years following a dispute with Loijens. ‘Our world was driven by scale – how many clients we had, how many grans we processed, how many countries we made grants to,’ she said.
Dupras said she was also targeted by Loijens during an employee meeting. She told the Times that when she told the group she wasn’t feeling well, Loijens responded with a sexually charged retort.
‘She said I was pretty good looking and might be pregnant,’ Dupras said. ‘She said, “You might want to get that checked out.”’
Another former worker alleged that Loijens threatened her staff telling one woman who had met with a donor by herself, which was against the rules, that if she caught the woman doing that again she would kill her.
Shortly after the allegations surfaced, Loijens resigned from the company. Carson has since been placed on administrative leave and the director of human resources at the foundation also resigned.
In a series of tweets to address the backlash, Carson posted that he was unaware of the rampant turmoil and urged employees to come forward.
‘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.’
One one worker at Silicon Valley Community Foundation said Loijens referred to a black employee as a ‘slave’ and threatened to kill another woman
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (left) and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings (right) are among the top donors for the foundation
Former employee, Maria Moreno, called him out tweeting: ‘Please stop acting like you did not know! I reported both you and Mari Ellen to HR July 2017. At the end of the day, I was the one who had to leave the foundation bc it was a toxic work environment’.
The Times reports that Carson is now negotiating his exit and won’t return to the foundation. A law firm was also hired to conduct an investigation.
Zuckerberg and other donors have remained largely quiet about the allegations. Representatives for the Facebook founder and Hastings told the Times they support the actions of the foundation’s board, which placed Carson on leave.
Since 2011, Zuckerberg has donated some 45 million shares of his company’s stock to the organization, worth roughly $1.8billion at the time they were given. GoPro’s founder Nicholas Woodman donated stock worth $500million in 2014, and that same year WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum donated $566million worth of stock.
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