David Yarnold, the CEO of environmental group the National Audubon Society, is stepping down under a “mutual agreement,” coming on the heels of an internal audit into its workplace culture that resulted from revelations first reported by POLITICO.
Yarnold is exiting an organization he helmed for nearly 11 years, leaving behind an organization that faced charges of permitting an atmosphere marked by systemic racism, gender discrimination, intimidation and threats.
“Over the course of the last few months, the board and David have discussed succession planning and reached the mutual conclusion that now is the time for Audubon to find new leadership to create its next strategic plan and to address many of the culture issues that have come to light,” Maggie Walker, chair of the Audubon board, said in a statement. “As we have met with and listened to a significant number of our staff in recent months, we have heard their messages that there is much we can do to improve our organizational culture.”
Walker thanked Yarnold in in an all-staff email obtained by POLITICO for his “energy and passion leading Audubon to a new level of relevance and importance.” Elizabeth Gray, who joined Audubon in January, will serve as interim CEO as the organization conducts a search. It will use an outside firm for that process.
The personnel change caps off a tumultuous period for Audubon, a storied organization that recently confronted questions about how it handled staff diversity and whether employees of color were given equal opportunities for promotions, senior roles and success. Yarnold, for his part, rejected such claims and said Audubon was trying to become more equitable just like many other organizations facing a long overdue racial reckoning.
But the staff uproar led to a flood of emails to senior leaders and board members for several months, with many dissatisfied with the results of the organization’s efforts to address complaints about diversity. Audubon’s board eventually brought in Morgan Lewis, a law firm, to investigate the workplace culture. Recently, some staff began a push for a union in light of workplace issues, E&E News reported.