Building Our Culture

A great culture is what every organization hopes for, but what only some organizations work hard to create and strengthen. Culture emerges from the collective interactions within a community, and can be enriched or damaged as a consequence of those interactions. A few years ago, the Danforth Plant Science Center terminated a senior Principal Investigator for sexual misconduct. As an immediate response, we asked ourselves difficult and uncomfortable questions about our organization and our culture. How did this happen, and were there elements of our culture, or blind spots, that needed attention? What could we do to ensure that this would never happen again? This communication describes what we did as an institution in the aftermath.

Aftermath and Our Response
Shortly after the termination, we hired an independent consulting firm to do a comprehensive assessment of culture, as well as anti-harassment policies and practices at the Danforth Center. The firm conducted numerous interviews, did an extensive and confidential survey in which everyone was encouraged to participate, and embedded a consultant at the Center for several weeks. The culture assessment report was submitted to the Board of Directors (our governing body) in the Fall of 2018, and we distributed copies to all members of the Danforth Center community. Several meetings, including an all-community town hall, were done to present the report and its findings, and to seek feedback.

While the report documented several positive aspects of our culture, it also identified ways in which our culture could be strengthened and opportunities for enhanced communication about policies, procedures and resources for our community members.  The report made ten recommendations around “levers of culture” and five around policies and practices. We committed to address each recommendation, for which we hired a second independent consulting firm to help formulate and implement action plans. To date, these actions have included:

  • Establishment of Center Core Values – Through an all-hands process, our community established six Danforth Center core values - Collaboration; Diversity and Inclusion; Integrity and Respect; Innovation; Environmental Sustainability; and Stewardship - that encompass who we are and how we do our work. These core values are now embedded in all of our processes, serve as the foundation for all culture and people development efforts (see below), and were the starting principles for recent development of the Center’s 2021-2025 Strategic Plan.
  • Re-engineering of Performance Management - To emphasize values accountability, we re-engineered our annual performance evaluation mechanism through a Center-wide collaboration. The new process is termed Professional Development Conversations, focusing on continuous dialogue about the incorporation of Danforth Center values into our daily work, goals, and contributions to our mission.
  • Re-commitment to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion – Policies and practices were reviewed and revised, goals were set through the strategic planning process, and a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Council was formed with both elected and appointed members from the Danforth Center community. A Center-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Assembly was formed to ensure that all voices are heard and organizational leadership is advised on prioritizing a diverse, fair, welcoming and safe work environment.
  • Re-development of Community Education and Professional Development– We partnered with experts to develop and deliver immediate and ongoing education for all community members on learning, modeling and advocating for inclusion; anti-harassment; conversations about and across race; and psychological safety. We have grown our commitment for leadership development for all executive and scientific leaders. In early 2021, we will hire an Organizational Development and Learning Manager to ensure continuous and improved education, feedback and culture development.
  • Creation of Community-Building Resources – We introduced CommonGround, a monthly e-newsletter to recognize those who are living the Danforth Center values and delivering on our mission, and to celebrate all parts of our diverse community.
  • Revision and Communication About Policies and Practices – We revised our employee handbook and updated our Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy to clarify specific actions for individuals to take to report inappropriate behavior. We increased the ways in which we make our policies available both electronically and physically throughout the Center. We emphasized communication and education about our policy on non-retaliation to encourage a safe environment for reporting incidents through supervisors, leadership, People and Culture or anonymously through an Ethics Hotline.

Our approach in the aftermath has been to invest in, and systematically engage the Danforth Center community in, development and reinforcement of a culture that embraces core values, a commitment to anti-harassment and anti-discrimination, and continual professional growth. We have learned a great deal, grown as a community and will continue to evolve as an organization.

Intolerance of Misconduct at the Danforth Center
Building and preserving a culture that welcomes and celebrates a diverse community, and in which everyone feels safe and included, requires clear policies and practices on which the community can rely. Our Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy reflects the fact that the collective sum of the individual differences, life experiences, knowledge, inventiveness, innovation, self-expression, unique capabilities and talent that our community members invest in their work represents a significant part of our culture, reputation, and organization’s achievement. We embrace and encourage our employees’ differences in age, color, abilities, ethnicity, family or marital status, gender identity or expression, language, national origin, physical and mental ability, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, veteran status, and other characteristics that make our community members unique.

The Danforth Center does not tolerate discrimination, harassment, including sexual harassment, retaliation and other conduct that can be considered harassing, coercive, or disruptive.  All members of the Danforth Center community have a responsibility to treat others with dignity and respect at all times.

When allegations or complaints of misconduct are made, they are taken seriously. Allegations and complaints must be reported directly to People and Culture via the individual, a manager or through our anonymous ethics hotline. This triggers the following process:

  • People and Culture coordinates with the complainant, witnesses and the accused to initiate a thorough investigation.
  • If it is determined that harassment or discrimination in violation of policy has occurred, People and Culture will recommend appropriate disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.
  • If the investigation is inconclusive, or if it is determined that there has been no violation of policy but potentially problematic conduct may have occurred, People and Culture may recommend appropriate preventive action.
  • After the investigation is concluded, People and Culture will meet with the complainant and the accused individual separately, notify them of the findings of the investigation, and inform them of the action being recommended.
  • Any person who is found to have retaliated or attempted retaliation against someone who brings forward a complaint or allegation will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment.
  • The confidentiality of information brought forward, and the privacy of the individuals involved per the wishes of the complainant, will be protected to as great a degree as is possible. The expressed wishes of the complainant for confidentiality will be considered in the context of the Center’s legal obligation to act on the complaint and the right of the accused party to obtain information. In most cases, however, confidentiality will be maintained by the Center and those involved in the investigation. In addition, any notes or documents written by or received by the person(s) conducting the investigation will be kept confidential to the extent possible and according to any existing state or federal law.

Our policies and procedures are updated regularly with input from our community, and they reflect our values. As a result, they contribute vitally to our culture.

James C. Carrington
President and CEO

Anna R. Dibble
Vice President of People and Culture