|FROM ||From: "Inker, Evan"
|SUBJECT ||Subject: [hangout] Whippersnapper whistle-blowers beware
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From: "Inker, Evan"
Subject: [hangout] Whippersnapper whistle-blowers beware
Date: Tue, 7 Sep 2004 22:11:06 +0100
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Whippersnapper whistle-blowers beware
Being a whistle-blower is fashionable right now. It's appealing to be the
person who rights the wrongs of the workplace. And many people dream of
busting their boss publicly for smarmy acts done privately.
Discrimination, kickbacks, broken promises -- these are illegal and immoral
acts that happen every day in the workplace. But be careful. Because the
most common result of whistle blowing is not reform. The most common result
is that whistle-blowers lose their jobs.
Of course, it is illegal to fire a whistle-blower for being a whistle-blower
per se. But the odds are that you will be fired: First, your boss lets you
know he hates you. Then you get no new projects. Then you stop having
anything to do at work and your career stagnates. If you're lucky, you will
be able to go to another company. If you're unlucky, your name will be mud
throughout your industry.
This is not to say that we shouldn't have whistle-blowers. I am as impressed
as anyone else with the three whistle-blowers on the cover of Time magazine
as "persons of the year." Cynthia Cooper (WorldCom), Sherron Watkins (Enron)
and Coleen Rowley (the FBI), showed enormous courage and integrity when they
blew the whistle.
But an important thing about these women is that they were all very advanced
in their careers. They were at a point where they were trusted widely for
their expertise. And part of their expertise was knowing what really
mattered in the moral fabric of corporate America. Surely, they had all been
harassed at work, and they had all heard of someone cutting corners on
commissions. These women probably spent decades reporting nothing. They
chose their battles carefully.
If one of these women had made a stink the first time she was harassed, if
she had brought that case to court, she probably would have received some
sort of financial settlement, but her career would be over. She would not
have climbed high enough on the corporate ladder to make the huge difference
in corporate ethics that she did.
In order to make a difference in corporate ethics significant enough to be
worth losing your career, you should aim to make a difference at the top.
Most people who are at the beginning of their careers will not have the
ability to make that difference. All you potential whistle-blowers in the
whippersnapper ranks, think twice about sacrificing your career in the name
of corporate ethics.
You can't be a whistle-blower each time your morality is offended: You'd
never be able to hold a job. So wait until the moral aberration is huge. And
huge is relative, so know what sort of aberrations are out there so you can
compare. (Reading assignment: "Tales from the Boom Boom Room" for extreme
examples of sexual harassment and discrimination.) For the most part, our
experiences are not extreme, and they should be dealt with through normal,
company means -- no need for whistle-blowing.
Some times you will report questionable behavior to human resources and
nothing will change. Stay focused. You will need to put up with a lot of
morally questionable behavior at work in order to climb the ladder to a high
enough point where you can make a difference. If you don't make it up the
ladder, you will squander your power to make change by making small stinks
about small issues that will get no attention from people in power.
For some of you, there will come a time when you do have a case against your
company. You should call the Government Accountability Project. This
nonprofit group counsels whistle-blowers before they toot, and represents
them after they get fired.
Until then, hunker down. Report abuse to someone within your chain of
command. And don't anger people so much that you undermine your ability to
get real power to make change. Save your moral high ground until you get to
-- Posted: Feb. 24, 2003
Evan M. Inker (New York) x. 4615
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