The Truth About Whistleblowers - and What Was I Thinking??!
If you’re looking for insights as a result of my latest newsletter, thank you! For those of you who are here because you found me on the web somehow, I thank you as well. This blog is a continuation of my story about how I became a whistle-blower, and this is the part of the story I don’t often share.
Those of you who have heard me speak publicly have probably heard my story. At least part of it. What I don’t usually tell people is the process by which I decided to report what I’d learned to the company… or the feeling I had when I found myself staring down the wrong end of the barrel of a gun. These experiences are etched permanently in my mind. And they helped me to create my ethics game as a safe space to recognize ethical dilemmas and learn how to solve them. But the game creation was my therapy, so to speak, and this article is about my thought processes and how I decided to unknowingly risk my life for a bunch of strangers.
An informant came to my office late one night to tell me what was going on. This poor soul was shaking from head to toe, so I knew whatever was going to be said was going to be earth-shaking. And it was. My informant told me that a senior leader had killed two people, was stealing money from the company and raping the girls in the plant. And then asked me what I was going to do to fix it. It was the first time I realized that other peoples’ lives depended on my own ethical standards. In that moment I was called into service, so to speak. To save girls from being raped, and to protect a company from theft, which I viewed as my fiduciary duty to the company.
However, my initial thoughts revolved first and foremost around the fact that I did not know my informant and that I could be harmed in unknown ways if I made the wrong decisions. I also knew that if I was to report this to anyone higher up than me I would need cold, hard facts. I felt like I could no longer trust the people I worked with or for, and my own life hinged around the choices and decisions I made next. How little I knew then about what was to come. My intuition was right.
I asked my informant for proof. I was given newspaper articles for some things, and I was told I had the answers in my own department files for the rest. I started my own private investigations and sure enough, dug up enough facts to support what my informant had told me. And yet I was still terrified. I still was under the fear that taking the wrong step could cost me dearly, and I did not want to make a mistake.
I dithered with the choices for nearly 3 weeks, with thoughts and “what-if’s” going round and round in my brain. What if I told the wrong person? What if I did nothing? What if, what if, what if…? Some deep intuition told me that making the wrong choices could end up with me being killed. After all, my so-called colleague had killed already. What finally drove me to take action was the fact that nearly 400 girls, age 18, were single mothers. I could not live with the continued abuse of power and the impact it was having on these young girls who worked for the company.
And so I carefully crafted a message and reported to my supervisor. Fortunately my supervisor believed me. I learned much later that he already knew what was going on but couldn’t get anyone to speak. That’s why they put me into the position; I am able to build trust and make people feel safe enough to talk about what’s going on. In effect he set me up.
Once I completed my part of informing them of what was going on, a plan was devised and carried out. Two of the three people involved in this scheme were removed from the company. I had to continue working with the third person as if nothing had happened. They figured out that I was the one who “ratted” them out, and one night they followed me from the plant to my home. Parked at the end of the driveway and pointed a gun at my head.
It was life altering for me – I view my life now as having two sections – pre- and post-whistle-blowing. I can only say that I had angels with me that night and I’m still here to tell my story and to create safe space for others to stand up for their ethical values. I was strangely calm at the time. I knew I had done the right thing, saved more girls from being raped, and protected a company from immoral and unethical people. I did it so I could sleep at night. I didn’t expect to risk my life for my ethics, but that was in the end what happened. I can still see the black Monte-Carlo with no lights, tinted windows and no license plate. And I can see the girls who are grateful that someone stood up for them.
It takes an enormous amount of courage to report what you believe to be inappropriate behavior and actions. Most people don’t. Too many people are afraid of losing their job or being retaliated against. With good reason. Bullying, abuse and retaliation are all too frequent in today’s world, so most people find it easier to just stay silent. But for those people who are hurt by unethical and illegal actions, staying silent is like being complicit in the abuse of power. I could not turn a blind eye to the abuse. It’s important to stand up to abuses and to adhere to ethical values. If you’re at all thinking about reporting some inappropriate behavior, reach out.