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Are Women More Likely Than Men to be a Whistleblower?

Posted  October 2, 2014

By the C|C Whistleblower Lawyer Team

No one can truly predict if they ever would be a whistleblower. It most likely would depend on the circumstances — the misconduct at issue; the perpetrator; who it harms; the timing; the work environment; the potential repercussions; the risk of retaliation; etc. You can take our whistleblower test and get some sense of whether you may be predisposed to “say something if you see something.” Chances are, however, you will never really know for sure until the moment of truth arrives. But according to one theory recently presented by Patricia Sellers in an article in Fortune, there are three reasons why women may be more likely than men to blow the whistle in the face of fraud or injustice.

First, women are particularly sensitive to taking business risks. Consequently, they “tend to have little tolerance for corporate shenanigans and ethical gray areas.” Second, women have a so-called “motherhood gene” which causes them “to rise up and defend those in weak positions” whether it be “mistreated employees, bamboozled shareholders or cheated customers.” Third, despite taking the helm of several corporate giants (IBM, GM, PepsiCo), women are still outsiders in the business world. Generally speaking, they “are neither ‘in the club’ nor allowed in the locker room,” and thus not part of the “locker-room mentality that has shielded the truth in too many areas.”

To back up her thesis, Ms. Sellers points to a “long line of female rabble-rousers who have dug in their high heels, stuck out their necks, and sought to expose misdeeds in high corporate echelons,” including: Carmen Segarra, the New York Federal Reserve bank examiner who has been in the spotlight recently for questioning the Fed’s “too-cozy relationship” with Goldman Sachs; Sherron Watkins (Enron), Cynthia Cooper (Worldcom) and Coleen Rowley (FBI) who together graced the cover of TIME in 2002 as the magazine’s 2002 “Persons of the Year;” Karen Silkwood, the Kerr-McGee plutonium plant worker made famous by Meryl Streep in the 1983 movie; and Sallie Krawcheck, who was fired from Citigroup for her efforts to protect bank customers who had purchased what turned out to be toxic investments in hedge funds and auction-rate securities.

Of course, as Ms. Sellers also recognizes, two of the most famous whistleblowers in recent times — Edward Snowden and Harry Markopolos — were men. Then there is Marine whistleblower Franz Gayl and MassMutual whistleblower Bill Lloyd who recently grabbed some headlines. Not to mention the number of men awarded Whistleblower of the Year by Taxpayers Against Fraud, the country’s top non-profit whistleblower watchdog, far outsizes the number of women to take home the prize. All of which casts some serious doubt on the notion that gender plays any role in becoming a whistleblower. It is certainly not the case in our experience.

What we have seen is whether man or woman, the typical whistleblower shares the same common core. Namely, an unmitigated and selfless desire, even need, to expose and remedy what he or she believes to be a serious wrong. So to Ms. Seller’s hypothesis about where gender fits into the whistleblower mindset? An interesting read, but not one we believe holds up in the real world of whistleblowers.