February 25, 2022 | NEWS | By Leigh Walden
On Monday, Feb. 21, students had the opportunity to attend this school year’s sixth installment of Colorado College’s First Monday talks. The speaker, Mary Inman, is a partner at Constantine Cannon, one of the largest antitrust law firms in the United States.
Inman investigates and penalizes fraud for a variety of clientele. Her firm has worked with big names, such as Tyler Shultz, the whistleblower credited with exposing the wrongdoing of Theranos, Elizabeth Holmes’ private corporation.
In her talk, Inman spoke on the power of whistleblowers and the multitude of rewards for individuals who speak out against wrongdoing. In recent decades, several whistleblowing protection agencies have adopted financial reward programs, encouraging individuals with information on wrongdoing to report it to different governmental agencies like the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Inman described these agencies as different parts of the whistleblowing “alphabet soup.”
Rewards for whistleblowers are becoming a common way to offset the potential ramifications of coming forward with wrongdoing. Inman described these ramifications as varying from internal harassment to firing or blacklisting. In order to motivate people to come forward, organizations need to offer incentives, and reward programs do just that.
However, those rewards programs only exist for individuals speaking out from the private sector, not individuals who expose types of wrongdoing within American institutions. “In the United States we only pay those whistleblowers that help the government find fraud against them, not by them,” said Inman.
Such whistleblowing rewards programs within the private sector are gaining momentum. In the last decade, these programs have distributed a total amount of $1.2 billion in rewards, a major increase from the previous two decades in which only $159,537 were distributed.
Despite the success of these programs, there still exists a cultural stigma against whistleblowers. Within her talk, Inman referenced Elon Musk for recently ridiculing whistleblowers on Twitter.
“This is what we’re up against in terms of thinking,” Inman said. “How ironic is it that someone who is a disrupter himself has now only surrounded himself with yes-people and is chastising people with diverse voices?”
This whistle was released after a series of individuals spoke up against faults in some of Tesla’s self-driving features. However, the timing of this product implies Elon Musk’s dismissal of the value of whistleblowers. “I challenge people to think about what whistleblowers bring; they bring the ability to go against groupthink,” Inman said.
Ultimately, Inman spoke on behalf of a future for whistleblowing that was safer and less formal than the status quo.
“I don’t want whistleblowing to be a life-altering alarm, like a siren, like you called yourself out and it’s a life-altering event,” she said. “I want it to be like birdsong, as natural as birdsong.”
For individuals speaking out on wrongdoing in the future, being financially rewarded and remaining within your work position comfortably might become a more feasible reality.
Inman says that getting to that point will require individuals to view whistleblowing in a different way. We will have to move away from the “snitches get stitches” philosophy. To do so, acknowledging the cultural benefits may be helpful.
“Strong lobbies within the United States tend to try to cover up information,” said Jake Organ, an economics professor at CC. “If there was a whistleblower in this context you can’t imagine it would be very good for the companies involved, but it would be very good for society.” Knowing that whistleblowers are part of making products and companies more honest could help shift the narrative towards valuing these individuals.
In an interview following Monday’s talk, Inman encouraged students at CC to go into their future careers with a strong concept of what they feel is right.
“It’s often the junior-most person in the organization that will have the clearest eyes in seeing what’s wrong,” Inman said.
In the larger professional world, young people are speaking out more about injustice in the workplace than other employees. Knowing the rewards and protections for whistleblowers could encourage more young people to act.