Starter for ten: the manager’s guide to whistleblowing

Written by Annie Makoff-Clark Tuesday 18 April 2023
To create an inclusive culture where people feel able to speak up, do two things: normalise having difficult conversations and focus on listening
Silhouette of person whistleblowing amongst a crowd

Several years ago, Vera Cherepanova became aware of “ethical wrongdoings” around a financial firm’s tendering processes in the US. The firm invited applications from several companies, but the outcome was always predetermined. It was, to all intents and purposes: a fix.

“There were other good – if not better – vendors who wanted to participate, but the whole selection process was badly compromised,” recalls Vera. “It was always the same vendors being selected and they even charged the company more because gratuity was included.”

Vera took her concerns to lawyers engaging with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), but they decided not to pursue it, saying it was “too small” to warrant an investigation. Vera tried to whistleblow – a term for reporting certain types of wrongdoing within the workplace – internally, but was told she had “misunderstood the situation” and the matter was dropped.

Today there’s more protection for whistleblowers in EU member states (the 2019 EU Directive on Whistleblowing). UK legislation – the Protection for Whistleblowing Bill – is currently making its way through Parliament. But whistleblowing remains a risky business: at worst, it puts jobs and reputations at risk. At best, cases are often swept under the carpet.

“I’m always overwhelmed by the amount of people who come to me with the same scenario,” says Vera, who is today a compliance and ethics consultant and founding partner at Studio Etica. “They blow the whistle, but nothing happens. I see this all the time on a global scale.” 

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