It’s not a coincidence that it was women who blew the whistle on some of the most egregious examples of government and corporate wrongdoing in recent history. Enron whistleblower Sherron Watkins says women are more willing to take “moral risks” and writer Patricia Sellers echoes that point of view in a recent Fortune article. She says there are three reasons why women tend to be “vigilant watchdogs”:
1. Women tolerate business risk differently. “Male herding” is how New York Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof describes the high-risk behavior of males when surrounded by others of similar status in the corporate world. Men tend to see the upside of risk, which can lead to the glossing over of “ethical gray areas.” But women are less comfortable with taking risks and recognize that when you don’t “dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s,” it can lead to legally- or ethically-suspect behavior.
2. Women are more inclined to protect those in weaker positions, which Sellers attributes to their “motherhood gene.” Exposing fraud or injustice against employees, shareholders or the general public are often the reasons why women speak up in the first place. Watkins says that when she wrote the memo in 2001 to CEO Kenneth Lay about shady accounting practices; she wanted to represent “those nameless, faceless shareholders, as well as unsuspecting employees.”
3. Women risk less by speaking up because the top rung of the old boys’ network rarely accepts them. The former chair of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Women agrees. “If you’re not one of the good old boys to begin with,” says Stanford Professor Deborah Rhode, “it makes it easier when you see something flat-out wrong to raise your voice.” Whistleblower Anita Hill wrote in a New York Times op-ed that women hold on to their “outside values.” even when they get to “move up within male-dominated inside circles.”
Many of the women whistleblowers we profile on our website are or were close enough to see inside, but too far away to have a say in stopping what they saw. Instead, they exposed corruption and the abuse of power by taking on powerful people and institutions. We think you’ll agree that they’re heroes because of their courage, and the far-reaching impact they’ve had on changing bad corporate behavior and public policy.