Just over two weeks ago, Susan Fowler’s book, Whistleblower: My Journey to Silicon Valley and Fight for Justice at Uber, published. She tells a story of a broken corporate culture where she experienced and witnessed sexism, harassment, and abuse during her time working for Uber. She confronted her HR department, where she was met with resistance to impose consequences on a manager for his actions and an overall unwillingness to change the culture.
No actionable change came from her complaints. She wasn’t taken seriously. She saw no other viable option internally. So, she went to the internet and let her voice be heard. One CEO removal, multiple firings, and a book deal later, Susan Fowler’s story shows us that we need to take whistleblowers seriously.
Whistleblowers like Susan Fowler are essential for effecting change in organizations with toxic cultures. She wasn’t taken seriously at Uber and had to seek an alternate way to tell her story. Her experience was then broadcast globally, which resulted in some serious reputation damage for Uber. But the story doesn’t have to turn out this way for all companies. When taken seriously, whistleblowers can help identify toxic cultures and make changes before you alienate your customers. They are a necessity for organizations looking to protect their brand reputation, and every company should have an effective whistleblower program to mitigate this risk. Susan Fowler wasn’t supported by her HR department when she had serious concerns, and her story became a global headline — don’t let this become your organization. It’s time to reexamine how you’re listening to whistleblowers and learn how you can empower them.
For more information on why and how to protect whistleblowers, see the report “Protect Whistleblowers For Business Success.”
(Written with Kate Pesa, senior research associate at Forrester)