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Calling Bullshit

Whistleblowers: A very special kind of bs detector

Calling Bullsh!t December 28, 2022 2779 2


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Our guests

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Mary Inman

@MaryInman94

Whistleblower Lawyer & Activist

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Kyle Welch

@Prof_Welch

Researcher & GWU Professor

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Dana Gold

@DanaLGold

Senior Counsel, Govt Accountability Project

Corporate America thinks about whistleblowers all wrong.  

At most companies today, whistleblowers are treated like traitors instead of what they really are– your bravest and most loyal employees. The data shows that companies that create an environment where whistleblowing is encouraged and respected actually do better in multiple dimensions:  they have a better culture, they get sued less, and they actually perform better on the bottom line. So the question enlightened leaders should be asking themselves is “how do we encourage MORE whistleblowing?”

“Not only do we need to change how we think about whistleblowers, we need to celebrate them as almost the CEO’s best friend. Why are we creating a yes culture and not creating a culture where people feel safe to challenge what’s going on? Aren’t we all better in our relationships when someone calls us out for doing something wrong?”  

– Mary Inman

 

Show notes

  • Learn about Mary Inman’s incredible work at Constantine Cannon here.
  • Read about Kyle Welch and Stephen Stubben’s research on whistleblowing.
  • Check out Dana Gold’s Newsweek article about keeping whistleblower’s safe.
Episode Transcript

 

Whistleblower

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

When powerful organizations do wrong, who stands up for what’s right?

 

SOT Haugen: 

The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was, there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. 

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

Its people. In most cases just regular folks.

 

SOT Haugen: 

Francis Hogan is 37, a data scientist from Iowa with a degree in computer engineer.

 

And Facebook over and over again chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money. 

 

SOT Tyler Schulz

Tyler Schultz says he quit after Holmes and her partner Sunny Bal, ignored his complaints about falsified research.

 

Right off the bat, I realized that there was this open secret that the technology didn’t really exist And so all these red flags were just piling up.

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

Insiders who see something and aren’t afraid to say something. Even when they know it may cost them dearly. 

 

[SOT Snowden ABC News] Snowden said he saw firsthand and became increasingly concerned, about the reach of the NSA’s electronic surveillance of innocent Americans. These are public issues. These are not my issues. You know, these are everybody’s issues.

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

There’s a name for people like this: Whistleblowers. 

 

Welcome to Calling Bullshit, the podcast about purpose-washing — the gap between what an organization says they stand for and what they actually do — and what they would need to change to practice what they preach.

 

I’m your host, Ty Montague. I’ve spent over a decade helping organizations define what they stand for — their purpose — and helped them to use that purpose to drive transformation throughout their business.

 

Today, for the finale of season two, we’re devoting the entire episode to a special kind of BS detector – the whistleblower. I’m speaking with three experts on the topic who will explain why these people are so important, and why, rather than fearing them and shunning them, organizations should actually do everything they can do to protect them.

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

 

Imagine you work for a biotech company. A Silicon Valley Unicorn with a charismatic founder and a 10 billion dollar valuation. You work there because you believe this company is doing the right thing, changing healthcare for the better. Plus, your Grandfather is on the board of directors – he is how you were introduced to the company in the first place.

 

But one day you realize that the new promising technology you’re selling is no more complicated than a Bio student running tests with a pipet. That the data you’re publishing is misleading investors into thinking you have an invention that doesn’t actually exist. And the patients you are testing your technology on, some of whom have life-threatening conditions, are getting inaccurate results.

 

When you talk to your superiors, they dismiss you. And when you speak with your grandfather, he dismisses you. 

 

What do you do?

 

Do you just quietly quit? Or are you ethically compelled to say something publicly? 

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

We all like to think that we’ll be on the right side of history – that when confronted with a problem that goes against our morals, we’ll speak up, or act.

 

But what if calling out the bullshit means compromising your career, familial relationships, or personal safety? 

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

The fact is, while it can be easier to just look the other way, we all rely on whistleblowers to take on risk. 

 

Without whistleblowers, the public may never have learned that Theranos’s blood tests were built around a lie, or that Boeing had a toxic culture that flaunted (ignored) basic safety precautions and that hundreds of people died as a direct result. 

 

Without whistleblowers speaking truth to power, it would be a lot harder to detect BS in the world and here on the show.

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

Francis Haugen was an important part of the very first company we covered – her insider knowledge showed the world just how nefarious Facebook is. A few episodes later we spoke with whistleblower Tariq Fancy about “sustainable” investing at Blackrock. And more recently, we looked at the consulting firm McKinsey with two former employees who helped us to understand the culture and the scope of BS at one of the world’s most influential companies.

 

We rely on whistleblowers because they are a special kind of BS detector. People with insider information and the courage to go public. 

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

When whistleblowers need help, they often turn to attorneys like my first guest today Mary Inman. 

 

Mary understands the unique challenges of coming forward because she’s devoted her career to protecting whistleblowers. She’s a partner at Constantine Cannon, a law firm that specializes in representing whistleblowers. And over the years she’s built up an impressive resume representing many of the whistleblowers you’ve heard of, not to mention the many others you might not have. 

 

TY MONTAGUE  

Folks, I am very excited to, uh, introduce renowned whistle-blowing attorney or whistleblower attorney or attorney of whistleblowers, Mary Inman. Mary, welcome to the show.

 

MARY INMAN 

Ty, thank you so much for having me today. It’s a real honor to be on your show.

 

TY MONTAGUE 

It’s great to have you here. 

 

TY MONTAGUE 

For the benefit of, of our listeners, uh, let’s, let’s start off with an introduction. If you could just tell folks a little bit about your background and, and how you found your way, uh, into being an attorney for, I guess, you know, many of the most famous whistleblowers in the world.

MARY INMAN So, um, I went to law school, like many lawyers trying to change the world. Didn’t really know how I was gonna do that. Um, I did some work as, uh, working with the public defender’s office in law school, um, and then clerked for a couple of judges, and I just had the most amazing opportunity drop in my lap. A friend of mine referred me to a headhunter that said, there’s this little boutique law firm that’s opening a San Francisco office, and they specialize in representing whistleblowers.

So this was like, this was like 24 years ago. . Um, and that was a time when there really weren’t, uh, whistleblowers weren’t really, um, sort of the esteemed place that they sit in our society today. Part of the, you know, news cycle, every news cycle it seems like. Um, and I was just really, really lucky at the time I started the Supreme Court had not even yet said that the whistleblower, primary whistleblower program called the False Claims Act, something we’ll talk about later today.

Um, it wasn’t even held to be constitutional yet. So I remember getting advice from people saying, What you wanna specialize in this one statute that the Supreme Court hasn’t even said is legitimate, it’s constitutional. And I said, Well, um, it sounds really intriguing.

TY MONTAGUE 

Gonna roll the dice.

MARY INMAN 

I’m gonna roll the dice. And I did. And boy did I have any idea that this was going to become an amazing growth field, and that the United States government in particular, um, has come to see whistleblowers as their most effective law enforcement tool.

TY MONTAGUE

So who are some of the folks that you have represented in your career? You know, a lot of them.

MARY INMAN 

I do know a lot of them, and it’s been an enormous privilege. Um, every day I kind of jump out of bed to represent people who really have the intestinal fortitude and the strength to speak truth to power. Um, so I think some of your listeners probably most familiar, Tyler Schultz, that Sarah knows whistleblower is one of my clients.

Um, I have represented, and by the time this podcast comes out, um, I’ve had a number of healthcare fraud whistleblowers, including a gentleman by the name of Dr. James Taylor, who will be front-page news in the, in the New York Times soon exposing Medicare fraud by health insurers. Um, I’ve also represented another gentleman by the name of Benjamin PAing, who has, um, also shown a light on, um, United Health Group for Medicare fraud as well as Dr. Taylor shining a light on Kaiser Permanente. So, um, I’ve, there’s been a huge group of them, 

But the one I like to talk about the most is a whistleblower that was the subject of, um, a story in the New Yorker magazine a few years ago called The Personal Toll of Whistle Blowing.

His name was Dr. Darren. So, um, and he’s one that I like to talk about a lot because, I think he might still be with us today had he not made the choice to be a whistleblower.

TY MONTAGUE 

Tell us that story. What happened there?

MARY INMAN 

Yeah. So I think it’s, it’s something that we’re gonna explore. I’m, I’m confident today is this idea. What are the repercussions of speaking? Um, and I, and I’m sure a lot of your listeners are well aware that it can be a career-defining moment, in fact, that it’s often considered career suicide. Um, and so we are pretty familiar with the fact that in certain industries, particularly healthcare or defense, you may never work again, um, if you speak out.

But I think what people are less aware of and we’re becoming more sensitized to is the psychosocial impacts of speaking out. Um, the New England Journal of Medicine did a story, a research study, a member of years ago now that basically looked at, um, whistlers in the pharmaceutical industry, um, who had reported off-label marketing fraud.

Um, and the studies showed that the health effects were such that whistlers have higher incidences of divorce, of alcoholism, of depression. And I think so much of that comes from this really primal notion that when you speak up and speak out, you lose your tribe. You speak out against your tribe, and your tribe tends to close ranks around you, and there’s really strong psychological, um, circumstances to losing your support network.

Um, so in the case of Dr. Sewell, um, you know, he exposed, uh, healthcare fraud at, um, a, a health insurer in Florida. Um, and he really could never work again because of a, um, his personal situation where his daughter lived in Florida, he really couldn’t just go live somewhere else.

Um, and so every, all the health, um, insurers community and healthcare community was aware of him. And so when he would get a job, Uh, you know, when they called for references, all of a sudden they didn’t wanna talk to him again. Um, and that became a really difficult circumstance for him. Um, he actually wore a wire, um, for the fbi, um, on that case.

Um, so, and a lot of stress that goes, you know, goes along with that. And, um, you know, and he, and he passed away after, um, just a long series of circumstances of not being employed.

TY MONTAGUE 

So they, they really do, um, put a lot on the line. And it was interesting. I wasn’t aware that healthcare and defense are particularly that way. I can understand the company, uh, you know, maybe, uh, not being in a hurry to hire you back, but the whole industry that you’re in shunning you is a completely different matter. You know what I mean? That’s, um, that’s, that’s really dire.

TY MONTAGUE 

Um, so just, just before we get further into some of the impacts on the lives of whistleblowers, how do you decide how you take clients or whether you take a client or not?

MARY INMAN

We represent whistleblowers under what we call the US Whistleblower Reward Programs. Um, so that all of a sudden narrows the universe. Um, we wish that we could represent all whistleblowers.

Um, we don’t do national security whistleblowers, for instance, in the United States. We’re fairly hypocritical. We’re one of the most advanced societies for having this notion that in law law enforcement settings, we pay whistle blowers, um, for information. Recognizing what they’re giving up by speaking out.

that’s when these whistleblowers are helpful in exposing fraud against the government or, um, fraud that impacts our regulatory agencies missions, like the SEC fraud against.

TY MONTAGUE 

SEC, right?

MARY INMAN 

But when it’s fraud by the government, when we have those kinds of whistleblowers, when they’re exposing wrongdoing by the government, it’s a very different setting. We don’t pay whistleblowers. In fact, we are just as bad, um, as you know, and, and medieval in terms of shooting the messenger. 

TY MONTAGUE 

And so, just so to make sure I understand, if I blow the whistle on the government for, uh, some kind of malfeasance, there’s no bounty for me. Right? There’s no, there, I, there’s no financial reward in that for me, which makes it very hard for you to take them on as, as a client,

MARY INMAN 

Right, right. So one of the things we do is we represent our clients. And this is something that became really, um, apparent to me when I moved to London and sort of looked at the UK legal system, is to get to the brass tax. And it gets kind of boring to people. But I think it’s important to understand that, um, in the United States, a lot of plaintiff’s lawyers like myself represent their clients on a contingency fee or a success fee basis.

So that means we only get paid if we are successful in returning and helping our client get a reward, um, that actually facilitates access to justice because in the UK they’re not, um, they don’t really, um, like that kind of a model. And as a result, lots of whistle lawyers and other people can’t get lawyers, um, because it’s very difficult to pay, you know, 600, $700 an hour when, um, that’s not within your budget.

TY MONTAGUE 

Yeah.

MARY INMAN 

So I think that’s part of it, is that these bounties do, and I like, I don’t like to call them bounties cuz they almost suggest we’re pirates. Um, these, these rewards and these awards go to whistleblowers to recognize what they’re giving up and to entice them to undertake the risk, um, in speaking out.

MARY INMAN 

Um, but what’s interesting is these programs do a lot more than just pay the whistleblowers. They actually create offices of the whistleblower in the SCC. The CTFC, I know we’re going through alphabet soup in the IRS. They actually have staffed, um, offices that are staffed with people who are prepared to receive information from whistleblowers.

It’s, it sounds mundane, but it isn’t because a lot of people don’t know where to bring their inform. And these programs create, you know, staffed experts who are there with special forms and web portals to upload your information, and they’re obligated to report back to Congress and tell them how they’re doing with this whistleblower information.

And that’s really what’s revolutionary here. Um, it’s not just the, it’s, it’s rolling out the welcome mat to whistleblowers in a way that clearly signposts where they should go, and ensuring that the information that they bring is actually looked at.

TY MONTAGUE 

Yeah, that’s important work.

TY MONTAGUE 

So let’s, let’s stick with the vein cuz you’ve touched on a little bit already in some of the stories you’ve told.

What risks whistleblowers, uh, take by deciding to shine a light on, you know, let’s call it organizational malfeasance. Um, Can you talk more about, about those risks? What are the, what, you know, what are some of the other aspects of it? Um, I can, I can think of one other, for instance, like Tyler Schultz was in a bizarre situation where his grandfather, who was the ex-secretary of state, is that right?

Is that what his grandfather was, was also an investor in the company that Tyler worked in and on the board, I believe. And, um, and so he risked not only, you know, terminating his relationship with the leadership of Theranos, but also with his own members of his own family, and, and he put a lot on the line there.

MARY INMAN

And I think his. Story is a great one to spotlight in terms of what are the effects of whistleblowing that we haven’t necessarily explored yet. And one of them is that, um, it’s what I call the inequality of arms that a whistleblower goes against a large corporation like Theranos, which was the darling of all investors. You know, Elizabeth was on the cover of PO’s magazine. Um, and what happens is when you sign up as an employee, you sign confidentiality agreements that often include non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses. And what happened in Tyler’s case is he was visiting his grandfather and attorneys from Boise Shiller who were representing, um, Theranos, basically served.

With a restraining order telling him, stop violating your confidentiality agreement. Um, they had come to understand that he had been giving information to John Kerry Ru, the Wall Street Journal reporter who exposed it all. But what happened is his parents ended up, he was a young person at the time, ended up going into, you know, taking out a mortgage on their home to pay $400,000 to pay for the attorneys to defend against this lawsuit where saying he, he violated their trade secrets, their proprietary confidentiality agreement.

And one of the most famous things that Tyler said is he said fraud is not a trade secret. Right. And that seems intuitive to all that, that seems intuitive to all of us. Right? But that doesn’t mean that he didn’t have to suffer through an immense amount of litigation in order to get that right result, which is that, you know, in public policy, we want certain information to get out, um, to law enforcement, which is what he did.

So it’s that these huge corporations, um, have a corporate playbook, which is to basically destroy the whistleblower. And it, and it’s not just to silence them, it’s to silence all the employees who are watching,

TY MONTAGUE 

Everyone else. Yeah, that’s right. Scare, scare everybody else.

MARY INMAN 

Absolutely. So, you know, that’s just one of the things is that they will often sue them for theft of documents. Um, they will sue them for, um, violations of the confidentiality agreement. Um, because they’re so intent, these companies on digging up dirt with this theory that if you, um, besmirched the whistleblower, it diverts attention from the message that the whistleblower is, is giving, right? Well shoot the messenger to divert attention from the PR scandal that’s happening, in front of their very eyes. And unfortunately, that’s, that is the playbook.

TY MONTAGUE 

It makes me wonder because, you know, I’ve worked in a bunch of companies and I’m, I’ve signed a bunch of NDAs. is it? There should be language protecting the person signing if the company is, is committing fraud. As, as, uh, Tyler said it. Does that exist?

MARY INMAN 

Well, you have, you have put your finger on one of, to me, one of the best topics, which is, um, there is a marvelous whistleblower. Because of her experience at Pinterest. Her name’s Oma Ama. She actually had, she broke her NDA to speak out about race and sex discrimination at Pinterest. She’s an African American woman. Um, and she actually went ahead to have two laws passed. One in California and one in Oregon called the Silence No More Act. And what they seek to do is hold those provisions, um, unenforceable. So that’s the insidious part about these provisions is a lot of people see the, the, the consequences of. Of violating it. If they signed a severance agreement as part of a severance package, then you have to give back all of that money. There can be, you know, damages on top of that. So it has an enormous chilling effect. One of the things companies do, they’ve gotten hip to the fact that these whistleblowers can get rewards. They put in the separation agreement when you’re signing, you know, to get your, you know, years severance for working there, or how many years they say, I waive my right to a reward under any of the whistleblower programs, which is illegal.

TY MONTAGUE 

That shouldn’t be legal. Yeah. That is illegal. Well, that’s good.

MARY INMAN 

Only way it stops when is when the SCC comes in and finds them.

TY MONTAGUE 

And I was reading an article today in, uh, a publication called the Information, um, that said that reports to the SCC whistleblowing reports to the s e c are up 76% in 2021, over 2020, which was already a record-setting year from 2019. What do you think is causing that? What’s, what’s going on there?

MARY INMAN 

Well, it’s really interesting. Um, it, what might cause some of the numbers is that we saw during the pandemic, um, acre, an increase across, um, whistleblowing, uh, whistleblowing, just increasing. Sectors. Um, the s e c I think saw a 40% rise. you know, we are all speculating here, but is it because we’re no longer in the workplace? You know, there was a great resignation. Are people feeling less attached to their employers? Are we having, you know, these moments of what really matters?

So I think it started very much, we have to look at the pandemic a little bit, um, to understand some of these numbers. But as to the s e C specifically, it’s their success. So, um, I think it was last year they crossed the billion dollar threshold that they paid over a billion dollars in rewards to whistle.

TY MONTAGUE 

Right.

MARY INMAN 

And the, and you know, it’s a very controversial topic outside the United States. In the United States, we’re very comfortable with this idea of paying rewards to whistleblowers, um, in commonwealth countries. In the UK it’s anathema and a lot of that comes from very strong cultural stereotypes. I think there’s a notion that Americans are mercenary and we’re transactional and we have to be paid to do the right thing, whereas British people do the right thing cuz it’s

TY MONTAGUE 

Honorable and upright. Upstanding,

MARY INMAN 

Right. But those rewards say something. I mean, they basically, um, have a ripple effect around the globe. When you pay $250 million to a whistleblower. , then that means that we really, really value them. And so when we say you get 10 to fi, you know, 10 to 30% of our recovery, we mean it regardless of what size their, you know, penalty was. Um, so I think that’s, it’s that kind of assurance, Whistleblowers, trust the American regulators cuz they believe we’re aggressive, So, you know, international whistleblowers have a lot more faith bringing their information to um, US regulators cuz they know it won’t be a futile act. 

The SEC gets 12,000 tips a year now they come from 99 countries around the. Last year, um, 20% of the, uh, people receiving awards came from overseas. So it’s really a beacon. Um, we always say it’s like lady liberties, um, torch saying, Give us your, give us your, your poor, your give us your poor, your your tired, and your whistleblowers.

TY MONTAGUE 

Yeah. Um, I wanna follow a thread that you, you started to pull out there a little bit, which was, you know, the, the, the results of, of whistleblowing. I wonder if you could talk just about, you know, any examples that you have or data that you have on whistleblowers. Choose actions have resulted in real change, you know, in things really improving.

MARY INMAN 

So I, I can’t not start with Ukraine whistleblower, um, who exposed President Trump. Um, in terms of holding powerful people to account, um, that was an extraordinary result. and one of the saddest things happening there was of course that his identity was exposed by Trump and certain other politicians, which is incr, I mean incredibly, like there should be sanction. For that kind of a thing, because obviously that threatens his life and livelihood and safety.

So that was extraordinary. But I mean, I think some of the other whistleblowers, I mean, look at the Me Too movement. We don’t, um, you know, it caused, uh, shockwaves around the world and it also caused us all to rethink what an an NDA is and should we have these kinds, uh, of, um, agreements in place. And so I feel like it can, um, you know, you look at Francis, it makes us re-look social media.

Um, you look at these healthcare fraud whistleblowers, um, you know, health insurance companies now think differently before they, you know, add these up code, these diagnoses that they’re doing to get more money from Medicare. I mean, um, it is, it, it is an incredible, powerful tool to shake corporations, uh, out of their slumber and into being held accountable for wrongdoing.

And I think part of it is the deterrent effect. Right. You see these big, um, um, penalties and fines that are levied. Um, and I think it does have a deterrent effect. And you know, I know from my European experience, a lot of companies choose not to list on the US stock exchange. Is that a fear of having the jurisdiction of the SEC.

TY MONTAGUE 

Really.

MARY INMAN 

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Um, so they want access, They want access to our capital markets, but they’re scared when that comes. Right.

TY MONTAGUE 

Hmm. That makes me think there is, uh, maybe some problems there. So I’m gonna ask you to talk about or explain the False Claims Act. What is that about? What, what is it for? What does it do?

MARY INMAN 

Yeah. So it is, it is the touchstone of, you can’t talk about whistleblower reward programs in the United States without going to the False Claims Act. It’s actually called Lincoln’s Law. It was enacted in the wake of the Civil War, and it recognized something that is now more true than ever today than it was back then. that, um, it’s very difficult for the government to, um, investigate and de and to detect fraud. The United States pours tons of money into Medicare and into defense, and, um, it’s hard to, in, to police that from the outside and that there’s no substitute for a well-placed insider to bring that information forward.So we want to incentivize these people cuz they have in insiders have incredibly valuable information that basically creates a roadmap to the fraud for any prosecutor. We often say to the prosecutors, and I’ve heard prosecutors say this to us, key TAM cases are like cake in a box delivered to our offices.

MARY INMAN 

We just add water because the wi the whistle.

TY MONTAGUE 

Hold on. Key Tam, what is,

MARY INMAN 

Thank you for asking that. I should have unpacked that. Key Tam is short for a Latin Fran phrase that basically stands for he who stands in the shoes of the king as well as himself. And I don’t wanna get English common law, I don’t wanna get too nerdy, but the this, there was an idea in England before they had police forces that individuals could basically serve as police And so we took this, um, concept in the United States and we said, Look, we’re going to make these people private attorney generals, they will stand in the shoes of the United States government and launch lawsuits in their names. So what I think so powerful about the False Claims Act is people seem familiar with the TIP program with the SCC, where you file a tip anonymously and if, if they act on your information, you can get a reward Under the False Claims Act, we deputize a whistleblower to launch a lawsuit in the name of the government.

You can imagine how I am received, We show up and say, um, we’re now suing Boeing for, you know, something defective planes to the US military or something like that. Um, can, can you imagine there are now 30 states that have false claims acts? So I have been in the position of. Suing on behalf of, um, 30 cities in California. Right? Because if private contractors are cheating the, the, um, the, the state, the Fisk in California, then they can bring these kinds of cases. And I show up at the city attorney’s office in, you know, San Francisco and say, I’ve just filed a lawsuit in your name,

MARY INMAN 

Let’s talk, let’s talk about how do we go about discovery? Like how are we going to prosecute this thing, right? So it’s an enormously powerful tool and it’s something that is unique to the United States, although I always say to the UK that we stole it from you and now we’re trying to sell it back to you as our own.

TY MONTAGUE 

That’s funny. Well, what goes around comes around. so I, I, you know, I, I’m, I’m gonna pivot here in just a second, but the last question on this sort of theme of, of whistleblower repression, um, you know, CEOs in HR departments often see whistleblowers as traders. You know, even, um, you know, they, they do things like write anti whistleblowing language into the contracts, as you’ve mentioned, to prevent it.

TY MONTAGUE 

Can you talk about some of the other strategies that companies use to discourage whistleblowing?

MARY INMAN 

Sure. And so I think it, it really comes back to more this idea of the, um, the medieval mindset, the corporate playbook that is in place that basically shames whistleblowers who speak out to me, That is one of the biggest things that they do. Um, and what’s interesting is that in the wake of the Enron, Um, Scandal We adopted Sarbanes Oxley leg legislation that basically requires companies of certain, um, sizes to include a designated anonymous internal whistleblowing mechanism. So we, we recognize that maybe if there had been a mechanized mechanism like that, that had been clearly sign signed, posted, that could have maybe stopped and were on in its tracks, right? So I think that’s, that’s one of the things that has been imposed upon companies because they haven’t created a situation where people feel safe to speak up. So I think those, those kinds of mechanisms are fine, but those mechanisms are only as good as the cultural that’s behind it.

MARY INMAN 

Um, so I. It has to, you know, it has to start with the tone at the top. It has to start with creating an environment where, um, people feel safe to speak out and you value it. 

TY MONTAGUE 

So that’s, that’s the thing, right? Is culture change within corporations. And there’s an irony to this, which you pointed out to me in one of our first conversations, uh, because at your suggestion I read two Harvard Business Review articles about the latest data on whistleblowing, and there were just a number of eye-opening revelations in that data. For instance, companies that don’t attack whistleblowers actually do better financially. Um, so why, why is that?

MARY INMAN 

So what this research is showing is that companies that create a space where Whistlers feel safe to speak out, those companies have fewer, um, lawsuits against them, fewer federal investigations with the assumption being they Whistler served the function and actually helped them, um, stop and correct course before, um, of some wrongdoing metastasized into the next big PR scandal.

So, um, I really love it because it tells us that not only do we need to. Change how we think about whistleblowers. We need to celebrate them as almost the CEO’s best friend. I mean, It’s such a brain drain when you let these people go because they are really, um, your most disruptive in the best possible way, employees. Um, and why are we, um, creating a yes culture and not allowing pe, you know, creating a culture where people feel safe to challenge what’s going on? Aren’t we all better in our relationships when someone calls us out for doing something wrong?

TY MONTAGUE 

Yeah. In addition, they’re, they’re your bravest employees. They’re the ones that are, at some level, the most honest. Of your employees. Like, and, and yet the they people are drumming them out of their companies. They should be, as you say, celebrated and protected, um, by the CEO. Um, and, and certainly the board, if the board, if, if, if, you know, if it is, is true and the, and it is that, that these companies do better financially, and it’s the job of the board of directors to look after investors, then boards of directors should be whistleblowers best friends, right? Like it’s, and, and I, it, it feels like maybe that is beginning to happen a little bit more.

It feels like maybe the worm is being beginning to turn, but, but, um, you know, you would know this better than I do

TY MONTAGUE 

You feel like the culture is headed in a better direction now?

MARY INMAN 

I do actually. And one of the reasons I think, um, we’re seeing this change, of course, is. Chief compliance officers are starting to relate to whistleblowers. So if you’re a chief compliance officer in a corporation, you’re not dissimilar to a whistleblower, you’re not a cost, you’re not a profit-generating center.

You’re seen as the people who, who put the brakes on, who tell you you shouldn’t do it this way. And I think now, um, we’re recognizing that for a lot of the scandals, compliance officers were made, compliant officers and were told to go along. And now there’s an elevation of compliance officers where there there’s more of a sense that they should be reporting to the board, board level.you know, they appreciate Whistlers in a way that a lot of people in organizations don’t.

So how, what advice would you have for leadership at companies to help their company be more open to whistleblowing and, uh, therefore, you know, kind of open to, open to change?

MARY INMAN 

Yeah, I really think one of the best things a company can do is actually hire a former whistleblower, right? signals more that you believe in whistleblowers than hiring a, a well-known and former whistleblower.

MARY INMAN 

I think that’s one of the things that you can do most. Um, but I think the other thing is we really need to teach people how to have difficult conversations. I really think some grassroot training on we value difference of opinions and really walking the walk and talking to the talk, I always say like, let’s put in your performance review that you get, um, a certain, um, gold stars, right?

MARY INMAN 

When you actually challenge, um, and speak out about when you expose wrongdoing, why isn’t that something that’s in our evaluations? Doesn’t that also show in a very, you know, brass tax kind of way? What we value, what you put on your performance evaluation form annually is what you value.

TY MONTAGUE 

Do you know any whistleblowers who regret, you know, having made the decision to do it?

MARY INMAN 

It’s a great question. I don’t, and I find that to be extraordinary. even after they’ve been through the ringer proverbially, um, they still look back and, and feel like it was the right thing to do. And

A lot of my clients are like, I can’t exist at an organization where I have fear that I may be wearing an orange jumpsuit because I could be found to be a co-conspirator for going along. Um, and I think with a lot of whistleblowers, um, they feel like they don’t wanna leave it for the next person. Um, and so even after they’ve suffered it, I think a lot of them talk about I have to look my children in the eye. Um, I have to look myself in the mirror. Um, and so they, to a person, they will always say it was a hellish journey and we need to change how whistleblowers, uh, are viewed. We need to normalize whistleblowing and change, um, this perception that we have of whistleblowers as disloyal. Um, but they would all do it again. And I just find it remark.

TY MONTAGUE 

That is remarkable and, and kind of wonderful. I I love that.

Is there anything else that I haven’t touched on or asked you about that you think we should talk about? Is there anything else you think folks should know?

MARY INMAN 

Yeah. You know, there was one thing that I really did wanna talk about, um, today, and that relates to this idea that I alluded to about the, um, anonymity of whistleblowers. Um, and I think we’re now accustomed to the idea of whistleblowers having, you know, be, becoming almost personalities, right? Not celebrities, but personalities.

Um, and I think that what we’re starting to see with the I C I J, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is, um, what I call, what a lot of people have referred to as sort of a leaking culture, where in the case of the Panama Papers, the most Ceca law firm, all those files were turned over to SDOs Zeit, the reporters there, and they then shared it out to the International Consortium Investigative Journalism. And now we have journalists around the world who are looking at people who are, um, taking advantage. Properly and improperly of offshore tax havens. Um, and the reason I pointed out is that there was, I mean, the Panama Papers kind of shook the world and there have since then been Paradise Papers, um, Pandora papers, right?

They, this model has continued to happen and we don’t know who those whistleblowers are, and isn’t that just right? So the Deutsche Zeig reporters just a few weeks ago did, uh, an interview with their source for the Panama Papers, and it was, you know, a robotic voice. The person’s face was etched out and all of it.

And what that, um, Whistler said was his, her, their life was completely improved by the fact that they were anonymous. They could go ahead and continue to live a life. Um, and so I think that that’s something we need to think about. And that’s one of the things when we were talking about the s e C program today, that’s one of the things it. Is that Whistlers can actually report anonymously. Um, and that makes it a lot easier for all of us to make that kind of a decision. In the risk-reward calculus, if you didn’t, if you can, you know, give the information and not be outed.

TY MONTAGUE 

If you didn’t have to blow your life up to do it right. Love that.

TY MONTAGUE 

Okay, Mary, this was not unexpectedly a fantastic conversation. I want to thank you so much for talking with us today and I want to thank you for the work that you do. It’s so very important. So, um, we really appreciate your spending time with us today.

MARY INMAN 

Well, Ty, I cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to be on your podcast in particular. There’s such an alignment between whistleblowers, ultimately, um, exposed purpose washing. That’s what they do for a living, and I know that’s what your podcast seeks to do. And so I just felt like it was the perfect pairing.

Um, and what an honor to be. On your podcast cuz my clients do call bullshit every day.

TY MONTAGUE 

Yes, they do. Yes they do. And more power to them. 

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

After talking with Mary, I am even more impressed with the actions of whistleblowers and convinced the business world should be treating them differently, and not just because they deserve better. The research shows that companies who deal with problems internally, instead of forcing people to go public actually improve their culture AND their bottom line. Seems like there‘s a win-win scenario for everyone here. 

 

So how can leadership at companies learn to see internal reports as an opportunity to fix problems and ultimately make more money? 

 

I invited two more experts to discuss ways that might happen – after the break.

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO)

To continue the conversation, I’ve invited two more experts in whistleblowing to join me for a panel discussion. 

 

Dana Gold is the Government Accountability Project’s Senior Counsel and Director of Education. Her clients have exposed environmental fraud within nuclear power plants and atrocities within immigration detention centers. And she has devoted her career to teaching others about the critical role of whistleblowers.

 

We’re also joined by Kyle Welch, professor at George Washington School of Business, and author of those HBR papers Mary sent over to me. He is the expert in whistleblower data and has published evidence that shows how much they benefit all of us and proves that these folks are an asset to organizations. 

TY MONTAGUE 

To start out with today, in many ways, whistleblowing, is a really good thing and it benefits the world in important ways.

Um, but let me start by just checking that assumption. Do you both agree with that premise?

KYLE WELCH 

I think you’re a little too timid in how you talk about it, to be honest with you. No, no, no. It’s, I’m being very frank. It, it is. You are way too timid in how you talk about this. if you wanna find a problem in an organization, it is through humans identifying it and speaking up.

There’s a lot of things that robots are gonna replace. I don’t think robots are gonna be able to replace this what is the number one way frauds are caught? It is whistleblowing. It’s people speaking up and way, way, way, way down. Less than half the, I think the prob the like, like something like 40%. It changes every year of the cases are count, uh uh, identified through whistleblowers. The next is internal audit. But if you talk to anybody in internal audit or external audit and you ask them, how did you identify the problem?

They say, well, we were actually asking for a report and somebody spoke to us, and so. It at its core, humans identifying problems and talking about them is how these problems get solved.

TY MONTAGUE 

Right. And Dana, I see you nodding along. could you talk, speak to that a little bit. Can you go into, from your perspective, what good do whistleblowers do for the world?

DANA GOLD 

This is the a hundred thousand dollars question or million dollar question or billion dollar question. So expanding on what Kyle just said, we have systems in place in our institutions that make it predictable that they will engage in misconduct and wrongdoing.

TY MONTAGUE 

Hmm.

DANA GOLD 

And when you know that these systems,are broken or incredibly weak or have these problematic drivers in the corporate sector, we have just the profit mode measuring things by the short term, how we have shareholder primacy, they’re all of these drivers. that make it difficult to value the public interest and protect the public interest. and the humans, the employees, the workers are in the best position to see the problems. They’re, that’s why the Whistleblower Protection laws protect employees predominantly, I would say not completely, but predominantly because they’re in the best position to see the problems and to raise concerns.

And so they are what is standing between. and horrific disasters, right? Like, and it’s terrifying to me and also inspiring at some level because it’s the human element of how truth and truth telling can actually still make a difference and hold abusers of power to account.

TY MONTAGUE 

Well, also many of them pay because of the, you know, this sort of stigmatized environment around whistleblowing. They pay often a terrible price for coming forward career, uh, setbacks as well as personal setbacks. Some people lose, you know, their whole support system. They lose relationships with their family. You know, it’s, it’s bananas.

DANA GOLD 

I would say absolutely. It actually, that makes my point about why it’s so terrifying that we’re so dependent on whistleblowers because the risk that is involved with speaking up against those who have far more power, It’s, we’re all more vulnerable because they are vulnerable. It is, it is, it is a societal problem that is not, that, it’s why we need to care about whistleblowers because they are the ones standing up for us rather than otherizing whistleblowers. And, um, thinking of them in, in some, in really with, with a lot of misperceptions that I think, I think are changing.

I think, and I think it’s interesting, your podcast that talks a lot about this erosion of trust in our institutions, right? We have a deep erosion of trust in our government institutions and our corporate institutions. And in the past four years since this past administration, when you’ve seen whistleblowers come forward on. On, uh, covid threats, right? Um, you know, pushing bogus therapies, um, and not prioritizing vaccines. You’ve seen climate science whistleblowers, gagged. You’ve seen, um, you know, Facebook and Twitter and, you know, the kind of social media whistleblowers come forward that people are realizing that it’s the humans, it’s the whistleblowers who are, where we’re gonna get actually honest information and protecting our backs.

And I think it’s changed. And you see there’s a Marist pole from a few years ago that says like, 86% of people think whistleblowers. There should be stronger protections for whistleblowers. I mean, that’s a huge change from viewing them as snitches and tattle tails and disloyal. There’s a sense that that’s where our information’s gonna come from when we’re in a sea of, of dis and misinformation.

TY MONTAGUE

Yeah. it’s obvious you both passionately believe that whistleblowing has multiple positive benefits for the world. And I guess the natural place to go next is how do we promote more of it? Although it does sound like it’s moving in the right direction, how might we accelerate that process?

So, Kyle, I’m gonna ask you to go first. Um, what, what, what’s the one thing we ought to do?

KYLE WELCH 

Well, so Ty, there’s two things that, that I always talk about. one of the big things that could be done is that for leaders that look at whistleblowing or people speaking up, understanding the value derived from it. Essentially our research shows that firms that have more reports internally are better in almost every regard: governance, uh, you know, they get ahead of future lawsuits, future fines, the amount of future lawsuits. Amount of future fines. It just basically shows that the investment in this has a lot of, uh, you’re able to avoid negative outcomes and there’s also a lot of positive outcomes that come from it.

And so that leaders, leaders that essentially. Uh, reports and say, oh, our whistleblowing numbers are up. The wrong question is to say what’s wrong. Instead, the right question is to say, do we have enough resources, Which leads me to kind of like my second thing, and probably more so for the audience here.

Um, there is frequently a story told about whistleblowing, and, and it’s unfortunate because I think it’s wrong. I think it’s very wrong. So Dana comes from the world of like the worst situations. She’s seen people in nuclear power plants, you know, I guess I, I watch the, uh, she Noble series, and so I, my mind goes to the worst, worst stuff ever, right?

And what we’ve, what Dana has is a wealth of experience basically in the trauma room associated with whistleblowing, but the VA like, There’s this other side of the data that nobody sees because whistleblowers that actually get problems solved that don’t have to go to court, that don’t end up in the news, we never hear about.

We never hear about ’em because, uh, companies don’t release something saying, Hey, we had a serial harasser. We got rid of the serial harasser. They don’t do that. Oh, we found out that we, you know, we had a fraudulent stuff. They don’t report it. what I hear over and over and over again, especially from defenders, is how hard it is to be a whistleblower.

But I would say that based on the sample of people that actually report that by and large, the average. Is not as evil as the type that Dana is prosecuting in a courtroom. 

so, when you think about that, that should frame also whistleblowing when you think about whistleblowing, the reason why we’re discovering fraud isn’t because we have more corrupt politicians now. It isn’t because we have more problems and we’ve always had these problems. It’s just this tool.

KYLE WELCH 

It’s like in the last decade it’s been the birth of it, and we’ve all of a sudden realized how valuable this tool is to identifying and solving problems. And so I, I, I look at it and I, I see a lot more hope and positivity coming out of this because I, I know I, I just have looked at the data and I’ve seen firms saving millions and millions of dollars resolving issues and it not going to court as a result of it.

The ones that go to court as that’s like, it’s kind of like judging driving a car based on the ER room. And if you only, if you only look at the ER room and advertise the ER room, it’s good to talk about the ER room because it’ll help people respond right to these cases. But, I don’t

TY MONTAGUE 

Right. You don’t wanna hide it, but it, but it,

KYLE WELCH 

It doesn’t represent the sample of driving.

TY MONTAGUE 

Misses many of the benefits.

KYLE WELCH

Right. That’s right. That’s right. So those are the two things.

TY MONTAGUE 

Thank you, Kyle. So Dana, um, first of all, any thoughts on, on what Kyle said first?

DANA GOLD 

Yeah. Well, I, I, I just wanna say I totally agree that, you know, I work on the fringe of extremes, right? Like, basically, Companies or governments or agencies have failed by the time when I, when I’m involved, when I’m involved, right? So like, it’s just like they miss their, I I always say they have multiple chances that the first chance is do the right thing in the first place.

That doesn’t require needing a whistleblower, right? That’s your first chance. Then the second chance is when a whistleblower, an employee speaks out, identifies a problem, a deal with that appropriately. And 95% of employees raise concerns internally first. I mean, that’s what they do. People don’t want, like, it’s not true that a whistleblower is only, only when you go outside the organization.

I mean, the laws are, except for one of them, DOD Frank, which is complicated and we can talk about that. but basically, you know, your right. Your, your rights attached when you start raising concerns internally to management or supervisors or people who are responsible for dealing with the problem and most employees do raise concerns internally first before going outside. 

So, so this is like a, it’s a, it’s a powerful tool and that’s what Kyle’s data is, is so important for establishing, is that you have a, you have this risk management tool sitting in, in your, in your, you know, it’s, this is like your most powerful resource.

You, and, and this is, they wanna report internally first. You just have the opportunity to respond appropriately. You don’t even have to validate. I mean, this is the other thing that I think is so interesting is one kind of reform tool is that if you, if you investigate. An employee’s concern appropriately, like there’s this whole research around procedural justice and procedural fairness, that if an employee raises a concern and the employer has, you know, an objectively fair process, they protect the employee from retaliation, they communicate with them about the investigation. They, you know, and like there’s a perception that the investigation is fair and objective and legitimate, and the employer comes back and says, you know, Hey, thank you and this is what we found. We actually didn’t find that your, just, that your concern, um, was right actually, even though you had a reasonable belief about it. Then the employee is like hugely willing to accept those results and then becomes an ambassador on behalf of other employees and the company that, look, this company dealt with my problem in a really effective way.

So like there’s no downside to an employer responding appropriately to its employees when they raise concerns, there is only upside. you avoid risk, you avoid litigation, you save money, all of these things because you have like this best line of defense.

But it is this internal speak up culture that has to be real and legitimate and not used, which we see sometimes as a tool to actually suss out who the reporter is and then retaliate against them.

DANA GOLD 

I mean, like there are, there is some hotline abuse that happens, although I think these third party platforms are, are minimizing some of. Dramatically, which is great. But I think that’s a huge piece is like, there’s so many things that companies can do and governments can do too. You know, institutions can do to internally shore up how they respond to their workers to value and encourage them to speak up.

And there’s like a whole list, not just one. But then there are external things that we need to do too. Like we do need to strengthen whistleblower protections. We need to, like the Me Too movement, recognize that a whistleblower, when they speak up, they have everything to lose, nothing to gain. And we need to listen to them and put the presumption that they’re, they’re putting a lot on the line if they’re bothering to speak up, rather than viewing them in a suspect way and that we, we need to make it safe for them to speak up and to support that conduct as a culture.

TY MONTAGUE 

Okay. So, um, that was great. I’ll take the, I’ll take the floor for a moment and um, just humbly submit my idea in the space. And I’d love to hear what both of you think about this. But because to me, um, the problem here is education. Whistleblowing is still culturally stigmatized, although it sounds like that may be improving. And, and that comes from, I think, a genuine ignorance about the positive effects that both of you have been talking about. And so my idea is to figure out how to create whistleblower awards.

So,not rewards, I’m talking about awards that are given to recognize the positive benefits to businesses and to society and maybe get a sponsor. You know, I don’t know whether the Harvard Business Press would ever, you know, co-sponsor this or, or distribute it. They tend to be a little conservative, but it would be great if they would get behind this. And why not? Since it’s obviously a business success story to promote, you know, whistleblowers. If you wanna promote better business in the world, you ought to promote whistleblowing or you know, again, possibly a fantasy.

But the Wall Street Journal is a partner. Let’s celebrate and reward individuals. And along the way educate the wider world about the clear business benefits and clear societal benefits of creating a culture where it is safe to come forward. Thoughts on that?

KYLE WELCH

First of all, as, as better as it could be, we should recognize that the United States for all our problems is the best in the world at complaining about things. We do the best at whistleblowing because we embedded in our culture speaking up more so than anywhere else. We actually have a huge cultural advantage, uh, here. So the whistleblower reports in the US are like a mile ahead culturally, because, uh, in our culture, generally speaking, it is not stigmatized nearly as much as, as it used to be.

Uh, and and people do, do look up to it, and I think that’s kind of your point, is that we need more people looking up to it. I would also push back a little bit too, This is not a liberal idea. I mean, this solves the problem faster, better, and improves a business way better than anything else.

TY MONTAGUE 

I agree with that. What are you pushing back on? Cuz that was what I was trying to say is that of all the people in the world, the hardcore business breasts are the people who ought to be celebrating this. And I don’t think they are.

KYLE WELCH 

But it’s, I would say though, it’s that kind of shooting from the hip that creates a problem. We don’t know that answer cuz you don’t have the data on it and I don’t have the data on it.

TY MONTAGUE 

Yeah. It’s my show. I get to have an opinion on it though.

DANA GOLD 

I, I have some anecdotal evidence, which

TY MONTAGUE 

Yeah, go for it, Dana.

DANA GOLD 

Kyle does, but I used to, um, I used to, uh, run director, uh, director training executive education programs on corporate governance for directors, corporate directors, and, uh, general counsel often. And, um, I was running a, a, a program at Boston College Law School and an issue came up around a lot of concern and interest about Dodd-Frank and whistleblowers. And it went to a place, these are all enlightened, nice people, it went to a place where, what can we do about the whistleblowers? Can we, can we , can we get them for stealing documents, you know, or violating gag orders.

And I was just like, Oh, oh dear. Oh dear. This is the, this is exactly the problem, Like there is this embedded problem of perceiving, even though I think that is not as true for management, but I think with general councils, sometimes they see whistleblowers as a potential source of risk rather than realizing that I’m gonna create more risk if I don’t, if my company doesn’t deal effectively with the whistleblower,I was like, oh my gosh, the degree of education, to your point, Ty a around why whistleblowing is a good thing and why responding appropriately to whistleblowers and how to do that internally is exactly what is beneficial to a company.

That’s, that’s what needs to happen. And, you know, to your point about the awards, right? Like, I, I agree. I mean, what you’re talking about is, is valorizing or calling out the right behavior rather than the wrong behavior. And I think and so if you’re measuring, for instance, we only had, you know, zero safety problems, right? As opposed to saying, oh, because that discourages people from reporting accidents, right? As opposed to how did we respond to those accidents? I mean, we have these perverse and performance incentives that I think switched, um, to the, for the burden to be on how management responds rather than this drive to encourage just employees to speak up.

They’re gonna speak up if they feel like they’re not gonna suffer retaliation and something’s gonna be done about the problem. And I, I also just wanna say one thing about this. The, the money problem is that largely that is not what motivates people to speak out. As a matter of fact, there’s some data that says that money depresses, depresses reporting, right? Or depresses ethical behavior. and so, When the SCC, for instance, promotes all of these multimillion-dollar awards that it’s giving to its whistle to whistleblowers. It’s, I think it’s just sending totally the, the wrong message personally. Um, because like they’ve given out 328 awards out of 64,421 tips that they’ve, that they’ve received since its inception in 2012. That means you have a 0.5% chance 0.5% chance of getting an award. It’s like you buy a, buy a lottery ticket. I think the success of this program is that it’s a, it’s a program that allows for a, um, anonymity and confidentiality and an opportunity that someone, someone responsible might investigate and do something about it. So it discharges your, and yeah, maybe you, maybe you’ll, you’ll win the lottery and get a payout, but it, it, it addresses those other two issues that, that are motivating to a, an employee who sees wrongdoing, right? Is that someone’s gonna maybe do something about it and I don’t have to risk retaliation because I can stay co, I can my, I can stay anonymous or, you know, maintain my confidentiality. Like those are, that’s in part why this is so successful. So I think it’s not about this money thing, it’s about measuring and incentivizing the

TY MONTAGUE 

Right.

DANA GOLD 

Behavior.

TY MONTAGUE So what are your thoughts just in general on the idea of rewarding whistleblowers with money at all?

KYLE WELCH  Personally, I think we have struck, the regulators have struck a pretty good balance, If you try to resolve something internally and then go external, you have the highest chance for the most reward externally on these bounties. So I, I think that balance is a great balance that the US has created because it, it, it doesn’t steal this resource away from firms because if we really wanna change things, we want the people closest to the problems to fix ’em.

It’s much harder to get the government to fix ’em. But if it has to go to the government, oh man, they better pay

TY MONTAGUE um, I wanna pivot for just a second and, and talk a little bit about your work, Kyle. In your work, you used the Peter Drucker quote, um, culture Eats strategy for breakfast. Can you explain what you meant by that in the context of whistle blowing?

KYLE WELCH 

When you have a strong culture in your organization where when your group feels like almost like they’re a kinship with, like they’re related to each other, they all of a sudden make an investment in their organization that you wouldn’t get otherwise. 

And so there’s all these externalities and, and data kind of talked about this. One of the tragedies of this, of research and this data is that it’s very easy to measure negative outcomes. Negative outcomes come in the form of lawsuits, fines, and then news stories. Those are all the negative outcomes. It’s very hard to measure the positive outcomes The somebody that is dealing with harassment, somebody’s dealing with a problem at at work, and the problem gets resolved, all of a sudden they feel a huge weight off of them, and working that work environment is much better.

You think about somebody being harassed at work and then taking that home with them and how that affects their other relationships with their spouse and kids. It’s, it, it has, there’s huge effects to this and I, and I, I think we’re just, we’re, we’re just getting, uh, exposing just a little bit of it, that it’s wide open for us.

TY MONTAGUE 

Yeah. Dana, I

DANA GOLD 

Yeah, I just wanna expand on that a little bit because I just think it’s, it’s often hard to measure problems that are prevented, right? Like, it’s hard when you, when you actually can prevent a big safety problem because the company has addressed it, you can’t then say, it’s hard to say, well, we, we prevented a nuclear three-mile island disaster. Right? Like, it’s like it’s, you know what I mean? And this is like why it’s a, you know, it’s a weird data set to to measure. you know, I think about GM, I wish there were more examples like this, but, you know, Tony Menendez the whistleblower who sued on his own Halliburton and then gm, he’s an accounting fraud. He, you know, GM snatched him up.

TY MONTAGUE 

Wait, hold on. What did he

DANA GOLD 

He blew the whistle on Halliburton and huge accounting fraud. Right. And he, he represented himself, actually, pro se was very successful. General Motors hired him, and they brought him on like in a really public way, like, we’re gonna hire the whistleblower. And I just like, this should happen all the time. Like this should, like, this is who you

TY MONTAGUE 

Why does it, why this? You know, we’ve, we’ve touched on this a couple times, but why doesn’t it happen more?

KYLE WELCH 

Let me, uh, can I push back on that just a sec, too. The, the name of the show is calling Bohi, so, so I’m gonna,

TY MONTAGUE 

Fair enough. Fair enough. 

KYLE WELCH 

Let me push back on that. There’s an academic article that was published by a couple smart, sharp guys. What they did is they looked at, uh, public QAM lawsuits, and then they said, okay, let’s find the people that brought the lawsuits and do background checks on them to see where they are in their careers. So using LinkedIn and private investigators spent a ton of money on this. What they found was their careers showed no deviation from their peers.

KYLE WELCH 

I do know that people’s careers, people get fired from jobs. I know that event happens, but when I’m saying this, I’m talking about means, I’m talking about averages and especially means and averages of the population. Even at the extreme, they looked at the extreme, and in that extreme they said, Hey, All these people had like similar jobs. They didn’t have their salaries, but they were at similar levels relative to peers.

DANA GOLD 

So I, so I need to read that article and I hope you send it to me, because I think what’s interesting about Dodd-Frank and the False Claims Act, of course, right, is that when you file a False Claims Act case, you do so under seal, right? You, you, you file a claim with the Department of Justice and it’s under. It is under-sealed. Like the company does not know, like this is like a quiet thing. but those whistleblowers who blew the whistle, not using these confidential systems, that experience for the whistleblower becomes then they become radioactive quite, quite frequently if it’s public, you know, very, very public profile. So I, I just, you know, I think, I mean, again, this is like a really dramatic example because her disclosures went viral, but I represent Don Wooten, who’s the nurse at, she was the nurse at the Irwin County Detention

TY MONTAGUE 

What a horrifying story that

DANA GOLD 

The whistle on all kinds of medical mistreatment, including that women were suffering non-consensual, unnecessary gynecological procedures that went totally viral. You know, her life has completely changed and she can’t. She can’t either get a job or retain a job as a nurse during a pandemic in her local community because she is blamed, right, as the one responsible for ending that contract at that facility. Now, that’s a very dramatic example because she’s so well known, essentially. Right. But, and, and I’m not saying that’s true for all whistle blowers at all. you know, Richard Bowen had this problem. I mean, I think

TY MONTAGUE 

But, but yeah, that, that raises another question for me because, um, you know, another expert that we spoke to for the show actually mentioned that there are certain industries and, and she called out healthcare and defense where you may never work again if you speak out. And so I guess it does seem like there are some industries where

KYLE WELCH 

Oh.

TY MONTAGUE 

There is a stigma. Right. That will

KYLE WELCH 

I’m, I’m gonna call bllshit on that, that those are the most regulated industries. I would say you’re more likely to have a problem in an industry that doesn’t have those eyeballs. So let me tell you why I base this opinion on, on the claim of healthcare and defense. In the last year, I’ve spoken at three defense conferences and three healthcare conferences trying to understand and better, like, better understand the outcome and positive natures associated with these compliance.

Of all the two industries that reach out to my research, no two industries reach out to the indu to this research. More like, I can’t even think of a third healthcare and defense. You’re hearing the failures of it. And so if you hear sensored data, you will always get a censored bias sample from it and I would say generally speaking, defense industry, of all the industries that reach out to me, defense and healthcare over and over and over again, have a huge focus on this I would say compliance in those two industries. While there are, and it makes sense because the problems, if somebody dies, if something goes wrong or like you have the government spending, like government, like, uh, secrets getting leaked out. It makes sense that compliance would be huge in those industries.

TY MONTAGUE 

Dana, did you have any thoughts about that?

DANA GOLD 

Yeah, I mean, I think, I, I, I actually think this could be a both and situation in that I agree that these heavily regulated industries where the stakes are very high, have some of the most sophisticated ethics and compliance systems. They understand why it’s important to them, and they have, they’re, they’re just far more advanced. I still think even when you hear those outlying pieces of data, of the, it’s a sign of failure. It’s still a sign of failure in that ethics and compliance system when you have a Boeing whistleblower who basically said, I was raising concerns about safety issues and suffered reprisal, and they weren’t addressed and the only reason now that you’re hearing about it is because they suffered reprisal and the problem wasn’t addressed. And the stakes of of that response is endangering people.

KYLE WELCH

 But, but

DANA GOLD 

Just saying, so like, do you need, like, so you’re right, it might be an outlier, but, but that failure is still a problem. It doesn’t mean that everything is bad at that company and that every, but it’s like if you’re talking about, you know, it’s like one plane falling from the sky, you, you kind of wanna prevent that, right?

KYLE WELCH 

No, no. So, so, so let’s be clear. What I’m saying is that when they do something wrong, go hard on the paint on them, ta hold them accountable. But when we’re talking about means and averages, Means and averages. the means and averages in those industries, the mean firm in compliance, the mean firm associated with this in defense and healthcare, they, the reason why they have these advanced systems, they try to get ahead of it. So when somebody in, in that network does something wrong, oh my gosh, all the more, all the more, should they be held accountable because of how advanced their system should be.

TY MONTAGUE 

Okay. I’m a little confused, so I just wanna clarify something cuz I think lots of companies have like hotline reporting systems for reporting. And I have seen experts, who have pointed out that those mechanisms are only as good as the culture behind that system. You agree with that, yes?

KYLE WELCH 

A hundred percent.

TY MONTAGUE 

Okay, but you don’t agree and I, I get that data is hard to get here but you don’t agree that there are industries– healthcare and defense are two that have been mentioned by other experts– where there is a…

KYLE WELCH 

Problem.

TY MONTAGUE 

…a cultural bias against hiring people who have had a history of whistleblowing.

DANA GOLD 

But it’s so, I don’t, you think it’s kind of apples and oranges, and I think this is why, Ty, maybe you’re struggling and, and, and I am too, is that it’s still about people. like if you raised a concern internally and it was dealt with through the ethics and compliance system, you’re actually not, I mean, you’re a whistleblower because you raised a concern, but it doesn’t become a problem because it’s about the management response to the report. That’s what really becomes the issue. It’s how does management respond to the report. That’s why we don’t hear all of this data that you hear about Kyle. It’s like, that’s why it’s a gold mine because. Here are people that reported internally and the company dealt with it. Right? So I’m dealing with when the company failed to respond appropriately.

Right? And it happens a lot. We are so busy, like we have a lot, you know, we can’t help everybody, right? Like there’s a lot of failure and they’re in healthcare and they’re in defense. Like they’re in all of these industries, right? They’re all always failures. And so when I think about how we care about the power of an individual who sees a problem, right? And when they, it’s either experience retaliation or the problem isn’t dealt with, that’s when they’re prompted to go outside. And once they’re public, it’s, it becomes very hard. I think even, you know, as anyone in employee, you know, here’s someone who blew the whistle before publicly, like gm, that’s why I made that example. It’s like they basically use that as, as a way of telegraphing to it their culture and to their workers and to the world we care about. We don’t, we like that this person’s a whistleblower. We care about our accounting, cleanliness. We’re not afraid. But that is, that is like not reflexively. If you know that someone has sued you, you know, has sued an employer in the past and you’re an employer, um, hiring someone, you, you, it’s just you. You’re gonna think, I don’t want this person because they’re gonna blow the whistle on me. Right. It’s just like, it’s just, I just think it’s, it’s so embedded in terms of how we, and I think it’s where like, the blacklisting comes up, right? It’s like for, again, for a public-facing whistleblower, you have to either embrace it , and, and it’d be really enlightened or you’re gonna be like, oh, this person’s gonna see all the problems in my organization.Right?

TY MONTAGUE 

Kyle, we’ll give you, we’ll give you the last word and then we get, we gotta

KYLE WELCH 

We, we all agree that it’s bad. And uh, the one thing that I.

TY MONTAGUE 

That’s the important

KYLE WELCH 

We all agree. We all agree that if somebody’s getting blacklisted for this, that it’s bad. So what I would say, and, and what I tell, uh, compliance professionals and people that reach out is that first, everyone that wants, they, they want to have an organization and a great culture. Most leaders do want that, I would say on average. And so we hear about these bad stories and I, um, I would say that, uh, the special victims unit of whistleblowing is important to understand and identify and tell stories from, but make sure our narrative is, is the average human isn’t the type of perpetrator that makes go to this SVU unit of, of whistleblowing and that there is a lot of good that’s happening and we never hear about it. I don’t know that we’ll ever hear about all of it, but we should understand the SVU unit, but understand that that is the it the sampling doesn’t show the whole population.

TY MONTAGUE 

Okay. Sadly, we have to wrap this up, but, uh, this has been a fantastic conversation. I, I so appreciate both of you, Kyle. Dana, thank you for being on the show.

DANA GOLD 

This was super fun.

KYLE WELCH 

It was fun talking to Dana too. I’ve seen her from a distance

DANA GOLD 

I know. I was like, oh, I’m gonna get to do this with Kyle. This is so great.

DANA GOLD 

And now we know Ty,

TY MONTAGUE 

Really, really good. Yeah, indeed.

DANA GOLD 

It’s very,

TY MONTAGUE 

I appreciate that, and thank you both for the work that you’re doing. So, so great and so important. Keep it up. 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

Alright folks, we aren’t giving anyone a BS score today but I do want to drive this point home. 

 

In a perfect world, corporate malfeasance would be stopped as soon as it’s discovered. Fraud would be dealt with internally. And systems that incentivize poor behavior would be redesigned to encourage people to do the right thing. We wouldn’t NEED whistleblowers. 

 

But the point I want to make to leaders of organizations everywhere – you have a massive opportunity to embrace and support whistleblowers and see them for what they are. They are in many cases your most loyal and your bravest people.  They are an asset – to your company, to your  culture, and to your bottom line. Treat them that way. 

 

TY MONTAGUE (VO) 

If you’re a whistleblower or looking for the support and resources to become one – here are a few organizations in addition to the SEC that Mary Inman recommends checking out: 

 

The Signal’s Network is a non-profit that assists whistleblowers and connects them safely to journalists. Taxpayers Against Fraud supports whistleblowers and Vault is an anonymous reporting tool that allows whistleblowers to find each other safely within organizations. You can find details about how to contact all of them in our show notes. 

 

And I want to thank Mary Inman, Kyle Welch, and Dana Gold for the work they do and for taking the time to talk with me today for this special episode. Links about them and their work also in the show notes. 

 

And if this episode made you want to do the right thing subscribe to the Calling Bullshit podcast on the iHeart Radio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to people speak into your ears. Please take a minute to rate us and let us know what you think of the show, more reviews help more people find us.  

 

Thanks to our production team. Hannah Beal, Amanda Ginsburg, DS Moss, Haley Paskalides, and Parker Silzer. 

 

And I want to thank you for listening – our listeners are our most important stakeholders and we appreciate you spending time with us. Hopefully we will be back in your feed very soon. 

 

Calling Bullshit was created by Co Collective and it’s hosted by me, Ty Montague. 

 

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  1. Kenneth Kendrick on January 3, 2023

    As a Whistleblower, I have spoken with people who work in the defense industry, and I have to respectfully disagree with Mr. Welch. There is very much and unofficial black ball list Ford defense contract employees who calls any sort of problems. I have personally spoken to them.

    • Calling Bullsh!t on January 19, 2023

      It’s good to hear that we had that right, thank you for listening and supporting the podcast. Thank you for being a whistleblower yourself, it takes a special kind of person to do that and we deeply appreciate it.

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