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Whistleblowing – a litmus test of a firm’s culture

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Dewar Sally
Sally Dewar

CEO, A&O Consulting

London

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Catherine Gibaud

Senior Advisor, A&O Consulting

London

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03 December 2019

Having a culture which encourages employees to speak up in a safe environment is a stated aim of most organisations, globally. How a firm deals with whistleblowing is therefore a litmus test of the health of its culture.

Most people agree, in theory, that those who speak out in good faith against misconduct or malpractice in an organisation play a key role in promoting transparency and highlighting misconduct. However, in practice, employees hesitate to speak up for three main reasons: Lethargy (“nothing will change”); Apathy (“everyone knows it’s happening – so why should I be the one to call it out”) and Fear (“I can’t afford to lose my job; I don’t want to be shunned”). This article analyses these three reasons through the lens of a firm’s culture – with the aim of gaining a better understanding of the concerns on both sides, firm and whistleblower. We conclude that the way in which a firm deals with whistleblowing is a litmus test of the health of the firm’s culture more generally.