It’s no surprise that big tech sometimes oversteps its bounds. As megalithic tech companies explore every new way to mine data and make profits, they sometimes turn a blind eye to the public good. And when they do, sometimes people stand up to call them out. And frequently? These whistleblowers are women.
This is a fact addressed by two recent articles in The Conversation. One dates back to 2019 and looks at the #MeToo movement. It’s possible to view the #MeToo movement as a mass whistleblower uprising, and the author points out it wasn’t a sudden swell. It was a long time coming. The second article asks, “Why are tech whistleblowers disproportionately women?”
#MeToo as an erosion of employee loyalty
The essential role of the whistleblower is to reveal the hidden ways that businesses steal from the government or put the public at risk. They take secrets and bring them out into the light where others can act on them. They spill the beans.
In contemporary America, the government and media tend to support whistleblowers. The typical narrative is of a brave individual willing to risk the personal fall-out to ensure safety and justice for others. However, this wasn’t always the way we viewed whistleblowers.
For many years, lawmakers and the courts prioritized an employee’s “duty of loyalty” over their efforts to help the public. The shift away from this priority has taken decades. As recently as 1982, a Texas court said it was okay for a nursing home to fire an aid who complained that her boss didn’t seek a doctor for a resident after that resident’s stroke. That aid, it was suggested, violated her duty of loyalty by making her complaint.
Seen in this context, the #MeToo movement represents a massive shift in the duty of loyalty. It was historic, The Conversation argues, for the way “so many women were willing to publicly expose their employer.” Indeed, the political response to #MeToo was to reinforce whistleblower protections, rather than update harassment laws.
2 reasons we see so many women whistleblowers
Another, more recent, article looked at the reasons women might be more likely to blow the whistle than their male peers. After all, the recent whistleblowers from Facebook, Google and Apple were all women. This was despite the fact that women made up less than 30% of their workforces.
The researchers who wrote the article focused on two key points:
- Multiple studies reinforce the idea that women behave more ethically. They are more resistant to corruption. And governments and businesses that include more women in leadership tend to behave more ethically.
- Simultaneously, women are more likely to feel like outsiders in their own companies. They are less likely to wield enough influence to act directly. As a result, they may feel less loyal to their employers and may be more likely to pursue alternate courses of action, such as whistleblowing.
Along with these points, the authors also noted that they lacked full data. They couldn’t say with certainty that women were more likely to blow the whistle than men. They could only summarize the data they had on hand since whistleblower claims are protected until they become public.
Standing up for what’s right
A weakened duty of loyalty, strengthened whistleblower protections, societal roles and outsider status all appear to be playing a part in the rise of the woman whistleblower. Already, we’ve seen this lead toward greater realization of how big tech puts our children and society at risk.
Still, big tech isn’t the only industry that plays a massive role in the lives of all Americans. The federal government is the nation’s largest employer. It reaches into and regulates myriad daily activities. So, does this mean we’ll start to see more women whistleblowers call out federal wrongdoing? It seems likely, but only time will tell.