A whistleblower is a person who reports wrongdoing within an organisation to an authority. This can be internal: reporting wrongdoing to a senior person within the organisation. It can also be external: reporting wrongdoing to an external agency.
Whistleblowers can report different kinds of wrongdoing: this can include illegal activity, harm (or potential harm) to people inside or outside the organisation, misuse of government funds (for governmental organisations).
Retaliation against whistleblowers is, unfortunately, common. Retaliation can include firing from the organisation, or creation of an unpleasant working environment that means the whistleblower can no longer work there.
Some countries have laws to protect whistleblowers from retaliation. For example, the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive requires EU countries to have prohibitions on retaliation, as well as to ensure that companies with more than 50 workers have confidential internal reporting channels.
Some companies have policies in place to protect whistleblowers. This can include third-party reporting systems.
If you are considering whistleblowing, make sure you are aware of what protections are - and are not - in place in your country, and in your organisation. You may want to seek legal advice about what procedures you should follow and what measures you should take to protect yourself.
Case study: exposing racial and gender discrimination¶
In June 2020, Ifeoma Ozoma and Aerica Shimizu Banks went public about the racial and gender discrimination that they faced while working at Pinterest. Both women, who had worked in Pinterest’s policy team, alleged that they had had to fight to be paid fairly, and that they had experienced retaliation for advocating for change. Ozoma also said the company failed to protect her when a colleague shared her personal information with hate sites. Ozoma and Banks both left their jobs and received just half a year of severance pay: a few months later, a white woman who had brought a lawsuit against Pinterest for gender discrimination received a settlement of USD 22 million.
Whistleblowing by Ozoma and Banks enabled people of color at the company to come forward about their experiences. “I could not stand by and let a company get away with posting Black Lives Matter when they did not act like black lives mattered in the negotiations they had just concluded with us,” Banks told the Guardian. “This was about integrity and not letting the company get away with painting themselves as this space for kindness and positivity when they had completely denigrated, abused, and retaliated against us.”
In 2021, Ozoma launched The Tech Worker Handbook, a guide to physical and digital security, seeking legal support, and working with the media, for whistleblowers in tech companies.