From SEACEN in Malaysia to The University of Nebraska (UN) in the space of two weeks. Continents apart, yet a similar message…business ethics pay off!
From central bank executives to business students, my message to each emphasized the importance of doing the right thing and the key essentials individuals and businesses must follow to ensure a transparent and profitable workplace.
This last week I joined Dana Gold, Director of Education and Strategic Partnerships at the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a preeminent whistleblower support organization, and Walter Tamosaitis, former Deputy Chief Process Engineer and Research and Technology Manager for Waste Treatment Plant at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Eastern Washington. We participated in The University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business Annual State Farm Ethics Lecture Series.
The event, which was titled “Truth Be Told: Reflections from Whistleblowers,” was co-sponsored by UN’s College of Law and the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. Our goal was to provide insights on our experiences as whistleblowers from our respective public safety and financial services careers.
The University deserves a huge commendation. Not only do they have this annual lecture series on ethics, they go much further, endorsing ethics in their business classroom curriculum. Their code of ethics is on their website and any student can voluntarily pledge their support to it. In addition, they have a University Student Ethics Board which has the responsibility of promoting ethics throughout the student body.
Mr. Tamosaitis, who blew the whistle on extreme nuclear safety issues, and I participated in the program where we spoke of the true meaning of ethics and the possible dilemmas students would and could be faced with in the business world. We each told our stories and emphasized how critical it is to question when they are faced with an uncomfortable business situation. If a company is on a slippery slope legally and one does not question, one could be responsible as well. There have been many instances of whistleblowers who saw something wrong and didn’t say anything, and inadvertently became involved and became victims.
While on campus, we were both on a panel Ms. Gold moderated.
Ms. Gold counselled getting advice before acting if they experienced an uncomfortable situation and to also question. Asking questions may open the door to further dialogue and the specific situation may then make sense and be corrected, or not. If not, then the individual has a choice to make. I said if they felt they shouldn’t be asking questions or were told “shut up and go back to work” they needed to think of the potential consequences and seek outside advice before going further.
We know that while whistleblowers may have legal protection, it is still common for whistleblowers to be retaliated against; both Mr. Tamosaitis and I are prime examples. And, witness what has happened at Wells Fargo, with many employees fired for following company ethics policies, doing what they were taught in company ethics training and attempting to do the right thing.
Whistleblowing does not always have successful outcomes for the individuals involved although there may eventually be justice. Most of all, we emphasized following your own common sense and your core values. Be true to what’s right for you and the organization’s stakeholders and, in the long run, you’ll find a successful choice was made.
On the flight home, I thought of how important it is to teach students the power of ethical behavior and how each person can make a difference by following their true north. I commend the University of Nebraska for their special efforts to assure this is the case for their students venturing into the business world and wish more schools followed their example.
These students and others like them are our future.