Women whistleblowers suffer more discrimination, INFORMS-published study suggests

May 01, 2008

Women who alert authorities to their organizations' wrongdoing perceive they suffer more retaliation than do men, reports an initial study published in the current issue of Organization Science, a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®).

"The levels of retaliation as perceived by the women we surveyed were greater than those perceived by men," says Prof. Marcia Miceli of the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, one of the study's co-authors. With Professors Janet Near and Terry Dworkin, Prof. Miceli is also co-author of the 2008 book, "Whistle-Blowing in Organizations," published by Taylor and Francis.

"Antecedents and Outcomes of Retaliation Against Whistleblowers: Gender Differences and Power Relationships" appears in Organization Science, Vol. 19, No. 2. The authors include Michael T. Rehg of the Air Force Institute of Technology, Janet P. Near of Indiana University, and James R. Van Scotter of Louisiana State University.

The authors studied a single U.S. military unit in the Midwest with 9,900 employees, two-thirds of them civilians and one-third active duty military. Survey responses were received from 3,288 employees; 37% reported observing wrongdoing within the prior year.

The authors' model looked at the effect of several factors on the severity of retaliation, including: The findings showed that all except the first of the above factors weighed against female whistleblowers but generally did not deter them from pursuing their complaints. Surprisingly, a woman's own rank didn't insulate her though power did help men.

"Even if the woman had significant power within the organization, she still wasn't protected," says Prof. Miceli. As the authors' model predicted, the wrong-doing's seriousness and direct effect of wrong-doing led to more severe retaliation, for women. As expected, the less support a whistle-blower, male or female, could muster from others in the organization, the greater the heat.

The types of wrongdoing studied included: Of the men and women who reported retaliation, the types of retaliation experienced included: The study is unique, says Prof. Miceli: Previous studies about gender and whistleblowing have examined the likelihood of men and women to report wrongdoing. This study examines the likelihood of suffering retaliation and gender differences in response to it.

The study was limited to a single organization. The authors call for research at additional organizations to validate the results among a broader population.
INFORMS journals are strongly cited in Journal Citation Reports, an industry source. In the Journal Citation Report subject category "management," Organization Science ranked in the top 10 along with one other INFORMS journals.


The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS®) is an international scientific society with 10,000 members, including Nobel Prize laureates, dedicated to applying scientific methods to help improve decision-making, management, and operations. Members of INFORMS work in business, government, and academia. They are represented in fields as diverse as airlines, health care, law enforcement, the military, financial engineering, and telecommunications. The INFORMS website is www.informs.org. More information about operations research is at www.scienceofbetter.org.

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences

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