In considering just what gender equity brings to a workplace,
Anita Hill puts a whole new slant on things with this editorial.
Do you think the outsider vs. insider role accounts for why the
FBI and Enron women were the whistleblowers while so many
men kept silent? Does Ms. Hill's viewpoint stem from her view
of how men and women are alike or different?
MI NOW Education Task Force
Subject: Anita Hill On Whistleblowing
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 2002 10:07:35 -0700
Insider Women With Outsider Values
By ANITA F. HILL
WALTHAM, Mass. - It's hard to imagine a less likely fictional plot
than the true story of Coleen Rowley. A memo from a Minneapolis suburban
of four calls into question the accountability of one of the country's
mostimpenetrable government agencies, the F.B.I. And by sending this memo,
30 years after the bureau hired its first woman agent, a woman becomes a
key player in the overhaul of an institution whose structure and priorities
have largely gone unquestioned since the time of J. Edgar Hoover.
It may be an overstatement to say that in setting the stage for
changes in the bureau, Coleen Rowley did what no president has done. But
significance of Robert S. Mueller's redesigned F.B.I. cannot be
overstated,and even the most skeptical concede that the changes would never
have seemed so urgent or received so much public attention were it not for
Rowley's 13-page letter detailing the bureau's failures and deficiencies in
responding to information leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The magnitude of Ms. Rowley's role in exposing the mishandling of
vital intelligence has no direct parallel. However, it can be likened in
private sector to the central role that Sherron Watkins played in
exposing the extent of corporate culpability in the Enron scandal. In
2001,just weeks before the company's collapse, Ms. Watkins warned Kenneth
Lay,Enron's chairman, of improper accounting and management practices. And
in January she testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee
about the explicit warnings she had written in her memo to him. When the
settles from all the investigations into the Enron debacle, not only
are criminal indictments likely, but so are accounting and corporate
Ms. Rowley and Ms. Watkins are two women who rose through the ranks
of male-dominated institutions to become insiders. Yet the not-too-distant
history of male exclusivity in their institutions meant both were
outsiders as well. As whistle-blowers they expressed certain values and had
conviction to act on values that were apparently in conflict with those
of the leaders in their institutions.
But values alone do not explain their ability to challenge the
leadership.Both needed the status to support their criticisms. As the
counselin the F.B.I. Minneapolis field office and a vice president at
the two women had more than impressive job titles; they had access to
information, authority over others and positions in the chain of
command that gave them access to the leadership.
But as they ascended to positions of authority, they must also have
been conscious of the traditions of the institutions in which they served.
Coleen Rowley must have been aware of discrimination others in the
F.B.I.had faced. It was in 1971 that the bureau admitted women in its
training program for agents. In 1994, one of the two women admitted in 1971
the F.B.I., saying that throughout her career she had been subjected to sex
discrimination. In the past decade the agency has been the subject of
lawsuits by women, as well as blacks and Hispanics, charging widespread
discrimination in hiring and promotion practices.
The industry in which Sherron Watkins succeeded was no more friendly
to women than the F.B.I. The Texas energy and oil industry is known to be
dominated by men, to have cultivated arrogance and to have had its own
share of discrimination scandals.
Though each woman had attained respected insider status, I can't
help butwonder whether, given their gender and the nature of the
the feeling of being inside was complete. This uncertainty may have caused
them to consider whether their gender would be used as the basis for
ignoring their complaints or attacking them as malcontents in retaliation
To speak out made Ms. Rowley and Ms. Watkins outsiders among
colleagues who remained silent, and perhaps that was exacerbated when
superiors waved aside their criticisms. Yet perhaps their experiences as
traditionally male workplaces heightened their awareness of resistance to
much needed change and deepened their commitment to making it happen.
Given the time during which they came of age professionally, their
successes are neither coincidental nor surprising. Both no doubt benefited
changes in the law and in society that give women better opportunities
to advance in male-dominated industries. But is it a coincidence that the
whistle-blowers in what may turn out to be the most significant
examples of government incompetence and corporate wrongdoing in our time
I don't think so.
I think the increase in the number of women in positions of
prominence,coupled with the tension that can develop between insider status
outsider values, brings us to this point. A similar phenomenon is at
work when women and men complain about discrimination in the workplace. And
likethose who have had to challenge workplace bias, Ms. Rowley and Ms.
Watkinsdiffered from their superiors in their notions of appropriate
institutionalconduct. Similarly, Ms. Rowley and Ms. Watkins ultimately
their chances for bringing change to their workplaces existed only outside
those workplaces.Coincidence or not, the fact is that in the public and
private sectors the number of women in positions of authority is growing.
As their numbers increase, so will their opportunities, not only to be
whistle-blowers but,more important, to shape institutional standards from
Anita F. Hill is a professor of law, social policy and women's studies at
the Heller Graduate School at Brandeis University.
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