update: should I blow the whistle on the harm my organization is causing?

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer wondering whether to blow the whistle on the harm their organization was causing? Here’s the update.

I’m happy—and still somewhat surprised—to report that my organization did an about-face and decided to publicly share what we were seeing regarding test performance, no whistleblowing necessary! I am not sure what drove the change, but I’m pleased to say the data is now available for anyone who chooses to look.

I’m also pleased to report I’ve joined a staff team responsible for identifying potential actions we could take to address the source of the disparities! I still think there is a lot more we could be doing, and the progress is slow—but at least it’s progress.

Many commenters suggested that it might not be the exam itself causing the performance differences, and I wanted to add that of course that’s very true. I didn’t want to get into the obvious systemic racism problem in my letter, because I think regardless of education, access, and other issues leading up to it, my organization is still responsible for ensuring that this test doesn’t present an unfair/unequal burden on people of color, women, or any other group. I hope some day soon we’ll reach that point.

Thank you so much for your advice. I’m thrilled I didn’t have to use it, and even more thrilled that I now get to work toward solutions.

{ 25 comments… read them below }

  1. Liza*

    That is a lovely surprise that your organization published their data and started a team to identify actions to take! Thanks for sharing the update.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      What a terrific update! OP, it’s good to hear that you are part of creating the solution. They are lucky to have you.

  2. Daniel*

    Here’s to hoping OP and her team find and get to implement something tangible to improve this situation. The cynic in me wonders why this company did such an abrupt about-face… (Unless it’s something obvious like considerable turnover up top.)

    1. OP*

      To be honest, it’s actually pretty common for my company to do major policy flip-flops like this! If I had to guess, I’d say it’s half due to frequent (planned!) changes in leadership and half due to our culture being a weird mix of reactive-but-forgetful. I could probably write a whole separate letter on that front …

    2. WomEngineer*

      Regardless of how the company thinks, I imagine the statistic would’ve been a PR disaster if it got out.

  3. Beth*

    Does anyone else wonder if somebody in that organization, other than the LW, reads this column and had a come-to-Jesus moment?

    1. pancakes*

      That wouldn’t occur to me as something worth guessing at. I know this site is very popular but it’s hardly the only place for people to learn about problems with standardized testing, or nonprofit organizations, the challenges of being a whistleblower, or any of the other issues in play in this scenario.

      1. dresscode*

        The timing, though, it probably suspicious. The fact that this had been a problem for years but within six months (based on the initial letter) the org decided to do an about face? It’s not super likely this was the cause, but it’s not crazy to think it’s possible.

        1. quill*

          It could also be a cultural change in the organization’s evaluation of their self interest. Like… I would not presume that the past two years couldn’t have lead to the org leaders going “we need to look better to the general public, let’s pull out that test correction we’ve been kicking down the road for six years.”

          And then they say that they’re committed to working with the Black Community.

    2. Oh hell nah*

      Exactly my thought. Suddenly realized they would be facing lawsuits from every single person who took their test over the past ten years and had their career impacted by the result and wasn’t a white man. $$$$

    3. Pants*

      Absolutely. I have to wonder if someone printed it out and “left” it somewhere. It’s what I would have done.

  4. RPOhno*

    Always warms my cold tungsten heart to hear about a company making positive safety and compliance changes!

  5. I'm Just Here for the Cats*

    My thought is that someone high up in the company reads Ask a Manager and saw the similarities in the letter and did the right thing!

  6. Blarg*

    OP, thanks for your thoughtful comment about overall impacts of systemic racism vs the test itself. A test of this nature — such as one for college admissions or for licensure, etc. — is supposed to measure your ability to be successful. To succeed in college, or be a quality nurse, etc. If the test enhances the impacts of systemic racism by making it less likely that people qualified to do the work for which they are being examined are able to pass the test, the test is a part of the problem – and also probably allows less able white men (in this case) to pass. We all want competent CPAs or RNs or engineers; artificial barriers to entry are a problem no matter where they occur.

  7. BluntBunny*

    It may be worth having a survey for applicants to fill in to get their feedback or if you are able to speak to past applicants.
    For a certification test then there must be a course or study material that needs to be read in advance. There could be a cost barrier to accessing the course or study material or barriers in locations or timing (balancing childcare or work commitments).
    Could be that the language used or examples in the test needs to be revised. You should be able to see the results of applicants and see what they have been scoring poorly in.
    Maybe worth speaking to employers if the test is putting the correct weight into the areas they think is important to the job. What was a must in the job 5-10 years ago may not be relevant now.

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