This week I had the opportunity to speak to the University of Nebraska at Omaha for their fifth annual Accounting Speaker Series. Close to two hundred accounting alumni as well as business school students taking ethics courses attended. Many of these young men and women would be auditing company books. Many would see red flags that would need to be looked at more closely.
I talked about the importance of speaking up about what they might find that is not up to standards and why this was so critical. And I used my own war story as an example. They had heard this critical message about speaking up two years ago when Helen Sharkey spoke to them of her experience. My message reinforced hers.
Newly hired by Dynegy, an up-and-coming energy trading company in Houston, Ms. Sharkey saw what she perceived as wrong doing, and did not speak up as a result of her newness to the role she was in and that the “mistake” was made by her boss. Her failure to speak up to authorities branded her as complicit in securities fraud and Ms. Sharkey spent twenty-eight days in a maximum security prison, just two months after giving birth to twin boys. Her bosses got off scot-free.
I warned the audience that speaking up has a price – loss of a job, being black balled in your profession; yet not speaking up had penalties as well – as Ms. Sharkey’s experience could speak to. And if they didn’t speak up and still saw wrongdoing then it was time to polish up their resume and leave the company for one with higher ethical values.