When you work hard on a project that you’re proud of, it’s uniquely frustrating (and stressful) when someone else on your team gets the credit. That’s especially true for women, whose accomplishments are all too often overshadowed (or absorbed) by those of their male colleagues.
Research out of the University of Delaware found that men are given more credit than women for saying exactly the same thing. There’s even a term for it: “hepeating.” And when women have to share credit, they’re usually short-shrifted: A Harvard study in 2017 looked at 500 tenure decisions over a period of four decades and discovered that women who co-authored most of their academic papers got tenure 50 percent less of the time than their male counterparts.
Amy Gallo, a contributing editor at the Harvard Business Review and author of HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict, urges us to challenge credit-stealers, especially when bias is involved. “Given that research shows women are less likely to get credit, when a man gets credit for the work a woman has done, it’s extremely important to speak up,” she tells Thrive Global.
While it may feel awkward to call someone out for pawning your ideas off as their own, Gallo offers solutions to gracefully set the record straight — compassionately and directly — without damaging your relationships.
Steady your emotions
Whether it was intentional or accidental. when someone takes off with your idea, it can feel blood-boiling. But simmer down a bit before you approach your offender. “We don’t make rational choices when we’re angry or upset,” Gallo points out. Once you regain your cool, concretely outline what you contributed and what was miscast as someone else’s accomplishment. You need to be clear in your own mind about what exactly you’re upset about before you can have a productive conversation.
Create an open dialogue
Don’t be accusatory. It’s possible someone genuinely isn’t aware that the concept they’ve cast as their own originated with you. A ton of ideas are typically exchanged throughout the day in meeting after meeting, and it’s easy to jumble things up in your head. You might even broach the subject with your colleague by prefacing it with, “We ideate so much, so I know you may have forgotten, but I actually originated that idea you presented in today’s meeting.”
If your boss is a chronic thief, focus the discussion on your concerns around how not being able to sign your name to the bulk of your output will thwart your career growth, rather than assigning them malicious intent. “It’s important to remember that it is your job to make your boss look good, which is mutually beneficial,” Gallo says. Sometimes it’ll behoove you to let small swipes go.
Find an ally to rally for you
Seek someone out, preferably in a position of power, to speak up on your behalf, Gallo recommends. Having a colleague highlight your work will help you reinforce an ethos of giving proper credit, which helps promote an honest and direct workplace.
When all else fails
Sometimes a head-on collision (looping in HR) is necessary when you’re getting repeatedly ripped off. But before you escalate, make sure you have a paper trail that supports your assertion that you’re the real architect of the work at hand.
To protect yourself from credit-stealers, Gallo recommends creating visibility of your efforts along the way. “Really document what role you’re playing by sending weekly updates to your boss outlining exactly what you’re doing,” she says. That’ll make it much harder for someone to take credit for your work.
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