Welcome to Refinery29’s career column Advice From A Nice Girl. Every month, readers can ask Fran Hauser, bona fide boss and author of the book The Myth Of The Nice Girl, about their hardest career quandaries, from managing an overly emotional boss to overcoming their biggest work fear. But this advice column comes with a twist — the reader has to take Fran’s advice and report back.
This month, we hear from a 29-year-old financial analyst based in St. Louis, MO, who is tired of teammates always taking credit for her ideas.
Question: I am on a team with mostly men, and often when we have team meetings, I will share an idea that quickly gets dismissed, and then later on one of my teammates will say the same thing and everyone loves the idea. What am I doing wrong, and what can I do to be heard?
Fran's Response: First of all, you are not doing anything wrong, and this is more common than you think! Getting credit for your own accomplishments can be a surprisingly difficult task. There’s even a term for it: “hepeating.” The term was first coined by Professor Nicole Gugliucci to describe the act of a male colleague repeating and getting credit for an idea first presented by a female colleague. “Even if these men don't realise that they are repeating their female coworkers' ideas, they may do so because of unconscious gender bias,” Iris Bohnet, author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design, told CNBC. Gender politics aside, there are some real dynamics at play here with competitive meeting behaviour and consciously or unconsciously repeating — and thus stealing — others’ ideas. But there are ways to effectively reclaim credit for your work.
Tell a story: Attach a story to the idea that teaches the other person something useful. You could mention to your boss, “When I came up with the idea for X, I was inspired by feedback I heard from our customers. I would be happy to share those findings with the whole team.” This is a much more sophisticated approach than simply asserting, “That was my idea.”
Rewrite history: There’s no reason you can’t do your own PR campaign and take back credit in a one-on-one setting. If your boss wasn’t present in the original meeting, you could let her know it was your idea by assuming that she already knew. During your next check-in, say something like, “Did John tell you what a great brainstorming session we had? I was so excited when I heard how much you liked my idea.”
Moving forward, you want to take back your voice and try to thwart this from happening in the first place. First, take a look at your nonverbal communication style. Albert Mehrabian, a psychology professor at UCLA, says that your credibility is judged 58% by your overall body language, 35% by your tone of voice, and only 7% by what you actually say! Be cognisant of your posture, eye contact, and the amount of physical space you take up. I was once at a board meeting where one of my fellow board members was being very talkative and had a lot of opinions. The only way I could get a word in edgewise would have been by shouting, which I was not going to do, so I decided to stand up, walk around behind my chair, and then speak. This worked like a charm. He stopped talking and listened intently to what I said.
Next, find a meeting ally. Female staffers in Barack Obama’s White House used a strategy called “amplification” to combat hepeating, reports The Washington Post: “When a [female White House staffer] made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognise the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own." Ask a male or female coworker to do the same and actively support each other when you speak.
You can also shift the culture of aggressive meeting behaviour by sharing success with others. Call out a coworker’s good job at a meeting. Or, if someone mistakenly credits you for someone else’s work, correct them. Say, “Wasn’t that great? That was Jane’s idea.” Being a good role model will help influence your colleagues to follow suit.
Today, we hear back from the woman who sent in January's question about how to encourage more people to speak up in meetings.
I've led several meetings since I received this advice, and the technique that I found to be the most helpful is: stating at the beginning of a meeting that I expect people will have different points of view and that I want to hear all of them. More people spoke up — one guy in particular, who is not on the design team but is in more of a support role, contributed for the first time ever.
I've also personally become more comfortable saying "I don't know." I always thought that as a leader, I have to have it all figured out and be totally buttoned up. We were in a discussion the other day, and I told people on the team that I wasn't sure what the right answer was and I would really like input from everyone. It opened up this really healthy conversation that I am not sure would have taken place if I had simply made my point and moved on.