Jane sat in the large conference room excited to have her pet project discussed with the company leaders. That excitement quickly evaporated as the program was discussed without her name or voice.
“She presented the program as her own, with MY deck, MY data, MY words!”
Beth, Jane’s boss, consistently took the credit for Jane’s work. Whether it was a small matter of the look and feel of a report, to the initiative of training the entry level new hires. It had become a habit. Initially, Jane thought this was fair – they collaborated and worked well as a team. But as Jane gained experience in her role and the company, she began to realize that in fact this was not the norm. When Beth presented and took sole credit for a training and on-boarding program Jane had developed, Jane realized she could no longer sit quietly.
Jane is not alone. Teams can often have disproportionate contributions to the final product. Sometimes, but less frequently, credit is given to the wrong party and it feels awkward to change. But more frustrating are the times an idea or work is stolen by a colleague.
I see this happening across industries, size of company and firm, and roles. In particular, I see it happening to women.
Why did Jane allow others to credit Beth for her work? She felt awkward and uncomfortable to speak up. She feared stepping on Beth’s toes. Jane had witnessed a colleague who consistently bragged about his accomplishments (big and small) – and she didn’t want to be like him. She didn’t want to have an uncomfortable and difficult conversation with Beth.
Jane didn’t stop it initially and that snowball began to roll faster down the hill. How could she stop it now?
Don’t be like Jane. Instead, try the following actions:
- Speak up in the moment. Don’t let it pass. If possible, try to anticipate it and prepare what you will say. Demonstrate the concrete information (emails, data, presentations, etc.) to prove it was your work or idea. If you hesitate to speak up in the meeting, address privately once the meeting is over.
- Speak up for others. When you witness this happening to a colleague, address it right away. Women tend to negotiate on others’ behalf easier and more effectively.
- Address it 1:1. Speak to your ‘stealing’ colleague directly.
- Take credit for your work before anyone else does. If you anticipate a colleague taking credit for your work, make sure you do so first – either in an email or conversation with your leader about what you’ve completed.
- Decipher the situation – low or high risk. A low risk robbery is where your name is not included in a list of team members working on the project. Address the situation, in a casual manner. Confirm your name is on the list for future engagements. A high risk situation is where the business line leader takes credit for your work. You want to continue to be in his favor and work on the project. A difficult conversation needs to take place. Ask questions to better understand his perspective. How can you help him and receive credit for your involvement?
- Preempt a colleague from taking credit. If your colleague’s behavior repeats itself (like Beth above), address it before she takes credit in public. Ask to present with her, and make sure you use language that demonstrates your involvement: “My research found that…”
The bottom line is to anticipate and prepare for the situation so that you can address it immediately.
What if you don’t stop others from taking credit? Who suffers the most?
Ask yourself what is more difficult – dealing with the situation or ignoring it, and risking the long-term impact on your career?
Take the reins on your career. Prevent someone from taking credit for your work going forward. If you can’t change what has happened in the past, you can prevent it from continuing. Don’t allow someone else to sabotage your career. You are in the driver’s seat, no matter how uncomfortable it may be in the short-term.