In one of my first work assignments post-graduate school, I was the newbie and assigned to help analyze our division's employee engagement survey results. And to come up with key recommendations we could implement to create a better work community.
I was partnered with a male peer who was also new to the division. We met early for breakfast sessions and brainstormed. And I was ready to impress. I had a lot of ideas. I was excited about what I could contribute to this project.
And this was my moment. We went to present to the leadership team one morning. And my male colleague volunteered to kick it off. And he didn't stop talking. He took credit for every single one of my ideas as we clicked through the slides on the laptop. One after another after another. The VPs nodded and were impressed. Because they were good ideas. No, they weren't just good ideas. They were great ideas.
"Mita, do you have anything else to add?"
I could barely nod or look up or even speak. I was completely blindsided.
The meeting came to an end. And I looked at him in disbelief. He smiled at me and walked out with one of the VPs. He had stolen all my ideas. And he just smiled.
This was one of the hardest lessons I learned early on in my career. As devastating as it was in the moment, I thank that male peer for teaching me such an incredible lesson.
Please don't take credit for my work. Please don't steal my work. Please don't pretend your work is mine because it's not. Please don't use my slides and give me no props. And then not even say thank you.
And I can keep saying please, please, please, all day long. The truth is that if someone has stolen my work, and has given me no credit, no props, then I have played a role in my work being stolen.
Because I gave all of my best ideas away. Because I was too trusting. Because I didn't take the opportunity to share my ideas with the right people before someone else did. Because no one else in the room stood up for me. Because I didn't stand up for myself when someone else took credit for my work.
And say, hey, you do know that's my idea, that's my brilliant thought, that's my work, right?
This a story we have all heard. We have witnessed. Many of us have been a main character in the story. A woman in a meeting shares a great idea, makes a great comment, or asks a great question. It goes ignored. Then a man repeats what the woman said. All of a sudden, he's the brilliant one.
So how can we stop others from taking credit for our work?
Don't repeatedly trust people who continue to steal your work. My friend Christy and I always talk about one of our favorite Maya Angelou quotes: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. If they have already taken your ideas and repackaged them as their own, why won't this happen again? A second, a third, and a fourth time?
Don't give out all your best ideas so freely.
I have a lot of great ideas. We all do. Do I need to share them all at once? With everyone and anyone who comes by? No. I think now about what I want to share when and with who.
Connect with the right people who can make sure you get credit for your ideas.
I think about when I do have a great idea, who I can bounce it off of, who I can get feedback from. Who can I collaborate with to make it bigger and better? At different points in my career, this has been my boss, another senior leader, a peer, or someone on my team. Go straight to the CEO. People at the top want to hear ideas from the people in their organization- it helps them be more connected and get a pulse of the organization.
Stand up when your idea is stolen.
I never did this early on in my career. I would come home and cry. I would cry into my dumplings and cry into my pint of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey. I still have my dumplings and my Chunky Monkey. But no more tears. Instead I will say any of the following to the idea thief:
"So glad you liked my idea so much that you shared it with management. Now how can we work together to bring this to life?"
"I hear you're presenting the idea I came up with last week at this Thursday's meeting. I would love to attend and share my views as well."
"Thanks for sharing my idea with the team. I am so excited about it! I want to be involved. How can I help?"
Stand up for others when their idea is stolen. Create a culture where idea thieves just can't thrive. Just like I am going to stand up for myself, I am going to stand up for others when they are cheated out of their recognition.
As a leader give credit for the work people do. This is one I try now really hard to live by. Invite the people on your team to present their own ideas. Create opportunities for them to present their own work. Tell others about the great work they are doing. Thank them for their brilliant ideas and contributions.
And so. This is how I now counsel myself and other women. Stop asking for your work not to be stolen. Start making sure it doesn't happen again.
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"There are no good men out there," yet another woman my age declared. At 50, I was freshly divorced after two decades of marriage and motherhood. My unhappy marriage had shattered my faith in men and romantic relationships. Based on my ex-husband's opinion of my sexual appeal, I was afraid my naked body would cause future lovers to run screaming from the room. Rather gleefully, I announced to my girlfriends that I was done with men, and sex, forever.
For the first year, I got tangled in my sheets alone every night, overjoyed to have the bed and my body to myself. I felt liberated by divorce—free to be me, skip showering, and make dinner for one. But it bothered me when women decried the scarcity of men, because I'd known so many good ones—college boyfriends, my brother, my best friend from business school, etc. The first of many naked truths gradually crept up on me: I was not going to find my juju again through self-help and yoga. The feminist in me didn't want to admit it, but going for too long without men was akin to starvation.
I didn't want another husband. But I needed men, a lot of them.
The universe signaled its approval by sending Mr. Blue Eyes to me at an airport. He was 29 and perhaps the sexiest man I'd ever kissed. Being with him convinced me, pretty decisively, that men were going to heal me, even though men had destroyed me many times before. I became the female incarnation of a divorced, clichéd older man: I bought a sports car, revamped my wardrobe, and took younger lovers. "I want five boyfriends," I told my best friend KC after that first tryst ended. "Sweet, cute, smart, nice. Enough that I won't get too attached to one." My message from the frontlines of divorce at 50 is that to restore your confidence as a woman, especially in the wake of a crushing breakup, try dating outside your comfort zone, expanding your dating pool to include partners you might never have considered before. It may not be the recipe for a lasting union, but in terms of rebuilding your self-esteem, it can work wonders.
The first thing I noticed—and liked—about dating younger men is that they didn't want to marry me or make babies with me. And I didn't want that either. Frankly, I didn't even want them to spend the night. Since I'd been 11, I'd been taught to seek out and value men who wanted commitment. To my surprise, I found it refreshing, even more authentic, to be valued not for my potential as a mate, but instead for my body, intelligence, life-experience and sexuality.
And the sex! I quickly realized that—warning, blanket stereotype coming—men under 40 are more straightforward and adventurous than older men, maybe since they were raised with the Internet. You hear so often about the scourge of crude, sexist online pornography; and I agree that the depersonalization of women as sexual playthings is deeply destructive to all genders. However, from sexting to foreplay, I found younger men uniquely enthusiastic about getting naked and enjoying sex. Every younger man found my most erotic zones faster than any man my age ever had, with a lack of hesitation men over 50 seemed unable to fathom.
Also, about my big fear of getting naked in front of a younger man? Completely unfounded. I started to shake when Airport Boy took off my sundress in our hotel room. Had he ever seen a woman my age nude? How could I stand to be skin-to-skin with a body far more perfect than mine? I had given birth to eight-pound, full-fucking-term babies. I'd nursed them, too, and at times by breasts looked (from my view at least) like wet paper towels. "You have a spectacular body," he told me instead, running his hand over the cellulite on my stomach that I despised. That night I learned that younger men who seek older women accept our physical flaws—they don't expect perfection in someone 20 years their senior. These men taught me to see my body through a positive, decidedly male lens, to focus on the pretty parts (and we all have them) rather than the flaws that we all have too, whether you're 19, 29 or 59.
I even found the pillow talk lighter, easier and more intellectually stimulating, because a younger man's world view differs so vastly from the pressures of my 20-something kids, annual colonoscopies, 401K balance and mortgage payments. They have simple financial problems, like "Can I borrow a few quarters for the parking meter outside?" or "Do you have any advice on consolidating my student loans?"
Everything feels simpler with younger men. Men under 40 seem less threatened by assertive women; they grew up with them. They like cheap beer instead of expensive wine. They don't snore (as much). Leftovers a 55-year-old would scoff at look good to them. Their erections NEVER last more than four hours. Their hard-ons end the old-fashioned way and 45 minutes later they are ready for more.
But what I enjoy most about younger men is not the sex, or the cliché that they make me feel young again—because they don't. Younger men make me feel old, and to my delight, I like that. I feel valuable around younger men, precisely because I am wiser and more experienced in life, love and between the sheets.
I know I'll never end up with one for good. The naked truth is we don't have enough in common to last. One recently put it exactly right when he told me, "I love this, but there's always gonna be a glass ceiling between us." That lack of permanence, the improbability of commitment and "forever," doesn't mean I can't pick up a tip or two about self-esteem, and enjoy the magic of human connection with younger men. And vice versa. The experience can enrich us both, making us better partners for people our own ages down the road.
*My viewpoint is from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, because I am one. But change the gender identification and/or sexual orientation to whatever works for you and let me know if the same advice holds true. Thank you.