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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Starting with a little background, I am an anti-bullying advocate and have recently graduated from The Parent Leadership Training Institute, where as part of our studies we were asked to come up with a community project close to our hearts and put it into action. My cause was bullying, and I began a blog and Facebook page to address issues pertaining to all forms of bullying. Implementing this project was followed by a thre- minute speech to my peers, and, after all this, here is what I have learned about bullying.
Bullying makes people feel bad about themselves, leading to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem and even physical symptoms. The repercussions of bullying can cause people to miss school or work as well as countless other negative side effects.
I have been bullied both at school and at work, and I know of others who have suffered the same plight. It is not fun!
My first bullying experience was in seventh grade as a young teen. There was a group of three "mean girls" who harassed me and, I later found out, several of my friends; they thought it was funny to pick on others about their clothes, their looks or whatever else they could come up with (who knows). It felt awful at the time. Supposedly, I was chosen to get picked on because they claimed I bought my clothes at the Goodwill. That wasn't true, but really who cares? Why they were picking on me was never really the point. Luckily, after a while, the meanies went on to the next victim(s) like a never-ending cycle. I tend to think once a bully, always a bully, which goes to show how good a lifestyle that is, because those "mean girls" never amounted to much. In hindsight, I feel sorry for them. Watch the movie The Gift if you're really curious about what happens to bullies when they grow up.
And bullying was not just an issue when I was a teen, since then nothing much has changed. My own nephew was bullied in eighth grade, and he recently talked to me in depth about of how the bullying took a toll on him. Especially because I had the same experience, I could relate to him in ways that some others couldn't. Like reliving my own memories, I was incredibly broken up to hear how it made him feel.
Even worse than that, bullying does not end in the school yard. Employees are being bullied on the job at an alarming rate. When you are bullied on the job as an adult, it taken an even bigger toll. Further it doesn't just go away like those middle school "mean girls." Unless you can quit your job, you might just be stuck. There are all kinds of physical symptoms, stomach pains, migraines and even panic attacks. Beyond the physical, people's mental and emotional state is extremely sensitive to bullying, and as a result work performance might suffer. Furthermore, it might feel like there is no recourse, no one to believe you. You can hope that the HR Department is willing to listen and do something about it, but the whole process can be so disheartening. And in the hierarchical corporate environment, sometimes the bully seems to get ahead and you are left lagging behind in a subservient position. This is what happened to me as a victim of workplace bullying. It started with me being told by a co-worker that my boss was following me to the bathroom, staring down the hall whenever I left my desk to make sure I came right back to my seat. Then it was standing over me as I typed, ordering me to get in a car with them, not allowing me to sit somewhere if it wasn't within their sight. The list of offenses could go on endlessly. There were times I felt like I couldn't breathe. And then, the bully torturing me got a promotion. Like the character of Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, the classic bully is revered by her peers, despite the fact that all of her employees are terrified of her. Yet, she is in a role of high stature and praised as a bully. We live in a culture that is not only complacent in the existence of bullies, but one that actively allows them to thrive.
It makes you realize how unfair life can be. Of course, no one said that life would be fair; maybe you just assumed that bad people would not get ahead. But, they do. Even now, I cannot help but to shake my head in disbelief. I often wonder what makes a person feel the need to laud their power over another. Are they insecure? Were they bullied themselves? They must feel bad about themselves in some way? Do they feel the need to do this to make themselves look good? Whatever the reason, it certainly isn't nice at all. I have found myself at different times in my life standing up for people who have been bullied around me. And I certainly do not allow anyone to treat me in any way that I find disrespectful. I truly believe in karma, and I tell myself that at some point in time, the bullies will get it back in some way. I have seen it happen, and in the meantime, I just say to myself "What goes around, comes around."
Bullying shows no sign of slowing down, and in this day and age, it's even worse than I have experienced in the past. Cyber bulling, rumors, fist fights, knifes, guns and other forms of both mental and physical cruelty, it truly sickens me. I know that I cannot save everyone, but I try to be an advocate as much as possible and encourage others to do so as well. NO ONE SHOULD BULLIED! It is disgraceful to say the least. You should always practice grace as much as you can. With every person who chooses to do so, the world gets a little bit better. I will be writing more on this topic on a regular basis; I feel it helps to talk about this subject aloud and spread the word. and, if nothing else, be kind.