Why women don’t get the credit

You may have read my blog last week
What do you do when someone else takes credit for your work?

I had quite a few comments on this so am expanding the theme this week. There are lots of reasons why others get the credit for your work. One of them is because you let it happen – probably without realising what you are doing (or not doing).

Here’s another reason, if you are a woman.

Many years ago I read an excellent book by Deborah Tannen “Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work”.

For some reason I could only get hold of a recording on tape so I listened to it in my car. I remember being open-mouthed at some of the revelations. Here’s the worst one:

People do not think ideas come from women

Deborah Tannen observed and recorded a business meeting, which included both men and women. She asked the participants individually afterwards who had had the ideas. All of them named a man, with the exception of that man and one woman.

Both of these said it was the woman who had had the key idea.

Deborah was surprised at this as she thought it was the man who had had the ideas herself. However, when she reviewed her notes, she was shocked to discover it was, in fact, the woman who had first voiced the key idea. The man had then repeated it. All the others in the meeting thought it was his idea – even though they had been there when the woman came up with it.

Very interestingly even though the man involved was quite clear it wasn’t his idea he still got the credit for it.

It turns out that this is commonplace. I’ve certainly seen it happen.  I bet you have too.  Deborah Tannen’s point was that this is not intentional (she herself had made the same mistake). It’s how many people, both men and women, perceive the situation.

Does it matter if people claim credit for you ideas?

Yes. Let’s imagine you need a creative person to join a team. If you pick a person who has had the credit for ideas but is not really the source you have now lumbered yourself with someone who is not up to the job.

How can you make sure people know the ideas are yours?

You need to let people know. For this you need a consistent strategy. Many people are not good at this, but it is very important.  You don’t need to make a big thing of it, but you do need to just let it be known what you are responsible for.

Notice your language

For a few days, notice how you talk about your work and your achievements. Do you even talk about them? How do people know what you have achieved?

Review what you have been saying

Ask yourself how anyone would know what value you have added recently. If there is no way for them to find out, you need to start at least giving them some clues.

Easy ways to take credit

Simple things like saying “When I was investigating X I discovered Y, which is why I chose the red….”

“This tool works really well, so I used it when I was putting together the plan for X”

There is no need to say; “I am the greatest” or anything daunting like that. Just stick to the facts instead of keeping them to yourself.

Make sure you give credit where it is due

The other key thing that we all need to do is to make sure that we assign credit where it’s due – and as Deborah Tannen points out, this is not as easy as you might think.

So when you come across a good idea or piece of work, make sure you find out who was really responsible for it and check the details, then give credit.

What to do when someone really behaves badly

Here’s a true story – something that happened to me may years ago.
I was walking past the desk of a manager one day. His colleague asked him
“Where are you going to put these new machines? There’s no room in your area.”
“Well,” Replied the manager, “it was difficult, but I’ve persuaded Nancy to move her machines.”
The other manager responded with an impressed raise of his eyebrows. “Wow.”
“Yes, and you know how difficult she is.”

I was furious. I had actually come to him with the idea and volunteered to move quite a bit of my area round to accommodate him.

“EXCUSE ME RON, I THINK IT WAS MY IDEA TO MOVE THE MACHINES AND I VOLUNTEERED TO DO IT, THANK YOU.” I said in a very loud (Hermione Granger-type) voice as his whole face reddened like an over-ripe tomato and walked off before he could respond.  I heard applause from the other side of the office. It was my boss.

I was very surprised at what Ron’s behaviour. But my boss told me he did it all the time, he’d just never been caught out before.


What do you do when someone else takes credit for your work?

Have you ever had this problem? Some other colleague getting the credit for what you did and the results you achieved? It’s very annoying isn’t it?

A client asked me for some help on how to tackle this problem without causing unnecessary unpleasantness.

Manipulative behaviour

First of all it is a good idea to define the behaviour you are dealing with. This kind of behaviour is manipulative behaviour. When someone takes credit for your work, it’s dishonest. This distinguishes it from bullying, for example, which is unpleasant, but it is straightforward.

It only thrives because you allow it to happen (or don’t even notice it is happening). With manipulative behaviour you have to make it clear that you know what is going on.

My client explained that his colleague had copied down all his notes on several of his research experiments and it was clear that the colleague was going to claim they were his.

So here are some options for you.

How to tackle it in your performance review

Casually mention the number of experiments you have done and refer to them in a way that makes it clear they were yours:

“I’ve completed 72 of these experiments, including using the XYZ process and 17 different types of solvent. Is that what you were looking for?”

You then ask about some specific details of the work, to check them with your manager. Things that only someone who had done the work personally would know about:
“I was wondering about experiment 32. I had a slightly strange reaction at the point when I added the AXZ compound. Have you come across that before?”

How to tackle the individual directly

With a sweet, innocent smile, you say something like:
“I noticed that some of the experiments I did seem to have accidentally been assigned to you in the results. What’s the procedure for correcting mistakes like that?”

When you have the answer, you respond with:
“These things happen. It’s no problem to get it corrected. I’m sure it’s just a one-off thing and won’t happen again.”

If you need to confront the individual, use the King Arthur technique.

Here’s what happens when King Arthur is lying mortally wounded after the Battle of Camlann. Sir Bedivere is with him. Arthur asks Bedivere to cast his sword, Excalibur, into the lake. Bedivere takes the sword and goes off to the  shore to carry out Arthur’s wishes, but can’t bear to throw the sword in.

When he returns to the dying Arthur’s side, Arthur asks Bedivere if he has thrown the sword into the water. Sir Bedivere says that he has. Arthur then asks him what happened. Sir Bedivere says that he saw the waves lapping on the shore.

Arthur then knows that Bedivere is lying and tells him to go back and throw the sword in.

But Bedivere still can’t do it. When he returns to Arthur and Arthur asks him again what happened when he threw the sword in, Bedivere again tells Arthur that he saw the water lapping on the shore.

For the third time Arthur tells him to go back and throw the sword into the water. This time, Bedivere casts Excalibur into the lake and, before it hits the water, a hand reaches out, catches the sword and then descends back into the lake.

This time when Arthur asks him what happened, Bedivere tells Arthur of the hand that caught the sword and Arthur is convinced he has really completed his task.

You can use the same kind of questions

As you have completed these things yourself, you know what really happened. This enables you to ask your colleague questions that only you know the answers to. You may have to ask about the more obscure aspects of what you have achieved, but don’t worry, sooner or later, they will be caught out.

This is usually much more effective than simply accusing your colleague of steeling your work. Especially if you do it in front of witnesses.

For more about how to use questions in difficult situations, get the booklet “Questions Made Easy”


Do you need SuperNanny?

You’ve seen them, those uncontrollable children who scream and shout, throw tantrums and make life a misery for everyone they know.

But you’ve also seen SuperNanny, so you know that the children only behave that way because of the way the parents behave.

Most problems boil down to the system. If there is a problem, it’s a problem with the system.

It’s the same in many situations. You get the results you do because of the way your system is set up. If you set up the system and the structure correctly, you will automatically get the results you want.

SuperNanny to the rescue

I recently helped a client with his 8 year old daughter. Her behaviour had become very poor. She would not go to bed or do what she was asked to and bedtime would go on for hours.

We told her that, if she did not go to bed when asked, she would spend eight minutes in a room on her own reflecting on her behaviour.

She didn’t go to bed so we followed through. She didn’t like it. It took 10 goes till she finally ran out of ideas and steam.

A new girl

But what a difference. I really admire the family for putting in the effort to get this result. Everyone in the family is happier, there are no more ghastly evenings with endless arguments about not going to bed.

The trouble is, now comes the even harder bit – keeping it up. If they don’t keep it up all the hard work will be wasted and they will have let their daughter down.

A new structure

The structure has changed, and because of that, the behaviour has changed and the results have changed.

The site manager

In an apparently completely different situation, a client told me about a manager who reports in to her. “He has the wrong attitude.” she said.
Now I never like to hear that word, “attitude”. It’s lazy. When I asked for more details it turned out that this man is good at keeping things running but doesn’t like change. He always comes up with problems when he is told he must implement a new change.

But when I looked at how the manager was told about the changes he needed to implement, it was clear why he wasn’t happy. A few modifications and the “attitude” was no longer a problem.

And here again, it’s very important to keep up the new behaviours and system, otherwise, you will get the same problems back again.

For more on implementing change, see this blog. How to avoid mistakes when implementing change

Difficult behaviours

You get difficult behaviours (and so difficult people) when you deal with people in a way that makes it easy for them to behave that way. Change your behaviour and theirs will change too.


Vital thinking skills for top people

Do you watch tennis? If you do, you may be familiar with John McEnroe, who used to be the bad boy of tennis with his famous line “You cannot be serious!” Which he used whenever a judgement went against him.

These days he has calmed down a bit and makes an insightful and interesting commentator.

As I watched Andy Murray win his match at Wimbledon, McEnroe commented at one point that the mark of a really good player was someone who was cool-headed enough to be able to change their strategy when things got really tough.

When things are tough

This is a vital point. When things are not going your way and you are feeling threatened or frightened, long-term thinking is much more difficult than usual. This is because your brain likes to focus on you immediate survival in these situations.

So you tend to respond with knee-jerk reactions instead of being proactive. You see new information as a threat and can be blind to opportunities.

Managing difficult change

During a workshop with a publicity department on managing change years ago, I described these responses to them in serious tones. The more serious I got, the more they laughed. I asked them what was so funny. “You’ve just described our senior management team perfectly.” Responded the director.

A vital skill for senior managers

More than ever, this skill is something that senior managers need to have. Sadly, the evidence is that many of them don’t have it. You can tell if you see your company lurching from one crisis to another, making the same mistakes time and time again, with the directors making short-term decisions and reacting instead of taking control.

The prognosis for companies with directors lacking these crucial skills is not good.

A good place to start

Keep the senior team focussed on the long-term goals and objectives. Just like all the other objectives, these still need to be SMART.  Keeping your eye on these can help, but you also need people with the crucial skill of being able to set goals and objectives when they are under threat.

For more help with this, contact us +44 (0)1483 811418