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.