Career Woman

Stolen ideas: What to do if your ideas are being stolen


This guide outlines the annoyance of repeatedly stolen ideas, how to call it out — and how to tell if it might be sabotage.

Ever had this experience? You’re in a meeting, you introduce a great new idea, but nobody seems to notice. Minutes later, a man repeats your idea, and everyone says ‘What a great idea’. Er, yes, the idea is great, it’s just that it’s yours and not only are you not getting any credit, someone else is.

What gives? ‘Hepeating’, that’s what.  Hepeating, a twist on ‘repeating’, was a term coined in response to the frustration women in feel in having their ideas stolen in meetings. If you’ve had this experience, you’re not alone. Even very successful women have the experience of having their ideas ignored or stolen. Julie Bishop, while she was still Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, called it out when she declared that the days of allowing men to take credit for women’s ideas were over.

You can help change this pattern by becoming a ‘micro-sponsor’. A micro-sponsor shows how to respond when ‘hepeating’ occurs. If you notice that someone is not being given credit for their idea, redirect the credit back to them. When micro-sponsors notice ‘hepeating’, they:

  • Divert attention back to the person who generated the idea.
  • Identify the person as the owner of the idea.
  • Acknowledge the merits of the idea.
  • Allow airtime to the originator to expand on the idea.
  • Ask others for their views.

If ‘hepeating’ is familiar to you, name it and suggest a protocol for how to interact in meetings so that everyone’s ideas are acknowledged.

  • Give permission to call out the behaviour and say why you are.
  • Include a no-interruption rule, so everyone gets a chance to pitch their ideas.
  • Emphasise turn-taking and collaboration.

The greatest value of micro-sponsorship comes from the standard that team leaders set. If you are a team leader, what’s your standard?

If you feel that your ideas are stolen, not noticed or not recognised, you can advocate for yourself. There are four ways you can call it out:

  1. Formulate your idea clearly. Take the time to formulate and express your idea clearly. Slow down your speaking rate. Summarise your idea, repeat it so that your audience has time to hear it.
  2. Claim your idea as your own. You can do this if you’ve thought through your idea before sharing it. For example, ’This is my idea….. What do you think?’ or ’I’ve been thinking through the way we approach x …. That’s my contribution to how we approach it.’ Use ‘I’ and ‘my’.
  3. Hold your audience’s attention. Show your enthusiasm for your idea and use that enthusiasm to create energy and hold attention. Also try increasing the volume of your voice slightly and use more expansive gestures.
  4. Ask for feedback on your idea. Finish your idea by asking for feedback.

If you’re interrupted partway through your idea, what can you do?

  • Stay calm. Breathe.
  • Take back attention. As soon as you can, revert to your unfinished idea. ’Let me finish that idea I started just a couple of minutes ago. […]’, ’I didn’t quite get to the end of my idea to… I’ll summarise my thinking […] and let me finish with […]’
  • Try the ‘broken record’ technique. Repeat the idea… and repeat…

If, a few minutes later, someone else picks up your idea without acknowledging it, reclaim your idea. Start by thanking the person for picking up on your idea. Acknowledge any improvements they’ve made. Identify any omissions that you think are important. Repeat your idea.

Not paying attention to women’s voices deprives organisations of valuable ideas. When women suggest new ideas, they can be seen as challenging the system; team leaders view them as less loyal and are more likely to discount their suggestions.

All team members have their part to play in better managing conversations. Everyone can support the generation and recognition of ideas from all team members. And of most value are team leaders who get it. The greatest value comes from the standard that team leaders set. I encourage team leaders to better understand, attune to and manage the hidden dynamics of conversations that diminish women’s voices.

Is it sabotage when you are the victim of stolen ideas?

If you notice that your coworker is claiming your stolen ideas as his or taking credit for your work, be aware that this is a strong indication that he is perhaps trying to sabotage you. By taking credit for your work, he creates an air of distrust about you and your professional abilities. That way, it makes your boss and other coworkers wonder if you’re really doing your job.  At the same time, when the situation is reversed and something goes wrong, he throws the responsibility at you.

If someone is trying to tarnish your reputation and professional image, some sort of damage control is essential. So, make sure your boss and co-workers know your work so that they have minimal conditions to judge you. Be an active participant in meetings and always find out about what’s new in the projects you participate in. This is a great way to show everyone that that colleague is trying to bring you down without getting into a direct confrontation with him.  

Competitiveness is an element present in the work environment. A healthy competitiveness serves as a motivation for employees to achieve better performance at work. But when one employee tries to undermine another’s reputation and image by stealing their ideas to excel at work, it’s a clear sign that competitiveness at work has gotten out of hand.

About Dr Karen Morley

Dr Karen Morley is an authority on the benefits of gender balanced leadership and how to help women to succeed at work. She helps leaders understand the value of inclusive leadership to organisational as well as social outcomes. She is the author of Beat Gender Bias: How to play a better part in a more inclusive world; Lead like a Coach: How to Make the Most of Any Team; and Gender-Balanced Leadership: An Executive Guide. Find out more at

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