Boss Lady

It’s time for women to get credit for their ideas


Even successful and powerful women have their ideas ignored or stolen. While she was still Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop declared that the days of allowing men to take credit for women’s ideas were over. If only! She’s certainly experienced the challenge of having her good ideas stolen. Although I expect that her powerful voice may experience greater amplification outside her ministerial portfolio than it did within it.

The phenomenon is so prevalent that it is bulking out the dictionary: Professor Iris Bohnet has referred to it as hepeating. Which needs to be attributed to astronomer and physics professor Nicole Guigiucci who attributes it to a conversation with a group of friends bemoaining their shared experiences. It replaces last year’s manterruption. And mansplaining seems to have taken a foothold in the lexicon. Unfortunately.

What’s changed over the last several years is that even when women’s voices are shut down, ignored or their ideas are stolen, women are responding and claiming back their ownership and airtime. And being supported to do that. It shouldn’t be down to individual women to respectfully attribute their own ideas. To themselves. What is wrong with THAT picture?

Rather than let women’s contributions be invisible or stolen, you can help out by noticing what’s happening and attributing ideas back to their originator. That’s what microsponsors do. Microsponsors notice hepeating, they don’t let it go by. The good news is that anyone can be a Microsponsor.

How to be a microsponsor and make sure others get credit for their ideas

Start by diverting attention back to the idea, and then acknowledge its merits. Make sure you identify the owner of the idea. Then ask others for their views.

If this behaviour characterises your team’s dynamics, name it and suggest a protocol for how to interact in meetings so that everyone’s ideas are heard and acknowledged. Lead by calling out the behaviour as unhelpful to the team, and explain why it is. Introduce a no-interruption rule, so everyone gets an equal chance to pitch their ideas. You may need to agree to a team protocol so that everyone pays attention to sharing turn-taking, and to the benefits of collaboration. The greatest value of microsponsorship comes from the standard that team leaders set.

There still may be times when you’re the only one who notices you’ve been hepeated. You may have to be your own microsponsor: here’s how to make sure you get credit for your ideas.

1. Formulate your idea clearly.

In the conversational flow, ideas may not always be expressed clearly and may not be fully developed in their first expression. Slow down your speaking rate slightly.  Summarise your idea, repeat it yourself, before anyone else gets a chance, so that your audience connects you and your idea.

2. Claim your idea.

Claim the idea as your own. I like the idea of book-ending your idea with your claim to ownership. For example: “This is my idea .. [present your 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.” Even if you’ve missed the chance for book-ending this time, finish your idea with your claim. Use the “I” word.

3. Hold your audience’s attention.

Show your enthusiasm for your idea. Don’t shrink away from it. Use your enthusiasm to create energy, to hold attention. And try these non-verbal tactics to go with your words: increase the volume of your voice slightly and use slightly more expansive gestures. Take up more space.

4. Ask for feedback on your idea.

Keep working the idea, keep the focus with you, and then let a thousand other suggestions flourish.

5. If your idea is hepeated, take attention back.

As soon as you can, revert back 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 quickly summarise my thinking ….. and let me finish with ……”

6. Try the ‘broken record’ technique.

Repeat the idea. And repeat the idea. If anyone else takes ownership of your idea without acknowledging it, try this:

7. 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. For example, “Thanks Sam. I’m pleased that you’ve picked up on my idea to …. I like the [addition] you’ve suggested. I also liked my original point to …. I notice that you’ve left that out. It’s important, because …. What does everyone think?”

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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