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At work I have a co-worker who frequently gives me credit for the accomplishments of my female colleague. I am acting primarily as a consultant on the project where as she and her team are the ones primarily responsible for the work. The person managing the project frequently credits me for ideas and results that came from her and her group in meetings. In smaller meetings, I try to make a point of crediting her and her team for the work wherever possible, but this is difficult when he does it in larger meetings. The larger meetings are more of a "presentation style" format where he will, in passing, credit me for work I did not do. The only way to correct the record in those meetings would be to wait until the end to awkwardly stand up and say "actually that passing remark you made wasn't me it was [my colleague]", so not really an option.

The project lead doesn't only give me credit for her ideas (though that is the most troubling), he also seems to generally give me credit I don't deserve. In ideation meetings, he will toss out an idea himself and then follow it up with "but I'm sure OP has already thought of that".

The whole thing is making me uncomfortable and I don't want my colleague thinking I'm stealing credit. I want to make sure he is assigning credit appropriately (particularly in the bigger meetings). Pre-covid, I might have tried "running into him" at the coffee machine and bringing it up in passing. Now however, we don't have any one-on-one type meetings where I could mention it (like I said, I'm just consulting) so if I wanted to bring it up I would have to schedule a meeting specifically to talk about this, which seems more confrontational than I would desire.

How do I get my this co-worker to distribute credit appropriately without causing friction or making him feel I don't appreciate his respect? This co-worker is considerably higher ranking than me, but he is also in a very different branch of the organization so there is no direct line to address this in the org level without getting senior leadership involved.

Note: I am asking this for my husband as he does not have a SO account, but I am reviewing.

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  • If you aren't comfortable saying something directly to the co-worker or correcting it in the moment, then it seems like the only option left is to somehow prevent these misunderstandings in the first place. Is there something you can do to promote your colleague so everyone knows the ideas are hers to begin with?
    – Kat
    Sep 23 '20 at 3:30
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    When it comes to giving credit for the other colleagues work, do they genuinely believe you came up with the idea, or do you suspect some politics at work?
    – AsheraH
    Sep 23 '20 at 4:54
  • @AsheraH I believe this person is acting in good faith though it is possible unconscious bias has a role. He seems to just generally think I am "the idea guy".
    – Barker
    Sep 23 '20 at 23:38
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I‘d suggest that you take a specific situation in one of those larger meetings.

As soon as he credits you, you raise your hand or - if this is normal behavior in those meetings - just jump in with something along the lines of

Thank you, Bob, and let me add that this approach was developed by Susan, and I am as fond of it as you are.

By thanking him, you acknowledge the compliment. Let’s assume that he doesn’t know any better and therefore genuinely attributes the idea to you.

Be sure to use ”and” instead of “but”. And will add to what has been said before, but will tend to reject or contrast it. You want to go along with your lead’s opinion and that add a tiny little correction. “Let me add” goes the same way and emphasizes this.

“and I am as fond as you” gets Susan a public praise as well, and directs the attention of the listeners back to the starting point, namely your lead’s credit for a good approach.

When you do this, make sure you talk loudly and understandably to everyone and include the group by looking first at Bob, then at Susan - maybe even make an inviting gesture with your arm towards her (do not point) - and look at people in the group, and then back to Bob. You may even stand up to further maximize to effect of your communication, if this is appropriate in this specific setting. These are nonverbal behaviors to support what you are saying.

Of course, I assumed a in-person-meeting (not a Zoom meeting).

Repeat that in the next session if it comes up again.

As a variation, you could add a factual detail and add Susan’s “ownership” to that, like

Bob, if I may add ( ... some technical detail ... ) ... and by the way, this is Susan’s design again, and I really appreciate it.

Hope this helps!

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  • Unfortunately there isn't really a way I could interrupt the presentation with out it being a big show. In the smaller meetings I do speak up, but in the larger meetings it is more of a "presentation to a crowd" where there is no interrupting or back and forth dialog. These are meetings where I would generally not be speaking at all even if I had something technical to contribute and instead it would be expected I bring it up after. Also, with Covid, these meetings are all on Zoom where I can't use body language to express myself.
    – Barker
    Sep 23 '20 at 23:36
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    To me "fond" is an emotional charged word that implies feelings of a personal nature. Chose some other word or phrasing.
    – MaxW
    Sep 29 '20 at 6:26
  • @Barker As your subtle approach has failed, you need to be more direct. Write your lead an email and point out the dilemma. Tell him that it is making you (not 'Susan') uncomfortable. I work closely with a colleague who for mental health reasons is not able to give presentations, so I present all our communal work and in my experience people don't mind to be advised of everyone's contribution in private and most do remember afterwards. Sep 30 '20 at 10:21
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What I see boiling just beneath the surface of this story is the roiling politics of a talented female in a male-dominated culture. I understand why you feel uncomfortable. So would I, if I were credited for someone else's contributions to the company or society or life in general. It's not right, it's unfair, and it's unjust. I feel very strongly that we should be "giving credit where credit is due" (Loretta Young, 1913-2000).

But there's another side to this issue. The token female. Have you discussed with this colleague the issue of public recognition/acknowledgement for her ideas? Does she want to risk becoming the company's "token female." To be a "token female" is to be

someone who is included in a group to make people believe that the group is trying to be fair and include all types of people when this is not really true

Or would she prefer to work in the background? "Token females" tend to be showcased at conferences and in business magazines for their "amazing female attributes" with little regard for their intellectual talent. Over the past century, women's experience demonstrates that the "establishment" cannot risk threatening the mediocre male ego dominating the business culture with overly brilliant women. Some of these women choose to be pioneers hammering at the glass ceiling while others prefer to contribute with their talents from behind the scenes.

You may want to find out which type your colleague is before you stir the company pot.

Unfortunately, I no longer have access to all the magazine articles I read over the years on which I base these arguments, though I experienced some of it myself, but I think these Wikipedia quotes on Tokenism in the Workplace support my claims:

Given the smallness of the group of token employees in a workplace, the individual identity of each token person is usually disrespected by the dominant group, who apply a stereotype role to them as a means of social control in the workplace.


In her work on tokenism and gender, professor Kanter said that the problems experienced by women in a typically male-dominated occupations were due solely to the skewed proportions of men and women in these occupations.

From: Men and Women of the Corporation, by Rosabeth Moss Kanter, 1993

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