Credit Matters

Sheila Murphy
September 25, 2023

In the movie Working Girl, Kathryn steals the idea for an M&A transaction from her secretary Tess. Tess obtains credit for her idea in the film when Kathryn cannot articulate her inspiration for the deal. In real life, that does not always happen.

And credit matters. It impacts career opportunities, trajectories, as well as compensation. Moreover, your management, colleagues, and clients should recognize your intellectual capital.

Often, these episodes don’t occur behind closed doors but rather right in front of you. You are in a conference room and raise a possible course of action. And there is no reaction, and the conversation continues. Then someone else raises the same idea, and it is like the heavens have opened up, and people applaud the person who repeated your thought for their ingenuity.

This behavior happens so often to women by men that a new term “hepeat” has been coined. A hepeat occurs when a man repeats an idea that a woman initially raises.

There are a few techniques that you can use to ensure that you receive appropriate credit

Technique 1: Reclaim Your Idea

When someone repeats the idea, wait until they are finished and then take it back. You want to do this in a very professional non-confrontational way. Here are two ways:

  • Jim, thanks for bringing up my idea again—I agree that it seems like the right course. I want to elaborate on one point.
  • Sam, I like how you expanded on the idea I raised earlier. If I may, I would like to take a moment to discuss how this could play out.

Technique 2: Use Allies

In some cultures, this is a pervasive problem. During President Obama’s administration, the women who worked in it saw this happen constantly. So they banded together to speak up for each other when it happened. This approach is effective and practical because we are often better advocates for others than ourselves.

Even if you do not have a formal pact, speak up when you see this happen.

Technique 3: Clear and Strong Language

When you are offering an idea, use strong and definitive language. Be direct and assertive, and own your idea.  

Don’t say this: Well, I huh have been thinking maybe we could consider x…

Say this: I recommend that we do x because ….

If the other person takes the credit behind closed doors, you should have an open conversation with the person to allow them to correct the situation. If not, you should take steps to fix it yourself. If you enable the issue to go unaddressed, it will happen again.

Remember self- advocating is a form of self-care. You are saying to the world that you insist on getting credit for your value and ideas. And there is a cost to your career, compensation, and confidence if you do not speak up.


Want to learn more about how to become the in-house leader you are meant to be?

Check out Sheila's 10 Tips for In-House Counsel Struggling to Advance.

In this guide, Sheila shares her time-tested tips for in-house counsel to release fear, jump-start your career, and propel towards promotion.

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