How to own your ideas in the workplace
Ciara Bush is a writer for BUILT BY GIRLS, which prepares the next generation of female and non-binary leaders to step into their power and break into their careers. WAVE is the backbone of BUILT BY GIRLS: it’s a 1:1 matching program that connects high school and college students with top tech professionals across the country. For more information and to sign up check out builtbygirls.com.
There are enough obstacles to advancing in the workplace without having to battle our colleagues.
We all face that fear of sharing ideas or opinions, and even when we do, we feel compelled to qualify it with, “well this is just my opinion” or “I’m not sure if this is a good idea but” (but that’s a topic for a different article). So there is nothing more frustrating than hearing an idea you previously shared come from a confident co-worker’s mouth like it was theirs and theirs alone.
Most of the time this is innocently done by others, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. In a case I can specifically remember, an idea I had was glossed over in a meeting, and then in the same meeting shared by a male colleague. Everyone went starry-eyed for his idea, which left me puzzled, wondering how I could have delivered it better to get the same reaction.
Turns out, I was fighting against things bigger than my delivery like many women in the workplace. Since we know this often occurs, what can we do to fight it? It might feel petty to want the attention, but just remember that in our capitalist society, this recognition is what gets you promotions, raises, and even helps you keep your job. It’s not petty to want credit where credit is due.
Here are three strategies to help you get started on creating a work culture where you are recognized for your ideas and work:
Get it in writing
Often what makes it so challenging to fight when someone restates your idea in a meeting is that you can only rely on the memory of those who heard you before.
By creating a practice of putting your ideas into writing, you not only create a “paper” trail, but you also get the time and space to clearly articulate your idea the way you want.
Say you have a great idea for how the team can make sales pitches more efficiently. You want to create a couple of templated decks based on categories you see in the pitches. If this is something you are really interested in, don’t wait for the “right” moment to share it. Create an outline or find examples, and give yourself some dedicated solo-storm time to put some ideas together.
Now type that all up into an email to the relevant folks (including your manager) and hit send. Not only do you have a record of your idea being pitched, but you’ve also had the opportunity to really show off the quality of your work. Win-win.
Spread the word
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, another strategy is to make sure you mention your ideas to more than one person.
Having lunch with a coworker? Throw it out there. In a meeting with the relevant team? Make a pitch. Having your weekly check in with your boss? Add it to the agenda.
Not only does this make it clear that you are the originator of the idea, but it helps you build a team of people who can deliver relevant feedback and make your idea stronger. By spreading the word, you can help pressure-test your idea and start to get the important stakeholder support you need to make sure it is successful.
It’s also great practice for talking yourself up and pitching ideas when you’re not super confident (yet). With practice comes confidence, and hopefully the third time you pitch your awesome idea, you’ve got it down to a science.
Build an alliance
All great winning teams start with a great alliance. While you might be tempted to never share your ideas again or try to become more independent so you get more of the credit, a time-tested strategy is to work against this instinct.
Think about the women in the Obama administration who created a strategy of amplification to ensure their ideas were not only heard, but also given credit that was warranted. When one woman would share an idea, another would echo or amplify the idea by repeating it and giving credit to that originator.
For example, “I loved Maria’s idea on creating templates for our sales pitches. With Maria’s strategy, a next step could be to get some great graphic design to make them one of a kind.”
By coming together to support one another, it creates an echo and network that makes everyone stronger. Who in your office could you start this with? Have some honest conversations with your allies and accomplices to share your frustrations, and create a plan for how you will start to amplify each other’s work.
By creating these habits and building our confidence, we can not only advance our own careers, but hopefully be better allies to other folks in the workplace who share these experiences. So don’t forget to pay it back and forward, and really think about how others have contributed to your ideas and your success as well.
Read more information and tips in our Advice section