As a black woman in the working world, no matter the industry, there was probably a time (or five) that our work was attributed or distributed to someone else or flat out ignored. Maybe our boss took the credit for our work or gave it someone else. I recall a time I had been working with a new hire on two of her projects. In a big meeting, the VP of our department congratulated her on her work following her presentation. Then he thanked two men in the room for working with her and bringing her up to speed. They looked confused as they looked at each other, then they looked at me. They hadn’t worked with her at all on the project and they knew it…so did the VP. Maybe your hard work was distributed to others. Meaning, you did all of the heavy lifting but all of a sudden your boss was thanking you and two other people who had limited contributions, if any, to the project. This happened to me when I was working on a complex project that was a single-person task but required several subject matter experts. I asked one for about three hours of work over several months of the project. The next thing I know, my boss is continually thanking me and him for our work on the project, “Nile and Frank have been doing such great work on this project”. Nope, just Nile. Frank helped and he was thanked, but nope, just Nile. Whereas when that same boss thanked a white person for their work, she garnered all of the kudos despite having a team of people who executed several tasks, i.e. “Samantha and team”. Hmmm…
This is a story that happens to women more oft than men, and even more to black women. We can’t speak up because we’re perceived as aggressive. Often it’s assumed we don’t even have the credentials for our job. I can’t tell you often I heard the question “you have an MBA?” expressed with surprise. Yep, it’s right there in the job description. How can we ensure we’re not just at the table, but when we produce we get the proper credit for our work? Well, here’s how.
1. Talk, Talk, Talk About Your Project
No one likes a chatty Kathy, but seriously, talk about your project more than you think is appropriate. Find ways to build it into the conversation and be sure that whenever there is an opportunity to present at a staff meeting that you are first to volunteer. Highlight your success during your informational interviews and team meetings. The more people who associate a project or outcomes with you, the less likely you are to have the credit attributed or distributed to others. For example, those two men who received credit for my work knew from our discussions it was me which is why they looked at me. And, incidentally, so did several of the leaders in the room. Unfortunately, while this may prevent your boss from attributing your work to someone else, it may not stop them from ignoring your contributions altogether. Be your own best advocate. This is where having a sponsor comes in handy! They will speak of your good works and amplify your brand even when you’re not in the room. The only caveat here is to be careful who you talk to one-on-one about your ideas. Only use people on your personal board of directors or colleagues you trust to be thought partners.
2. Document, Document, Document Your Project
The same manager who was distributing my work to Frank was not so keen to recognize my work in other areas either. I mean at all. He didn’t even put my completed goals/tasks/projects in my performance review. I had documented progress against my goals all year and whipped them out as a reminder. Sometimes a manager will genuinely forget your contributions and sometimes it’s intentional. Either way, if you have receipts to back up your position the “why” doesn’t matter. If your manager apologizes for the oversight, great. They are likely to update their evaluation. If they don’t apologize, it may have been intentional and this would be a good time to start coming up with your exit plan. Regardless, take the time every week or a few times a month to document dates, times, places, etc. Also, it feels good to look back over your accomplishments throughout the year. Use your annual review to show up and show out.
3. Confront And Ask For Your Due
Okay, I might have thrown you for a loop with the word “confront”. Confrontation is inevitable here. While the word has a negative connotation, it can be done in a way that is both professional and yet gets your point. You will have to address it directly if you want the situation to change. In the example where my VP gave credit for my work to two men, I later addressed this with him. To provide context, the trust between us had been broken long before this moment. I made the case that I wasn’t getting adequate recognition for my work. When he denied that, I brought up this incident as an example. He said it was an oversight. He didn’t mean to say that. I went on to highlight the fact that the person I worked with sent two emails to him citing my work with her that he had not acknowledged. Again, put it to oversight. While he never publicly corrected the record on this item, he was careful to give me credit for my work going forward. Was it an uncomfortable conversation? You bet! He was on notice that it was unacceptable behavior, whether or not he liked me. In the end, because I had done #1 and #2 so effectively, he was the one who came out looking bad as other people began to confront him on my behalf.
These three tips will work whether it’s your boss or a colleague. Invisibility is one of the challenges of black women advancing at work. Our contributions are not as visible. But even when they are, they are discounted. This factor may be contributing to black women leaving the workforce to start their own businesses. Check out our review of Executive Presence for more information on how to build your personal brand at work. If you found this post helpful, please share, mention #BlackEVEolution, and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Google+. We know you’re looking for more great content like this. Connect with us now to receive original and informative content that will help you be healthy, wealthy, wise and woke.