Imagine pouring your heart and soul into a project at work, sacrificing weekends, and fine-tuning every detail to perfection. Then comes the moment of recognition. Weeks of dedication and hard work has come to this. It’s your chance to bask in the glory. But as the spotlight brightens, you find yourself standing in the shadows of your success.
You sit in the meeting room, surrounded by colleagues applauding the project’s success, but their accolades are directed elsewhere. Your boss commends someone else for the brilliant execution. Your words, your ideas, your sleepless nights, and the smile that should be on your face —all culminating in someone else’s triumph. What the entire heck.
For some, this scenario is not hypothetical; it mirrors reality. Issues like credit stealing, lack of recognition, and collaboration challenges aren’t uncommon in the workplace. Whether it’s an imbalanced group project with one person shouldering the bulk of the workload or a blatant “copy and paste” of a meticulously crafted report, shamelessly attributed to someone else’s byline, having your hard work snatched away is infuriating.
In such situations, it’s hard to know what to do. It’s unclear whether voicing concerns is advisable or if silence is the better strategy and what might be done to prevent repeated offense. “Navigating this reality requires a nuanced approach,” advised organizational psychologist Dr. Adrienne Bradford. “When addressing coworkers taking credit for your work, strong communication is key, but it must be handled with care and strategy.”
ESSENCE consulted the DEI expert and workplace strategist, who shared -— in her own words, valuable advice on how to proactively prevent such incidents from happening and what to do if a coworker takes credit for your work.
Establish a Clear Record of Contributions
You should be regularly updating your boss, project members, and other key contributors about the status of projects you are working on. I recommend providing all updates in writing as often as necessary to establish a clear record of your contributions and involvement.
Ensure that you are documenting in a timely, detailed fashion. Keep a record of emails, Slack or Teams communications, meeting notes, and any other items that can explicitly detail your contributions.
Pro Tip: These items serve a dual purpose; they also come in handy when you need to advocate for yourself during performance conversations and when it’s time to ask for that next raise or promotion.
Build a Network of Internal Allies
Let’s face it. We won’t always be in the room when our ideas and contributions are being co-opted. It’s important to build a strong internal network within your company —a group of individuals who can potentially speak to your work in your absence.
Focus on building strong cross-functional relationships with all project team members, including those who sit in other departments or on different teams. Update them on projects you are working on and key outcomes and deliverables you are responsible for. Make sure to also share with them your wins.
Pro Tip: The more people who are aware of your impact, the harder it is for others to take credit for your hard work.
Confront Credit Appropriation Head-On
If a specific person is consistently taking credit for the work you produce, consider pulling them aside for a private conversation. Before this discussion, take some time to process the inevitable negative emotions that are bound to occur when dealing with this type of situation. To ensure clarity and effectiveness, jot down your thoughts beforehand, focusing on the facts surrounding the situation.
The objective is to establish a constructive dialogue that identifies the problem and seeks a solution. If the person admits fault, discuss corrective measures, such as both of you addressing the manager to rectify the record.
Pro Tip: If you are currently working with a therapist or career counselor seek their guidance in preparing for this conversation. Their expertise can provide valuable insights on how to approach this challenging discussion with poise and effectiveness.
Involve Supervisors and Leadership
Direct communication doesn’t always work, unfortunately. You may need to loop in leaders to assist you in navigating this sticky situation. Start by scheduling a constructive meeting with your immediate supervisor or team leader.
Prepare for the meeting by drafting a concise overview of the issue, highlighting specific instances and their impact on your work. When explaining the situation, try not to dwell on the offense but present your concerns in a solutions-oriented manner. Ask for guidance on resolving it, and be sure to express your commitment to maintaining a positive work environment.
Pro Tip: In preparation for the meeting, take some time to review the organizational mission and goals. Be sure to align your case with the company’s stated values. This thorough preparation makes it easier for leadership to support your efforts in resolving the situation.
Document with HR
In cases of repeated credit misattribution, you may need to file an official complaint with human resources. Unfortunately, Black women routinely face compounding challenges in the workplace that are rooted in gendered racism which makes navigating workplace dynamics increasingly difficult. If you suspect discrimination is a factor in how your work is being credited, consulting with a legal professional or an organization like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for guidance may be worthwhile.
Pro Tip: Keep a detailed record of dates, individuals involved, and the specific projects or contributions affected. This comprehensive documentation can serve as valuable evidence in support of your case.
Dealing with stolen work is unpleasant, and rectifying the situation isn’t any easier. There’s no gentle approach. As Dr. Bradford notes, “Some things are going to be hard to hear no matter how we say them.” Conveying certain truths may be challenging, but preparation, documentation, and focus on facts bolster your case when handling such issues.