• by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett
  • 12

We’d like to believe that the workplace is fair. But it isn’t. An excerpt from a new book by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind Barnett. (Ed Yourdon/flickr)

A 36-year-old female media manager and two female colleagues created a huge and profitable news-gathering database system. A male colleague, who also worked on the team, took credit and is still consistently credited by the male management as the creator and the most knowledgeable person on the system.

The female manager added: “When he turned in something he worked on [that had] a problem, I was blamed. But when I turned in something I worked on and it was great, we were praised as a team.”

Another woman, an attorney, reported, “I worked on a project with a young male partner, where he oversaw my work and strategy. My hard work and strategic decision making led to our client winning and to significant attorneys’ fees in the case. When the young male partner reported to the shareholders of our success, I was only cc’d on the e‑mail and was not given any credit. The shareholders responded to the male partner’s success story with a ‘well done, young man,’ having no clue that it was me, and not the male partner, who should have been credited with the win.”

Pamela, now a history professor at a small college, was also not given the credit she deserved. She was originally hired to work at a large, prestigious urban university, a job she was thrilled to get. In her second year, she was given the assignment to produce a major report for the department with a male colleague. Pamela did the bulk of the research and writing for the report, which was very well received. But she noticed that people in her department just assumed that she had played a bit part in the process. Her colleague was a large, forceful man who had a knack for promoting his own accomplishments. He did nothing to disabuse the chair or other faculty members of their assumptions. Pamela quietly seethed. The man rose in status and was promoted to associate professor, while her rank stayed the same. Even when she received a major national award for a paper she wrote, few of her colleagues seemed to notice. Several years later, both she and her male colleague were scheduled to go up for tenure. He was encouraged, while she was told that the department would not support her candidacy. Reluctantly, she left the large university for the small college, in a less desirable area. Her salary is much lower, and her prospects for national attention much dimmer. Plus, she misses the city that had become her home.

These stories are sadly all too familiar. Women work hard, achieve the desired results — and men get the credit. New York University psychology professor Madeline Heilman and Michelle Haynes, now at UMass Lowell, have shown that when there is ambiguity about which member of a two-member, male-female team is responsible for the team’s successful joint performance, credit is far more often given to the male than the female team member.

Specifically, female members were rated as being less competent, less influential and less likely to have played a leadership role in work on the task. Both females and males fell into the trap of giving higher marks to the male team member.

Such stories surfaced again and again in interviews with working women around the U.S. Not only is the situation frustrating to the many women who find themselves not getting credit, but the problem will continue to grow. This is a serious issue because increasingly, companies are turning to team efforts as more creative and productive than solo work.

This situation also contributes to the phenomenon of “the invisible woman.” Jacki Zehner, a former Goldman Sachs partner, points to an article in Bloomberg Markets featuring a foldout page featuring 42 of the firm’s most prized ex‑partners: 41 of the photos are of white men.

Why, Zehner asks, were the many high-ranking female ex‑partners not mentioned? “The media in general, and this article in particular, had the opportunity to make women leaders visible and they chose not to. Our society does not merely fail to develop, reward, retain, and lift up women leaders, we have done the opposite. We perpetuate their invisibility.”

The lesson here for women? Be vocal in telling everyone how your leadership on the project you took part in was key to its success. If important people in your organization are addressing questions about the project only to your male partner, don’t be shy.

Chime in. If you don’t speak up, you lose.

This piece is excerpted from “The New Soft War on Women: How the Myth of Female Ascendance is Hurting Women, Men — and Our Economy” (Tarcher /Penguin) by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett. Release date: Oct. 17, 2013. Rivers is a journalism professor at Boston University, and Barnett is a senior scientist at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University.

Tags: Gender

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

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  • Femwithaclue

    All the examples show a particular type of guy and a woman more content to play the martyr than anything else. If she’s going to “quietly seeth” then don’t be surprised if someone walks all over you. Get over it. Stop whining. Do your job better than anyone else.
    Either that or STFU and stay out of the workplace.

    • austin_texas

      The double standard still applies. If women speak up, they are shamed and ostracized. And women are often guilty of promoting this very double standard.

  • Teri D

    My experience is that if a woman speaks up about her accomplishments, then she is grandstanding, — it’s the dual standard that needs to be addressed, not just women’s ability to talk about their accomplishments.

    That said, when I was praised at work for landing big deals, I always said thank you and nothing else. Most women would say “it was nothing, or it was the team… etc.” the minute you credit others with your success, this phenomena happens.

  • Arizona

    As an employer (woman owned) for over thirty years for professional consultants with higher degrees, I employed over 400 individuals and interviewed (whew) a thousand or so. Women with higher degrees and extensive relevant work experience consistently undersold themselves into lesser positions at lower salaries and inexperienced young men would confidently try to convince me that they were aptly equipped to do great hings and lead my company to unfathomable success. Over time, many of these women proved to be more tenacious, intelligent and loyal- justly financially rewarded. Nevertheless those men, often with the strength of their confidence alone, made selling and marketing breakthroughs I could not have expected. It was constantly a source of curiosity and sometimes disappointment that many women employees would defer their accomplishments and power to their male counterparts. It is a very complex condition.

  • gossipy

    So true. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, witnessing a lot of forward movement for women and equality. More recently, I found it upsetting to see that women news anchors have gone from wearing business clothing to cocktail dresses. This just represents the direction we are moving in. We need to change not only the way we raise our daughters, but the way we raise our sons. We’re taught to be nice girls while boys are taught to be aggressive.

    • BostonDad

      Agreed, bring back “Murphy Brown” !

      But seriously, this is still a major problem in all forms of workplace and also impacts anyone less pushy than the aggressive white male, including cooperative white males !

  • Ellie

    What on earth is new about this? Men have been working with women or for women and then taking all the credit for centuries.

  • MT

    And you know what? I promise that among those who chose to give credit to the males, a female was involved in that decision making. It’s women who keep women down, in my experience. Not so much men. Although I have noticed that men tend to support any woman who openly bashes and oppresses other women. I will say that about men.
    And what a joke about “chiming in” when you’re not given credit when due. If a woman takes credit for something, she is hated in a snap and her reputation is smited by any FEMALE who finds out she took such credit. That’s right. Any F-E-M-A-L-E. Rarely is it a man who takes issue with a woman’s ability to succeed. It’s usually just women who can’t stand other women doing well. Plain old fashioned jealousy.
    So when you say “society” in this article, please feel free to be more specific and just say the “female half” of society keeps women invisible and oppressed.

    • Stereotypes Diminish Us All

      Really? It’s always women who make life harder for other women? Never men? Statements like yours just show how much of the time people (yes, people in general, not just women or men) stereotype based on gender. It comes from both sides and the problem really is one in which society faces a number of issues. It’s true that women are part of the problem, but not the entirety. Maybe in your experience, you’ve seen it happen more from women, but I doubt you’ve experienced all the contexts in which this happens. Men and women can be equally discriminatory.

      • Sterotypes Diminish Us All

        Oh dear, I just realized I made a mistake. MT said “rarely” not “never”.

        I don’t know what your life experience is like, MT, but the women in my life are generally supportive of one another, and they are supportive of the men that I know. The same is true for the men that I know–they are supportive of other people of both genders. The men and women I’m friends with are generally pretty terrific people who treat others with respect and give credit where it’s due.
        However that doesn’t mean there aren’t patterns of behavior that lead to larger scale social problems such as the one reported here.

  • Mango Momma

    It isn’t about speaking up. In my job we look at complex issues around why our high tech products fail in the field. At least once a year, I will suggest something (often repeatedly) and it is dismissed by my male colleagues as if I hadn’t spoken. Later (sometimes months later) the same idea from a male is greeted as genius.

    I’m not a shy or quiet person at work by any means yet I feel like I am ignored for nothing more than the pitch of my voice. I’m also well aware that women are allowed fewer mistakes. A bold idea that fails, when coming from a man usually just reinforces how edgy he is and he gets “better luck next time.” A woman gets labeled as a person with “crazy ideas” and her future contributions questioned.

  • lindam313

    I believe that given the media images which I feel have become more derogatory and beauty focused since the 1970s, things have honestly become worse for women. I hear from young women about the lack of respect and struggles of being taken seriously from male colleagues – when young women put out ideas, apparently they are not good enough until offered up again a couple of months later by male colleagues. Women are still considered “nurturing” and moved into positions seen as more along those lines. The old stereotypes abound and I feel that as more women get into more occupations and threaten the status quo, the more the pushback is and the more women are ignored and shunted to the side. As the previous commenter said, if women speak up, they are called b’s or accused of grandstanding. I think women are thrown trinkets in the hopes that we’ll be shut up and stop reaching for real power. Pay attention women – there is a lot of fool’s gold out there disguised as real power and opportunity.