It’s a scenario many women have experienced at work. You are in a meeting and it’s your turn to speak. You share an idea with your colleagues, only for it to be ignored — until a male co-worker pitches the exact same thing, and everyone loves it.
This is by no means a new phenomenon, but there is now a word to describe it – “hepeating.”
Coined by US astronomer and professor Nicole Gugliucci and her friends, hepeating is the process by which a man repeats something a woman has said, which may have fallen flat the first time around, and then receives credit for it.
And while it is true that anyone can experience hepeating, it is a problem most acutely felt by women in male-dominated workplaces.
“So many folks deny that this happens,” Gugliucci added on Twitter. “And yet so much evidence and research shows it happens to women AND black and brown men and women.”
It is well-known that mansplaining — when a man comments on or explains something to a woman in a condescending or over-simplified manner — can be incredibly frustrating.
But research has shown that hepeating isn’t just annoying, it can also have a seriously detrimental impact on women’s career progression.
“Where progression and promotion is based on innovation and forward thinking, women who experience ‘hepeating’ at work will struggle to develop in their career,” says Kate Palmer, associate director of advisory at the HR and employment law firm Peninsula.
“In a competitive market where businesses compete every day to produce the next big thing, those who push the business forward with new ideas will be high value; being unable to show value in this way can leave women demoralised, undermined and unengaged.”
Everyone wants to be recognised for doing a good job, to be able to earn promotions and move up in an organisation – and doing your homework and making your hard work known can help you get ahead.
Yet giving credit where credit is due is apparently easier said than done, especially when it comes to crediting women.
In 2017, researchers at the University of Delaware found that women get less credit than men at work, specifically when it comes to speaking up and being considered for leadership roles.
“We find that when men speak up with ideas on how to change their team for the better they gain the respect of their teammates,” said lead researcher Kyle Emich, adding that men were seen as appearing more knowledgeable when they spoke up over two separate studies.
Men who were more vocal were in turn more likely to be seen as best suited for leadership roles.
Crucially, though, the same was not true of women who spoke up.
“When women speak up with ideas on how to change the team for the better, they are not given any more respect than women who do not speak up at all, and thus are not seen as viable leadership options,” Emich said.
Essentially, the study suggests that men who speak up are consistently seen as leaders. For women, speaking up had little effect on whether they would be perceived as a leader.
So how can we combat this biased thinking in the workplace – and ensure women’s ideas are recognised?
“Speak up for yourself: don’t be afraid to make it known that you already voiced the idea when a . male colleague makes an attempt to ‘hepeat’,” says Palmer. “If you can, get your ideas down in an email and send them to your boss; written and time stamped evidence will show who had the idea first. Be sure to follow up quickly on your ideas too to set them in motion.”
Business coach Karen Kwong, head of RenOC Consulting, points out that this can be tricky, though.
“If one is raises the subject in public, such as in a meeting room with others present, it may look unprofessional and like a case of sour grapes,” she says. “Perhaps the best way is for you
to approach the ‘thief’ privately and ask them about it. Keep calm, state facts and ask them how
they came up with the idea.
“If they are not the idea originator, they will likely stumble along the way. Suggest that they own up or you may have to raise it with seniors. Again tricky, but if you have proof, that will help you.”