The New Soft War On Women: No Credit Where It's Due

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.

This program aired on October 16, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.


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