On a regular day at the office, the conference room can be a source of anxiety, agony even, for a woman trying to climb the corporate ladder. While sitting around a meeting table, there’s pressure for women to walk a very tenuous line: Speak up, but not too much; be assertive, but not threatening.
Most working women know what it’s like to be manteruppted (also known as having a male coworker talk over them or hijack their conversation), often without even realizing what he did. Oh, and there’s always the chance a man will blatantly take credit for an idea a woman already pitched: A phenomenon I like to call bropropriation.
“We speak up in a meeting, only to hear a man’s voice chime in louder. We pitch an idea, perhaps too uncertainly — only to have a dude repeat it with authority. We may possess the skill, but he has the right vocal cords — which means we shut up, losing our confidence (or worse, the credit for the work),” wrote Jessica Bennett for Time about the all-too-familiar experience.
When President Obama first took office, less than one-third of his top aides were women. Female staffers had to “elbow their way” into important meetings or risk being excluded completely, according to The Washington Post. Early on, the women say they realized they couldn’t break into the boys club alone — they needed to band together.
Whenever a woman at the table made a valuable contribution, the other women would make a point to bring it up again, giving credit to the woman who came up with it.
So they adopted a theory called “amplification.” Whenever a woman at the table made a valuable contribution, the other women would make a point to bring it up again, giving credit to the woman who came up with it. “This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own,” wrote the Post.
The concept of women raising each other up to reach success is, bafflingly, still a relatively novel idea. Women are taught from early adolescence to see each other as competition, whether it be for jobs, male attention, or just seeming more “together” than other women.
To feel discouraged by others’ achievements is, in my opinion, only natural. We’re taught to view success as a commodity, as a nonrenewable resource; if someone else has it, that means there’s less for us. But this rivalry feels especially vicious woman to woman, as if male and female prosperity exist in separate categories and we only have access to the latter.
We’re taught to view success as a commodity, as a nonrenewable resource.
In 2013, Ann Friedman coined the term “Shine Theory” to describe her belief that the accomplishments of other women didn’t inhibit her own goals, but rather brought her closer to achieving them. “I want the strongest, happiest, smartest women in my corner,” wrote Friedman for The Cut. “Pushing me to negotiate for more money, telling me to drop men who make me feel bad about myself, and responding to my outfit selfies from a place of love and stylishness, not competition and body-snarking.”
When President Obama’s female aides made a conscious effort to give other women in the room recognition — instead of just competing for it — actual, tangible change started to take effect. Obama called on more and more women top and junior aides, according to the Post. By Obama’s second term half of his aides were women, and half of all White House departments were lead by females—a night-and-day difference from the testosterone-heavy early days of the Obama administration.
You and I might not work in the White House, but we can still follow in the footsteps of White House women and adopt effective strategies to combat sexism at the office. Here’s how we start:
1. Actively pursue friendships with female co-workers you admire.
Friedman said she makes a point to connect with women, both at work and in her social circle, whom she identify as smart and powerful, even going as far as to pursue them the way she would a crush. By consciously building relationships with other women at the office, you’ll not only increase the number of wonderful people in your life, but also minimize female competition in your workplace. Let the boys fight — we have better things to do.
2. Adopt the ‘amplification’ strategy.
Whether you’re at a conference table or just passing by the water cooler, make a point to credit other women for their good ideas. Encourage them when they’re having a bad day or feeling insecure. This will help build a network of support, both during and outside of regular work hours, which can help get you through a stressful week or even just make your day-to-day interactions more enjoyable.
3. Call out bropropriation when you see it.
This may be the most difficult item on the list, and also perhaps the most important. Women in the corporate world toe a difficult line (called the Double Bind) that can punish them if they come off too competitive or aggressive. While I definitely want to challenge the Double Bind (and every other sexist double standard women deal with daily) at every opportunity, I can understand feelings of apprehension when it comes to doing anything that might jeopardize one’s career.
Luckily, there’s a simple and non-confrontational way to combat bropropriation. If you hear a man repeat a female coworker’s idea at a meeting, a helpful “Steve, it sounds like you agree with Jennifer’s thoughts about x, and that’s great because…” could be all it takes.
Building a successful career is tough enough, even without normalized sexist behaviors getting in the way. I’m grateful I have smart, ambitious female friends to help get me through it. (Oh, and if you’re a #Girlboss who wants to be MY friend, reach out here and here.)