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  1. Blog
  2. Culture & Professionalism
  3. February 7, 2023

‘Hepeating’ Is Still Happening in 2023. Here Are 6 Ways to Stop It

Protect what’s yours

Women addressing a hepeating coworker
Photo courtesy of Ketut Subiyanto

If you’ve experienced the frustration of sharing an idea only to have a male colleague repeat it with pride as if they were the mastermind—you’re not alone. This cousin of patriarchal behaviors like "mansplaining" and "manterrupting" is called "hepeating", and it has plagued women for years in male-dominated industries.

First introduced in a tweet by physics professor Nicole Gugliucci in 2017, ‘hepeating’ refers to situations when a man attempts to pass off a woman’s thoughts, strategies, or creations as his own. Oftentimes, that same idea has been ignored in prior conversations when presented by women counterparts, only to be praised later when a man takes credit for it. While hepeating has most often been referenced pertaining to workplace conduct, it can happen in many professional situations like taking undue credit for groundbreaking innovations.

Needless to say, witnessing someone wrongfully piggyback your hard work and feeling disregarded by peers in the process can be a devastating experience—but you don’t have to allow it to keep happening. In fact, there are several practices you can adopt right away to help minimize this behavior and the impact that it could have on your work and career in the future.

Here are six ways to amplify your voice, take back ownership of your ideas, and safeguard your intellectual property when you’re faced with hepeating.

6 ways to stop ‘hepeating’ in the workplace

1. Redirect group conversations

Standing up for yourself when someone is attempting to take credit for your work or idea is an important first step in protecting your intellectual property. But let’s be honest, it’s not always easy or comfortable to be assertive, especially in group settings.

Women in particular can be apprehensive about confronting a difficult work situation for fear of being viewed as too emotional, confrontational, or unprofessional. Yet, more harm is done in the long-term when women ignore bad behavior and allow themselves to take a back seat to their male counterparts. Promotions, winning proposals, and partnerships are often awarded to the most visible contributors, and gender-biased actions like hepeating can result in halting women’s progression toward new opportunities. You owe it to yourself to speak up. 

Lead in prompts to immediately address and remind your colleagues that you’ve previously shared an idea could be, “Thank you for revisiting my idea…” or “To build upon the idea that I shared with you in our previous conversation…”  

This firm approach, particularly when used in the presence of key stakeholders, sends a clear message that you won’t accept the behavior—and will hopefully make the person trying to pass off your idea think twice about stealing your thunder in the future. 

Read more: 'I'm Still Speaking'—and 11 Other Ways to Stop Interruptions

2. Directly address your colleague

There are two types of hepeaters: those who don’t realize that their actions are offensive, and those who know what they’re doing is wrong but think you won’t speak up. In either case, these people need to be addressed in a one-on-one conversation. 

When approaching the offender, it’s critical to go into the conversation with a strategic mindset. Start by asking clarifying questions so that they won’t immediately shut down, get defensive, or feel under attack. And, to be clear, you’re not aiming to safeguard their feelings as much as steering a productive conversation to uncover whether they fall into one of those two aforementioned categories—and figure out the best way to adjust the way you collaborate with them moving forward.

A couple of ways to start the conversation could be, “When we were in that last meeting, you mentioned that you contributed to this idea…” or “Do you recall our previous conversation in which I shared my thoughts on...”, followed by, “do you realize that your actions are misleading and inappropriate?”

Following those questions, regardless of how they respond, clearly share your perspective of what happened, explain why it’s not okay, and discuss what you expect to be done moving forward so that similar situations don’t recur. Keep in mind, the way you handle colleagues who take credit for your work will set the tone for a respectful working relationship moving forward, or leave the door open for more damaging behavior in the future.

3. Proactively champion your ideas

Research has shown that women are less apt to self-advocate than men—a struggle no doubt rooted in the aftermath of centuries of oppression and societal norms that perpetuate gender stereotypes. Humility, while noble, ultimately leads to women holding back their ideas or opting to share feedback in smaller settings in an effort to not come across as haughty and narcissistic.

But here’s a wake up call: Making achievements and ideas more visible is actually a critical advancement strategy, so the more you humbly shy away from spotlighting your own contributions, the easier you make it for hepeaters to plagiarize your brilliant ideas. Without self-promotion, your ideas will become less visible and taking claim of your words or work becomes that much harder. 

To fight against hepeating and the undervaluation of women’s work, a recent Harvard publication suggests women should start to reframe the way they speak about their contributions and successes using “I” statements in place of “we.” This straightforward shift in language can help you to take control of ensuring that your ideas are heard, recognized, and appreciated.

4. Master the art of note-taking

One of the simplest ways to protect intellectual property is to keep solid documentation of your proposals, presentations, and conversations as back up in case any situations arise where you end up having to defend your recognition and credit down the line. Yet, an often overlooked method of idea-protection is simply taking good notes. 

Sure, meticulous record-keeping and going the extra mile to stay organized can sometimes feel like a tedious task, but the skill of maintaining a paper trail could mean the difference between proving ownership and a hepeater successfully passing off your work. The peace of mind that comes with having a clear record of your ideas will be so worth it.

To put this to practice, take note of shared ideas that could move the needle on mission critical projects when you’re in that next big brainstorming meeting, group discussion, or one-on-one. An additional action you can take to elevate your efforts when you have a hepeater in the room is to actively share concise meeting summaries that accurately reflect the contributions of all participants, including your own. But, tread with caution and use this step sparingly, as you don’t want to become the “designated note-taker” when it’s not in your job description. 

5. Engage your allies

Developing a strong network of proven and trusted professional allies can be a powerful tool to help protect or reclaim ideas. In the event you need support, someone to speak up, or defend you when your work is at risk of being taken, allies can serve as your advocates both in front and behind the scenes.

Building an ally network takes some time and effort but the payoff is invaluable in that true allies use their power, privilege, and influence to work toward challenging and changing workplace or industry practices that negatively impact marginalized groups. These allies could be a project partner, mentor, supervisor, or other leader in your organization.

And once you have that network, use it. If your ally happens to have a direct role in your work, don’t hesitate to CC them when presenting ideas via email that are critical to the advancement of projects to protect your ideas. Seek counsel when things go awry, schedule regular check-ins to keep them clued in about your contributions, and use them as another point of record when you’re preparing to share your brainchild with people you’re not certain you can trust. 

6. Be an active participant, not a bystander

Combatting hepeating requires intentional work to build a workplace that values and respects the ideas and contributions of women. To achieve this, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to foster that culture alongside other women or allies in your organization.

A technique notably used by women White House staffers during the Barack Obama administration called ‘amplification’ is an effective method to drive credit-sharing that challenges men in the room to recognize the key contributions of women, subsequently denying hepeaters the opportunity to misrepresent the origin of an idea. By adopting a ‘when you see it, call it out’ mindset, women are able to support and uplift one another in uncomfortable situations and ensure that rightful ownership is acknowledged.

Using simple, yet direct prompts like, “When I heard Lindsay share this idea in our last meeting, something that came to mind was…” or “As I recall, it was Susan’s idea to…” sets the record straight, gives credit where it's due, and sets a precedent for speaking up in support of women when ownership of their ideas is being threatened.

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