Since they trade (mostly) in ideas, for people working at advertising and marketing agencies getting acknowledgment for their contributions is essential.
But too often, certain groups within agencies don’t get the credit they deserve. For women – and specifically women of color – getting recognition for what they contribute can be particularly difficult within an agency environment. Either their work is less visible to bosses and the wider company, or a lack of allies might inhibit the ability for their ideas and contributions to shine.
For leaders committed to creating more equitable cultures within their companies, it’s imperative to reflect on when they may have been complicit in suppressing staffers’ contributions. Agency leaders must also use their influence and power to ensure women are recognized for the ideas they bring to the table, according to Ruchika Tulshyan, founder of inclusion strategy practice Candour.
“Learn to make room for women of color to shine, give credit, and get out of the way,” writes Tulshyan in her new book, “Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work.” An excerpt follows:
Giving and taking credit is a tough subject to speak up about, let alone write about in a book.
The prevailing cultural narrative around the world is to be humble, that no task is too small, and when you work hard, the satisfaction of a job well done should be reward enough. And if you keep working hard, you’ll be recognized. I’ve seen the concept of karma, which I grew up with as a religious concept in my Hindu household, take flight in a big way out west. A plethora of inspirational messages tell us to “trust our karma” and believe that we will be rewarded for good work.
But what happens if you never end up receiving credit—or worse, someone else does for your idea? What if you are left in stasis, while your white male peers continue to advance in your organization and get plum opportunities to prove their worth? How important is credit if your contributions are often unrecognized or considered insignificant? Worst of all, what if you’re so underestimated that you aren’t even thought to produce good ideas?
All the above has been true for women of color at some point. Often, they’re denied the opportunity to do the work that is recognized and celebrated in an organization. While it deviates from industry to industry, we instinctively know what this looks like. Researchers call it glamour work, or “work [that] gets you noticed by higher-ups, gives you the opportunity to stretch your skills with a new challenge, and can lead to your next promotion. It’s the project for a major client, the opportunity to build out a new team, or the chance to represent the company at an industry conference,” says feminist legal scholar Joan C. Williams, whose research shows how women and people of color—especially women of color—are unfairly assigned work that keeps workplaces running smoothly, but doesn’t lead to advancement or a raise. It’s what she calls “office housework.” By contrast, men and white people are more likely to get glamour work.
A number of influential white men and some white women tell me that they never planned to be leaders, were frequently just tapped to lead unexpectedly, or had a connection who recommended them for glamour work. I can understand why this narrative of “you will get your dues even if you don’t ask for them” is so attractive for people for whom opportunity and related credit comes unasked. Keep your head down, do the work, and opportunities for glamour work and credit will follow.
When women (specifically, white women) weren’t getting glamour work opportunities to progress, the overarching narrative was that women weren’t asking for them or were even actively rejecting opportunities to progress due to their own imposter syndrome. This was the message of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. Unfortunately, “lean in” doesn’t work. In fact, behavioral scientists conducted an experiment to assess the impact on women when they listened to messages from Lean In and found that these women thought it was their responsibility to fix structural inequality. The researchers concluded that the book’s narrative could cause victim blaming, where individual women were blamed for not being able to progress at work, not the structural barriers that prevented any women from advancing. For women of color who navigate tropes that they’re angry, hysterical, or submissive, there’s often no way to lean in and be rewarded.
What does work? Dismantling structural bias. I’ll talk about how to do that in part II. On an individual level, however, leaders and managers must intentionally select women, especially women of color, for plum assignments so that they have a fair shot of being recognized for a job well done. Side note: I could write a whole other book about why I believe women’s feelings of imposter syndrome have less to do with any internal deficit and more to do with the sexism and racism they encounter at work. My collaborator Jodi-Ann Burey and I concluded in the previously mentioned well-read Harvard Business Review article that, “Imposter syndrome directs our view toward fixing women at work instead of fixing the places where women work.”
Suffice to say, when women of color get the credit they deserve, we are much likely to see this narrative desist. In short, opportunities to advance matter. Getting credit does too. In tandem, both matter greatly to advancing women of color.
White men and women largely get advancement opportunities and credit. While a gap exists even in the recognition that white women receive compared with white men, white women are still more likely to be in high-visibility positions compared with women of color.
Excerpted from Inclusion on Purpose: by Ruchika Tulshyan. Reprinted with permission from the MIT Press. Copyright 2022.
Ruchika Tulshyan is the author of Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work (MIT Press). She’s also the founder of Candour, an inclusion strategy practice. A former international business journalist, Ruchika is a regular contributor to The New York Times and Harvard Business Review.