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Image / Editorial

#IMAGEInspires: How Can You Avoid ‘Bropropriation’ Happening To You At Work?

by Jennifer McShane
01st Nov 2017

If you’ve never heard of ‘Bropropriation’ in a work setting, it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened to you. How often have you been in a meeting, spoken up about an idea, had it possibly met with silence only to have a male colleague swoop in and declare it – or a variation of it – ‘his’ idea? Yes, this is an actual thing that happens so frequently it has its own terminology: Bropropriation: when a man appropriates a woman’s idea, purposely or accidentally, and gets credit for it. Think of it as manterrupting, only worse.

Men stealing women’s ideas is a genuine problem. This famously happened to Ada Lovelace, the computer developer. For decades historians argued over who came up with the idea for an “analytical machine” – Ada or inventor Charles Babbage whom she worked with developing it. They worked on it together, but it was Ada’s notes that essentially took it from an idea to actual computer programming. Babbage’s own memoirs even gave credit to Lovelace yet still many assumed it was his brainchild. That’s just one example of countless others, but it got me thinking how easily this can come to be in a creative setting in the workplace.

We can’t assume that men are out to do this purposefully either – most are not (Trump definitely is though). There is however a cultural bias in which men are encouraged to speak louder in meetings; to stand up and be heard. Meanwhile, women have to contend with what can be inherent professional self-doubt, and we’re encouraged to be quieter, to quietly nod along. This makes appropriation for men much easier. How often have you sat glued to your seat, red-faced thinking you’ll come across as petty or begrudging if you stand up and say, “Hey, that was my idea!”? We should be doing exactly this but it’s still all too rare.

So what can we do about it? One idea that the women in the White House during the Obama Administration came up with was to have each other’s backs; every time they saw it happening, they would call it out.  But what if you’re a freelance designer and you have no Work Wife to help you fight the battle?

We asked this year’s nominees in the Creative Category of our 2017 Businesswomen of the Year Awards if they had ever come across this in their careers, and most importantly, how to handle it:

“As an Interior Designer, I spend a huge amount of time on building sites which are generally male-dominated places. Some projects are run extremely professionally but I have in the past experienced manterrupting sometimes continuously which can knock your confidence. I’ve learnt though to stand your ground and assert yourself as much as possible.”

Suzie Mc Adam, Founder and Lead Designer, Suzie Mc Adam Design Studio

“I have never specifically experienced either but I have been discriminated against because of my age and gender. I wasn’t raised to see gender but as I’ve gotten older, I have been treated differently because I am a female. It is infuriating. There are often other factors at play, that can make it hard to deal with such a situation. My advice is to do what is right for you. Have integrity- you might feel that standing up for yourself will mean you lose everything you have worked for but life has a funny way of working itself out. When one door closes another absolutely opens up. If you are talented you will get the recognition you deserve in the end. I firmly believe you learn more from a difficult situation than you do if everything was always perfect. Use the experience to learn about yourself and what you’re capable of. My negative experiences have made me a better businessperson and a better boss.”

Nicki Hoyne, CEO, My Shining Armour

“When I was in college, I remember one of our female tutors telling us that she had been one of only three women in her class. Things were a lot more balanced when I was in college; my class was about 50-50 girls to boys. In my first three jobs after graduating, however, I was the only women in the office apart from the secretarial staff. I never saw it as a disadvantage; it was more of an advantage actually. I’ m often the only woman at site meetings but in my office, it’s the men that are outnumbered 8-2. My advice would be to make sure you take credit for your ideas, don’t take it for granted that your boss will realise who is responsible for every win. You need to be political at work and make sure you’re on the boss’s radar.”

Denise O’Connor, CEO, Optimise Design

“Yes, unfortunately, the construction industry remains mainly male-dominated and it can be difficult to make your mark. It is without doubt more challenging to get ideas across and implemented on site as a female. Team KLD are all women and it can take a while to cut through the stereotypes. There is often a negative and resistant attitude to carrying out work for women. I try to work collaboratively and encourage a team approach with all the trades and professionals that we work with. But there is an element of ‘less than’ especially with the blonde hair, feminine clothes and general demeanour.”

Roisin Lafferty, Creative Director, Kingston Lafferty Design

“I haven’t experienced either Manterrupting or Bropropriation during my 20 years growing The Burren Perfumery apart from when we have experimented in hiring ‘experts’ who came in the shape of established, male lead, firms and then I found that the ‘expert’ in charge just wouldn’t listen to who we were, what our needs were and then tended to take credit for my ideas (and charge us for it).  I’ve learnt to trust my own instincts rather than looking to ‘experts.’ Reflecting on this question made me realise that I surround myself almost exclusively with creative, high calibre, effective women (with the exception of my husband who is certainly not prone to Manterrupting or Bropropriation).  Both designers that I work with are top of their game, creative women, the expert perfumers that I work and train with are both women at the height of their professions, my managers and cosmetic chemist at the Burren Perfumery are all strong, professional women as are 99% of the staff here.  Even my PR team is a woman-run operation.  Perhaps this the way that I have created networks to sidestep such issues.”

Sadie Chowen, Founder and Creative Director, The Burren Perfumery

“All I can say is that I do know that some men in my industry (designer resale) have copied some of Siopaella’s creative and marketing tactics and ideas but as they say – imitation is the best form of flattery… right?!”

Ella de Guzman, CEO, Siopaella