Koan #7: Whose Idea Was It Anyway

We usually send the situation in one newsletter and results in a following newsletter. Here the situations and results are copied verbatim into one post. Hence, when it says 'you' - it means the subscribers who voted in newsletter, not readers of this archive.
This situation was published in the 15 Mar 2021 newsletter.


You are in a meeting with your team where most people are men and a woman suggests an idea that you think is good but seems to be ignored. A few minutes later an older man in the team suggests an almost identical idea to that of the woman and the team decides that this is a good addition to the strategy. What would you do?

Option A - You notice that the same idea was ignored when a woman suggested and recognised when a man suggested it. You speak to the man afterwards to see if he also noticed this.

Option B - You notice that the same idea was ignored when a woman suggested and recognised when a man suggested it. You speak to the woman afterwards to see if she also noticed this.

Option C - After the man has been acknowledged you say something along the lines of ‘I think that idea is the same as what she suggested a few minutes ago. I think it is a great idea and we should acknowledge both people now before moving forwards’.

Option D - You do not mention anything in the meeting, but at the end ask to speak to the person chairing the meeting to explain that the same idea was ignored when a woman gave it and the same idea was recognised when coming from a man.


Everyone responded this week with an option which was active in trying to address the situation either as it arose (as in Option C), or directly after the meeting (Option D). A few subscribers also said they could combine C and D and that they would want to say that they disliked what had happened as well as acknowledging the situation. One subscriber mentioned that should be the case regardless of who the person was who raised the idea first. We also asked which gender you identify as to see if that had any impact on the responses and it seems that this time it did not!

Glassdoor released a 2019 diversity and inclusion survey in the U.S., UK, France, and Germany that found younger employees (52% of ages 18-34) were more likely than older employees (39% of ages 55+) to have witnessed or experienced discrimination based on their Age, Race, Gender Or LGBTQ Identity. It appears that while ageism towards older people is also a societal issue, in the workplace it is in fact younger members who, on average, face greater challenges.

We definitely hope that if this situation were to occur you would feel empowered to call out the behaviour in the moment, and if you did not notice it in the moment, but someone else did, this could also be an important point of self-reflection. Inclusive meetings are an important part in building a more inclusive culture and this article from Harvard Business review suggests stepping in quickly and politely by saying something along the lines of ‘Wait a minute, I want to hear more of what Janice has to say,” or “Back up. I am intrigued with what Luke was telling us. Luke, can you finish your thought?”. You should speak as confidently as you can, even if you are feeling uncomfortable about raising it (See Koan #6). As a subscriber noted this week, ‘None [… of the options…] confront the real issue(s) other than acknowledging the ideas author.’ This is an important point, alongside another comment that ‘[…]if this is a pattern, it might do more good to give the team a chance to reflect on what had happened’. As another subscriber suggested, there may need to be training in your team if a situation like this is a common occurrence. It is highly likely that once this sort of issue is discussed, or someone is called out, that a team or individual will try to act better in the future. You should also assume this when working out what is needed for the team or meeting to move forward from what could feel uncomfortable for many people.

This situation was one of many that could occur in an organisation that needs to work on inclusion. For men, if you read one thing this week we’d recommend this article which is aimed at giving tips for how men can support equality in the workplace. For women, this article is a young woman reflecting on how she has ensured her voice is heard at work with some top tips of how to do so. We found this reassuring and links well to the suggestions in the article for men this week.