Handling a ‘Hepeater’ with Confidence: Tactics for Businesswomen

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: May 18, 2020

By AMA Staff

What can businesswomen do about “hepeating” in the office? Hepeating? It’s a new term for an old behavior. It happens when a woman proposes an idea and is dismissed or ignored, and then a male co-worker presents the same idea and is acknowledged or praised for it.

“It happens all the time,” says AMA instructor Lisa Kaplin, a psychologist, certified professional life and executive coach, and the owner of LisaKaplin.com.

Kaplin believes that the majority of men are not doing this intentionally. They are used to being in positions of power and privilege and of being the ones making decisions.

But it’s frustrating, she says, because if a woman acts pushy about reclaiming her idea, she may be shut down even further. And it doesn’t get any easier after you’re promoted; it may happen more frequently, Kaplin says.

Labeling a behavior

Coining a name for a behavior and seeing it become popular—much like “mansplaining” did a few years ago—can help women realize they are not the only ones this has happened to. Naming a behavior also motivates men to learn and understand how such actions can affect the women they work with. Innovation is rewarded in the workplace, so having someone else take credit for your ideas is more than an annoyance; it can hurt your career.

Granted, some guys are “super defensive” when they hear terms like “hepeating” or “mansplaining,” Kaplin acknowledges. But other guys are saying, “I really want to look at this. I want to do better.” Sometimes their eyes aren’t opened until their own daughters enter the workforce and it happens to them, she points out.

What can women do when hepeating happens? Kaplin suggests:

Keep talking. Point out that your colleague has repeated your proposal. Say something like, “Oh, I’m glad you liked my idea” or “Hey, I loved that you picked up on my idea.” Adjust what you say to the type of meeting you are in. If you can’t call it out during the meeting, talk to the hepeater privately afterward.

Get over your fear of calling attention to yourself. Women are still “terrified” of talking about their own achievements and pushing for their own ideas, Kaplin says. It’s in the nature of women to be less competitive and more collaborative, so it’s hard to brag. But slowly, we’re becoming more comfortable about standing up for ourselves and standing our ground on what’s important, she says.

Don’t “act like a man,” but do be assertive. Kaplin says women don’t have to adopt male behavior in order to survive and be recognized by their companies. But they do need to be assertive. After you call attention to the fact that someone’s repeating your idea, stand your ground if he still tries to take credit.

Back each other up. It’s become a well-repeated story that in President Obama’s cabinet, the women decided that they needed to back each other up in meetings. When a woman contributed something important, another woman would repeat it, giving credit to the first woman so that men in the room would not have a chance to claim the idea. Women can form such alliances in their own workplaces.

In the AMA classes she teaches, Kaplin hears a lot of stories from women about hepeating and mansplaining. “I validate them and tell them that they are not the only ones experiencing this,” she says. She role-plays with her students and takes videos of them so that women can get better at assertive interactions. Many AMA classes, like Executive Presence for Women or Assertiveness Training for Women in Business, help businesswomen become more empowered, Kaplin says.

Kaplin believes that the more women there are in leadership, the less frequently hepeating and mansplaining will happen. “This is why more diversity is important in the workplace”.