by Amy Orr-Ewing
Have you ever found yourself repeating the phrase it doesn’t matter who gets the credit, in an effort to put the good of the cause ahead of your own need for acknowledgment? If you have, you are like many women I know; doing good work and then stepping back from owning that it was yours.
After 25 years in international ministry and leadership I have noticed that gifted women in organisations, workplaces and church teams can tend to adopt a posture of humility that deflects praise and even basic recognition of our contributions. Motivated by a godly desire to serve and to be humble like Jesus, I have also seen that this impetus towards perceived humility, if not stewarded well, can have disastrous consequences.
Women may find that their ideas and work are easily commandeered by men – some of whom genuinely seem to believe that the work they are taking credit for should be attributed to them. Women who have worked in diverse settings from banks, to universities, to the White House have noticed this phenomenon and observed an emerging trend of women starting to develop strategies for amplifying each other’s voices. “I agree with that analysis that Rachel just offered, should we work some more on Rachel’s idea?” A timely and truthful attribution honours that co-worker and in the long run, helps the whole team.
We need to be honest that culturally there is a real issue to be faced here. In both corporate and church settings, women hold back, fearful of coming across as too brash or pushy if they confidently assert that their ideas and work are actually their own. Many of us have been taught that to be demure is the same as biblical humility or gentleness. Yet Jesus commended women who spoke up. Women like Mary who sat at his feet, adopting the posture of a rabbinical student, a role previously reserved for men. Jesus commended women who exercised faith, and he relied on women to play the crucial role of eye witnesses to his incarnation, his death by crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead. The contribution of women in these ways and more is recorded in the gospels, they are not written out of the narrative with their work or words attributed to men.
Biblical humility puts the good of the cause and the good of the team above our own preferences and comfort. But it does not erase us.
Taking the credit for another person’s work does damage to everyone:
• It hurts the team: If this kind of behaviour goes unchecked, decisions and budgets are made under the misapprehension of who has real capacity to work and serve, or who is creatively gifted to come up with the key ideas that deliver for the organisation, or has the relational and leadership ability to pull thriving happy teams together. Longer term, credit takers throw everything out of balance and everyone suffers.
• It hurts the one whose work should have been credited: Those whose service or gifts go unrecognised find themselves unable to move forward as the wind is taken from their sails and the momentum of the organisation or ministry is impacted negatively.
• It hurts the one who wrongly took the credit: While the false credit-taker may benefit in the short term growing in esteem, opportunity, and financial recompense, - they are not actually able to offer what others are now trusting them to deliver. Deception may cover this for a while, but eventually the truth catches up and people at every level in the organisation begin to realise there is no substance there.
In truth, teams produce the best outcomes when people honour each other. Any group with an accurate assessment of each person’s real strengths and contributions is going to be better able to help everyone flourish.
So, when you feel tempted to let credit takers steal the recognition due for your work, pause for a moment. It won’t be biblical humility that lets this slide. Perhaps it would be better with all humility to clearly and honestly state your perception of who did what, amplifying the contributions of all the team, and remembering that you too are made in the image of God, and so your work and your name matters.
Dr Amy Orr-Ewing is an international author, speaker and theologian. Travelling internationally Amy speaks about the Christian Faith across university campuses, businesses, parliaments, churches and conferences as well as on TV and radio. She holds a PhD in Theology from the University of Oxford and is the author of multiple publications and books including ‘Where is God in All the Suffering?’ and bestselling, ‘Why Trust the Bible?’ Visit www.amyorr-ewing.com or follow her @amyorrewing