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Back in the day, I was working at the HR department of an organization. And I was creating some metrics and insights for the company. One day, my boss asked me to share this work with him, which I did. Only to witness a couple of hours later how he had erased my name from my work and he was presenting it under his name. Wait. This is not the worst part. 

Shocked as I was, I did something that I regret until this day.

Since he was showing his screen to the whole senior management, I sent him an email. The subject, “Stop stealing my work.” It popped up in the middle of his presentation. After that, I started saying my goodbyes to everyone because I was sure I would get fired. I wasn’t.

I was, in turn, deeply ashamed of what I did. Although I was ready to go out with a bang, it was childish and certainly a disservice to my reputation. But wait. This is not the worst part.

I talked to my boss, and he explained the whole situation as a “misinterpretation.” He said that he would NEVER EVER steal anything from me” and that he would “clarify with everyone that he was presenting my work.”

I got called to the senior director’s office. He then proceeded to tell me that “now he gets it, that I am high-maintenance and that I am not a team player” and mocked me about the situation. He thought he was being… funny? I honestly cannot say what he was thinking about while he laughed at the fact that one of his managers could steal other people’s work in such a manner. And yes, this is the worst part.

What did I do? Nothing.


I stood there, unable to articulate a word. My mind was flushed with shameful thoughts of how wrong I acted, how my reputation was damaged irreparably. And how unfair this man was, saying that I am not a team player when ALL I have done is bust my ass for this company. But I said nothing. I left that office and hoped to drop dead. 

I archived this episode as sometimes a hurtful, sometimes a funny anecdote. I never stopped to think about why I froze when called those things. And why I was unable to stand up for myself. Until recently. 

The Likeability Trap


In her book “The Likeability Trap,” Alicia Menendez explains that “being liked” is one of the most powerful cultural measures of a woman’s value. Society sees women who exhibit strength and achievement as cold and undermines their ability to advance in an organization if they are labeled as “difficult.” However, warmth, the primary attribute for likeability, reads as a weakness in the male-dominated business world. 

I now understand that I felt in shock because, between jokes, this senior leader gave me the death penalty “You are not likable anymore.” I wanted to defend my work and take credit for my achievements. I showed anger at an unfair situation. All of this is penalized in women.

Menendez explains that women who express anger in the workplace are often punished with a reputation for being less competent. Society attributes women’s anger to a flaw in their character. In contrast, men’s anger is widely accepted as a response to an external situation. Furthermore, according to Menendez, men’s anger creates a greater aura of competence and potency. For women, it’s the opposite.

Taking power back from the need to be “liked.”

This lesson helped me acquire some powerful insights that I hope can help you if you were ever in a situation similar to mine. Here they are:

  • Stick to the facts. Let go of others’ (mis) interpretations:

    If you face an unfair situation, make sure you base your arguments on undeniable facts. And accept that you will never be able to control what others make out of the problem.

In my case, I could’ve reframed the senior’s response to: “I understand you believe I am not being a team player, but I want to highlight once again that your direct report, my boss, took my work and put his name on it. Can we discuss how you are going to address this situation? Can you give me concrete next steps? When can I follow up on the action plan we define in this meeting?”

  • Don’t react when angry:

    That email titled “Stop stealing my work” resulted from me letting my rage take the wheel. Nothing good comes from responding in anger. Allow yourself the space to stop any impulsive responses. Sadly, women do not have the luxury to react and then have the incident get swept under the rug. When we get labeled at work, it usually creates permanent damage. 

  • Hang on to your confidence:

    If you try to put likeability ahead of all other qualities, you sabotage your career. Remain true to yourself, and never forget that kindness, empathy, warmth, and caring for others are great qualities not only for women but for everyone. Never forget who you are and the many exceptional skills you bring to the table of your organization. 

I hope this helps you take some perspective and gain more tools for your professional and personal success. Please share this article with others who might benefit from this information if you find this article helpful.

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