Leadership

Melinda Gates: Here's how to make sure you get the credit and authority you deserve

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Some experts say that feeling respected and like you have influence at work matter to your happiness more than your salary does. And philanthropist Melinda Gates says there is a simple and subtle way you can get the credit and authority you deserve: Keep your supporters close.

Surrounding yourself with people who validate and encourage you can help co-workers, managers and outsiders take you more seriously, says Gates, who recently started investing in female-led and minority-focused venture capital firms.

Anyone who wants to be taken seriously "needs to surround herself with people who have her back, who know she is the leader — man or woman," Gates tells Fortune in an interview published Wednesday. Then, when a person who has your back is asked a question that should have been directed at you, they can redirect by saying, "'Jane actually knows the answer to that. Jane, you and I were just talking about that. Tell them what you think.'"

Warren Buffett (R) speaks to the media with Bill and Melinda Gates June 26, 2006 at a news conference where Buffett spoke about his financial gift to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

When your team defers to you, Gates notes, it establishes that you are the team's expert on that topic.

"You do that once or twice and the people at the table will stop asking him the questions and realize that she's the one that knows this business deeply, and she's the one who has credibility," Gates says.

Harvard public policy professor and behavioral economist Iris Bohnet calls Gates' solution "micro-sponsorship," or the act of enlisting a few coworkers to advocate for you when you've been wronged. "Become vigilant about attributing comments to the people who made them first," Bohnet says. "Everyone, men and women, can become a micro-sponsor."

"At the end of the day, giving rightful credit doesn't just help you, it makes your creditor look good, too," adds Jessica Bennett, author of "Feminist Fight Club."

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Gates first picked up this technique when she started working at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with her husband.

"When Bill first came over to the foundation from Microsoft, he was used to being in charge. I'd stayed home with our kids, so I was restarting my career," she writes in the Foundation's 2018 annual letter. "There were times I felt that disparity — in meetings when I was reticent and he was voluble, or when the person we were meeting with looked toward Bill and not me."

Gates admits this wasn't easy to change at first but, over the years, she and her husband figured out how to handle these situations and establish themselves as leaders who shared responsibility.

"Bill learned to make room for me to speak up," Gates says. "And then once I spoke up, it was kind of funny, people went, 'Whoa. She has a lot of credibility. She knows what she's talking about.'"

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