Why weaponized incompetence happens — and how to stop it

Socialization starts young

Shadow management: one of the biggest consequences of weaponized incompetence at work

Power dynamics

The extra “mental chatter” many women experience

How to stop weaponized incompetence

For organizations:

  1. Develop systemic solutions — For example, people alternating taking the notes at the meetings or a regular practice of someone who has that in their job description doing it.

For individuals who are victims of weaponized incompetence:

  1. Make sure you’re getting rewarded for the white space work. If you’re “shadow managing” folks who have absentee managers, are you able to leverage this to promotion into higher management roles? What concrete data can you gather about your overlooked contributions and how they’ve helped the organization succeed, in order to re-negotiate your salary or advocate for other forms of recognition (key assignments, access to senior leaders)?
  2. Know your worth. Many women and people of color in particular have been socialized to put others and the group first to a disproportionate extent. Personally, I often took on office housekeeping and shadow management because I saw my worth to organizations as “whatever is needed for the good of the group.” I even enjoyed much of it. The problem was that “what’s needed” was often because others (especially male colleagues) didn’t want to do those tasks, not because that’s where my specific talents were going to be most beneficial. We should all be good citizens. But if you’ve been socialized to always put the group first, it’s time to ask yourself: “What are the unique and important things that I bring to the table that aren’t just about whatever the group needs most whenever it needs it? And am I being recognized and utilized for those talents?”
  3. Mind your boundaries. When I’ve been most “in balance” it was because I set quotas for myself — for example, doing one “gendered task” a week, but no more. These are universal issues, but some environments are better than others. Be honest with yourself about your workplace and whether it’s one where you can uphold your boundaries sustainably or not.

Want to learn more?

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Author, BEYOND LEANING IN: Gender Equity & What Organizations are Up Against (March 2021). Founder, STRATEGIC IMAGINATION. www.melanieho.com

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Melanie Ho

Melanie Ho

Author, BEYOND LEANING IN: Gender Equity & What Organizations are Up Against (March 2021). Founder, STRATEGIC IMAGINATION. www.melanieho.com

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