When people ask how you got to be who you are, they may ask about your parents for clues. You want to make sure they have the right story of your success. John David Washington, the son of famous parents Denzel and Pauletta Washington, recently gave a master class on how to give credit where credit is due if your mother’s contributions get overshadowed by your famous actor father.
In a recent “Today” show interview promoting his new movie “Black KkKlansmen,” Washington interrupted “Today” weekend co-host Craig Melvin after he asked about “getting started in this business being the son of Denzel Washington” with a firm “And Pauletta Washington.”
Washington continued: “Pauletta Washington — who was earning more money than he was when they married. Before they got married, she was on Broadway working,” Washington said as he continued to reframe the narrative of his family’s legacy. “She paid for the first date. She paid the bill, paid the cab ride. A classically trained pianist, she went to Juilliard. She’s a great artist in her own right and I learned a lot from her. My father taught me how to hunt, my mother taught me how to love.”
Washington’s praise of his mother’s accomplishments and her financial support put the spotlight back on his mother. He models good credit behavior: by publicly amplifying his mother’s accomplishments, he makes sure that we recognize her, so that his early success cannot be wholly attributed to his father’s privileges.
Why women more likely to get overlooked for credit
Washington’s message resonated with other famous women. Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer tweeted that, “This just made me cry like a baby…honor thy father AND thy mother.” Tina Lawson Knowles agreed: “I love how John David reps hard for his mom! Just warms my heart. Pauletta is an exceptional entertainer, wife, and mother.”
They recognized what gender bias research has proven: too often, women’s achievements do not get recognized. Men are more likely to get credited in group projects. One 2015 Harvard study found that women economists do not get credit for their work when they coauthor publications with men. Men are also more likely to get recognized when they speak up in meetings, while women expressing the same idea do not get the same credit, one 2017 study found.
To stop this cycle of credit-stealing, it takes interrupting and speaking up in behalf of the women in your life and your workplace, so that people know where the ideas for your success came from.