Meetings take on a different tone when women use the strategy of amplification
A key lesson from the Obama female staffers was to practise amplification to make their voices heard in meetings.
President Obama is internationally regarded as being a feminist. He wears the T-shirt and treats his wife and daughters with respect and integrity. He has spoken out widely on behalf of gender balance and global women’s rights. Yet even his inner circle in his first term was male dominated (two-thirds men to one-third women.)
Susan Rice, former national security adviser, said she (and other women) had to make sure they were included in the important conversations:
“It’s not pleasant to have to appeal to a man to say, ‘Include me in that meeting.’”
So the female staffers came up with a strategy to follow the “Shine” theory. Journalist Ann Friedman first coined the phrase as a response to unhealthy competitive womanhood which is a contrast to this “survival of the fittest” approach She suggests:
“Here’s my solution: When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.”
The White House staffers then came up with a system called “amplification.” When a woman at the meeting made a significant point or comment point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This re-enforced the ownership of the comment, obliged the males at the meeting to recognize the contribution as well as its origin and reduced the opportunity to hi-jack the idea as their own.
Seemingly there was a noted improvement for women in Obama’s second term where women went on to occupy a higher percentage of female roles. It is also a stark reminder how even with an open leadership, which actively supports gender equality, a conscious, stated policy decision is needed to overcome unconscious bias. This leaves the onus with women to take charge of their own destinies and issues and step up.
There are three ways they can do this:
- Recognise there is a problem in the first place – many women are so used to the existing culture they are oblivious to what is going on it is so deep in their collective sub-conscious
- Not rely on male leaders to correct it or offer solutions
- Not assume that all women will provide support without being specifically asked without a plan and a strategy.
There is no doubt that women have strength in numbers but we are still at the stage where it is necessary to take conscious action.
But what happens if a woman makes a suggestion and you don’t necessarily agree with it? It’s still possible to acknowledge the idea and offer an alternative without undermining the contributor.
“Mary-Jane made an interesting point. I’d like to explore another direction “
So if all women consciously followed the process of amplification, business meetings as we know them would take on a very different tone.