How Women Can Amplify Each Other’s Voices (Especially When You’re Outnumbered)

It’s no surprise that women in leadership often have a harder time getting and keeping attention than men. Here's one way to change that.

It’s no surprise that women in leadership often have a harder time getting and keeping attention than men. Not only are women usually outnumbered in the tech industry, it’s also extremely common for men to interrupt women, especially in meetings. In turn, Women’s ideas are not heard, or they get absorbed into the general conversation and end up credited to someone else.

The Washington Post recently reported on this phenomenon in a story about female staffers at the White House. “When President Obama took office, two-thirds of his top aides were men. Women complained of having to elbow their way into important meetings. And when they got in, their voices were sometimes ignored,” wrote Juliet Eilperin.

The “Amplification Strategy”

To combat this difficulty, “female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called ‘amplification.’ "When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own,” Eilperin reported.

As the staffers kept up the strategy, they saw results. President Obama noticed, and began calling on women to speak more often.

Why repetition and collaboration work for women

The online news magazine QZ.com observed two truths behind the success of the “Amplification Strategy” that can be applied to any meeting where women have to fight to be seen and heard.

“First,” writes Cassie Werber, “repetition is one of the simplest ways of reinforcing any point — which can be seen through history across oratory and poetry.”

But individual repetition is not enough to garner attention from those unlikely to naturally give it. “Simply hammering a point home by repeating it oneself has limitations, especially in a competitive environment where everyone is clamoring to be heard,” writes Werber.

Therein lies the genius of amplification. By repeating others’ ideas (and giving proper credit each time), women in male-dominated meetings combine their strength to make each other louder. The cooperation ends up lifting the voice of other women, or at least improving the odds of being heard.

The end of female competition?

The classic trope of successful women in business is that they tear each other down because the resources given to them are so sparse (attention, funds, credit). Think Sigourney Weaver's character in the movie Working Girl, double-crossing Melanie Griffith's character at every turn.

Sheryl Sandberg remarks on this trend in her classic business book, Lean In. “In the days of tokenism, women looked around the room and instead of bonding against an unfair system, they often viewed one another as competition…women wound up being ignored, undermined, and in some cases even sabotaged by other women,” she writes.

While women may certainly and powerfully compete for clients, promotions, or projects, it’s not a given that they need to knock each other out to get what they want. If the “Amplification Strategy” is any clue, cooperation and support can do a lot more than in-fighting to get women a bigger piece of the pie.

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