Women in the White House are working together to amplify each other's voices


When a study in May found that even female Supreme Court justices fall victim to the dreaded "manterrupter," it seemed there was little hope for the rest of us. But women in the White House aren't willing to stand down to any more "well, actually"s. 

A former aide of President Barack Obama told the Washington Post that she and other female staffers have developed a simple-but-effective tactic to make each other's voices heard.

According to the Post, when a woman made a "key point" in a meeting, another female colleague would repeat it, giving credit to the original speaker. The purpose of the strategy — known simply as "amplification" — is twofold: to force men to acknowledge the comment and to prevent men from passing off women's ideas as their own.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

"We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it," the unnamed former aide told the Post. "It was an everyday thing."

But while she reported success, noting that it led to Obama calling on women in meetings more often, women who speak up aren't always rewarded so handsomely. Instead, they might expect to be called "bossy" or a "bitch."

Lisa Wade, a sociology professor at Occidental College, said in working together, women might make themselves less vulnerable to backlash.

"Individual strategies to combat a social problem don't usually work too well," Wade said in a phone interview. "What's interesting about the 'amplification' technique is that it's a social solution to a social problem that address group dynamics." 

Wade said it's important to keep in mind that it's not altogether impossible for women to face consequences for working together and women in groups are often seen as being "in cahoots" against men. And, while the White House's female staffers may have some solid allies in their male colleagues, it only takes a few misogynists to tip the scales. 

Still, as the White House becomes less of a boys' club, Wade said "amplification" could introduce cooperation in the workplace in a way that helps women. 

"I think having a critical mass makes a difference," White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett told the Post. "It's fair to say that there was a lot of testosterone flowing in those early days. Now we have a little more estrogen that provides a counterbalance."