The 19th Amendment of the US Constitution, ratified in 1920, ensures voting rights for everyone regardless of gender. And in 1971 (51 years later), Congress designated August 26 as Women's Equality Day. The right for all people to vote and Women's Equality Day came into being because women and their allies amplified their voices.
In a Cornerstone training module titled “Amplify Minorities and Women,” I recently learned about a meeting strategy called “Amplification.” This strategy was created and implemented by Valerie Jarrett and Susan Rice from the Obama (and Biden, for Rice) administration and meant that when a woman spoke up in a meeting, Jarrett and Rice would repeat her key points while giving her credit.
Over time, with help from this Amplification program, more than half of the Obama administration was made up of women. But Amplification isn't a tactic limited solely to women. It's as easy as giving credit or repeating others' ideas so they don't feel ignored, interrupted or slighted. You can use it to encourage everyone across the board — women, underrepresented groups and LGBTQ+ coworkers' voices, to name a few.
My journey to Amplification
Throughout my career, I've benefited from Amplification. I recall being a very junior employee in a meeting with coworkers much older and longer-tenured than myself, causing me to feel hesitant to speak up. Instead, I would share my ideas with my bosses during our 1:1 meetings, and they encouraged me to speak up in our larger group settings.
Feeling empowered, I'd share my ideas within the larger group but would often get talked over, ignored or worse — somebody else would take credit for my ideas. As a result, I shut down. I didn't participate as much in meetings, instead asking myself, "What was the point?" Voicing my ideas had only led to being ignored or someone else soaking up the credit for my thoughts.
Naturally, this quickly manifested in my performance reviews. “Carina has great ideas; however, she does not participate in large group meetings. She has good ideas in 1:1s or small group meetings but is a wallflower in larger meetings.” This critique seemed like a catch-22; I truly did not know what to do.
How I made Amplification work for me
Fortunately for me, I was blessed with wonderful bosses who noticed what was happening to me when I tried to participate in larger group meetings. So we developed a strategy for sharing my point of view. And if I volunteered any ideas, they'd further amplify my ideas, "Carina just shared a great idea." These two simple acts of amplification are techniques I continue to use for others to this day.
It's worth noting that their amplification of me wasn't instinctive but rather something my boss and I agreed upon during one of our 1:1 calls. To encourage me to participate more in larger group settings — and not just be called out or made to feel put on the spot — we developed a plan. Periodically throughout meetings, my boss would make eye contact with me, and I'd give them a little nod to indicate I was comfortable with them calling on me to share my ideas. This agreement between my boss and me was not only crucial in helping to build me up but also allowed me to feel empowered to share my ideas freely.
How you can make Amplification work for you
There is still a great deal of work to do in terms of amplification and empowerment in the workplace. I still find myself — now at the C-level in my career — being interrupted or someone else claiming credit for my idea. But I'm often reminded to keep pushing and keep encouraging others because I know this Amplification idea is starting to take root and flourish.
It was just recently that I was fortunate to have a male colleague who recognized a group meeting wasn't hearing my voice. He stepped up and said, “Hey, that sounded like the exact same thing Carina just said two minutes ago,” and “Did you just take credit for Carina's idea?” So I thanked him for being such a great ally. But his response truly warmed my heart and encouraged me to continue amplifying those around me whenever I can; “You'd do the same for me, and I've seen you do this for others.”
So today, I share these Amplification tips with employees and managers alike:
- Empower people to increase engagement
- Develop a plan that gauges comfort levels
- Plan any cues or signals before asking someone to participate in a discussion
- Amplify the voices around you
To celebrate Women's Equality Day, I encourage you to identify ways you can use the tenets of Amplification to, well, amplify the lesser-heard voices across your organization. If you manage a team and notice someone isn't participating as much as you'd like them to or sharing the strong ideas you know they have inside, have an open, honest conversation to create a comfortable Amplification plan that opens the door to more engagement.
Simply put: To effectively amplify a voice, repeat their words, give them credit for their ideas, and support them if someone interrupts them. We all have the power to make others' voices heard.
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