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Why and how to amplify women’s voices
March 8, 2023

By April M. Stewart, Special MWAF Contributor


I can bet that several (if not all) of you reading this have experienced being cut-off, spoken over or interrupted to have someone “mansplain” something. If you haven’t, then you’ve almost certainly seen it happen to other women around the table.

In 2016, a powerful solution to this ubiquitous occurrence was brought to light by women staffers in President Obama’s administration: “In the White House, when female staffers want to share a thought, other women will repeat the idea and credit the original speaker. They do this to make the idea harder to ignore or steal. The women call it ‘amplification’.”

The verb to amplify means “to make larger, greater, or stronger; to expand in stating or describing, as by details or illustrations; clarify by expanding”. These women implemented a simple tactic to ensure that each other’s ideas were expanded to take up the space each one deserved.

This HBR article points to research conducted during team meetings as well as three studies with almost 3,000 people across the U.S., all of which found that “group[s] frequently overlook ideas that members suggested, and sometimes revisited ideas later but gave credit to the wrong people.”

The problem with women, people of colour and members of other underrepresented groups not having occasion to express themselves fully or clearly, whose ideas are misattributed, or whose voices are dismissed or spoken over, is not only an issue of abject arrogance or overt sexism.

The problem is also that those critical contributions and proffered solutions are severed half formed, dissipate on the breath of the voice that is silenced in mid-sentence, or are never even said because someone is too afraid (or simply can’t be bothered) to be talked over – again.

How can women and men allies have each other’s back?

How can we amplify each other’s voices and actions to the ultimate benefit of all?

Here are a few suggestions to try when it seems like a woman’s idea is being ignored, absorbed and lost, or misattributed:

  • If one woman voices an idea that seems to go unnoticed, you can make a point of bringing the conversation back to her contribution. For example, “Louise has a good suggestion; why don’t we revisit what she has to contribute.” To lend more weight, and consequently attention, you can go farther by emphasizing Louise’s expertise on that particular topic: “Louise’s idea is a strong one because she’s basing the suggestion on her 15 years as a crop specialist in the Northeast.” The researchers in the above-mentioned HBR article found “that women — and potentially members of other groups underrepresented in organizations, particularly at the highest levels — can use amplification to improve equity and inclusion. When a woman amplifies a woman, two women benefit: the one whose contribution now has a vocal supporter, and the one who looks magnanimous and generous for recognizing a colleague.”
  • We also need to remember to check our own biases and behaviours. Notice if you tend to interrupt and who you are interrupting. Are you cutting off other women in a bid to jockey for space in a room full of mostly men? See the previous point to learn how to turn this into a win-win.
  • Remember that using the tactic of amplification doesn’t mean that you must agree with everything another woman is saying. The real intent of amplification is to draw attention to other women’s important contributions, to make people aware of this rude behaviour, and to highlight the value of ideas getting lost in the silence.

The HBR article researchers found that amplification is beneficial for the amplifier and amplifiee: “[P]articipants thought the voicer’s idea was better when the third team member amplified it, and they thought that the voicer was more influential and high-status in the group. Furthermore, the third group member looked more high-status when they amplified, even compared to suggesting their own additional idea. The lesson here seems clear: When you lift up a teammate by amplifying their idea, you can lift yourself up, too.”

Click here to read Angela Lovell’s post on how women in ag are amplifying their own voices and other women in Canada’s agriculture industry.

One of the things we love to do the most at MWAF is share the inspiring stories of Canadian women involved in all aspects of the agriculture and food industry. We celebrate common values, a shared passion for the industry and a commitment to supporting each other's goals. You can also learn what our stakeholders are doing to support the advancement of women in our industry. Be sure to come back often.