How Obama’s female staff members hatched a plan to make their voices heard in the White House

When they realised no one was listening to them, they decided to do something about it

It’s been eight years since Obama was first elected into the White House, and these days, the gender-balance is pretty equal. Half of his closest aides are women, and half of all the top White House departments are female-led.

But in 2008, things were pretty different. Back then, two thirds of staffers were men, and the few women on the payroll found themselves increasingly talked over, ignored and left out. (So, just like the majority of workplaces in the UK and America, then.)

‘If you didn’t come in from the campaign, it was a tough circle to break into,’ explains Anita Dunn, who served as White House communications director until November 2009, in a new interview with the Washington Post. ‘Given the makeup of the campaign, there were just more men than women.’

‘It’s not pleasant to have to appeal to a man to say, “Include me in that meeting”,’ adds Susan Rice, who’s currently National Security Advisor.

So the women working within the White House teamed up and came up with an amazing technique that they dubbed ‘amplification’.

When one of them said something in a meeting, another woman would acknowledge it out loud – repeating the point, and the name of the woman who’d come up with it. It didn’t matter if they agreed with it – they were just saying the point again, which forced the men around them to acknowledge it. And by repeating the name of the woman who’d come up with it, the men couldn’t claim the idea as their own, either.

‘We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing,’ said one anonymous former-aide – adding to The Washington Post that Obama noticed, and started calling on his female staffers for more input.

It’s a brilliant strategy – not least because it’s one that we could all employ in our own offices too.

Meaning now we just have to hope that whoever replaces Obama continues to listen up.

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