“Amplification.” It was not a new word to me, but it was a new use of the word.
Back in September 2016, the Washington Post ran a story about female staffers at the White House, who had adopted a meeting strategy that they called “amplification.” The story goes like this . . . and it is a familiar one for women in all professions, but even more so for women ministers.
Back in 2009, when President Barack Obama took office, the majority of his staff was male, and the few presidential female staff members often found themselves excluded from meetings—not invited to the table or welcomed to the conference. When those women finally did make it into a meeting, their voices were ignored.
Does that sound familiar? All too often women ministers have been overlooked, discounted, or even snubbed, and when the invitation finally arrives to participate, our voices are unheard. Recently, I was in a meeting with fifty or so religious leaders—the majority of those men were executives of denominations or faith organizations. There were only a handful of women in the room. I sat quietly at the table—I am a listener by nature, but after a while, I wasn’t listening to the words spoken, I was listening for female voices. Somewhere along the way, I realized that none of the women, all of whom are also leaders in their faith groups, none of those women spoke up. The men dominated the conversation, and when finally a woman made a comment, she was hesitant and spoke very briefly. I left that meeting greatly disturbed—not because what had happened was a surprise to me, but disturbed because the women present that day were exceptionally brilliant and gifted. Some of them make their living by speaking or preaching. And yet at that table, they did not feel comfortable enough to offer their opinion.
This is where amplification comes in. After President Obama took office, his female staffers began talking among themselves. They recognized their shared dilemma of not being heard. So together they adopted the amplification strategy. They decided that when a woman spoke up at a meeting and offered insight or made a suggestion, another woman would immediately repeat the first woman’s words and give her credit—her name would be called and her ideas affirmed. Their strategy encouraged the women to speak up–to share their opinions. The strategy also forced the male staffers and even the president to recognize the women’s contributions.
One of the female staffers noted, “We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing.” The president noticed, she said, and he called on women more often. During his second term, women made advances. Their voices were heard and taken seriously. Their speaking on behalf of one another and affirming each other’s words and ideas helped change a male-dominated environment.
After reading the Washington Post story (thanks to my friend, Tambi Swiney, who told me about it), I started wondering what amplification would look like if we as women ministers adopted it as our strategy. What if we spoke out on behalf of each other? What if we publicly affirmed each other’s words and gifts? What if we intentionally credited each other and spoke the names of those with good ideas out loud? What if we boldly recommended one another to pulpit committees, conference planners, book editors? What if we amplified our minister sisters?
What if . . . what if we formed a sisterhood committed to amplification?
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.