The Simple Trick Women in the White House Use to Stop Getting Interrupted
The work place is not exactly a cozy place. Everyone is more concerned about themselves above everyone else, and competition is the order of the day.
If you want to survive and thrive, you have to be ready to play the game.
Unless you can prove that you bring something to the table, you are unlikely to even get that job.
Unless you put in more effort than the rest and show your worth, you are unlikely to get that promotion you have always been working for.
Unless you can show that you are actually capable, all the big projects will go to those who do.
One of the greatest arenas for you to get yourself noticed and show your worth is in meetings – especially if your manager is present.
Making meaningful contributions in meetings demonstrates your confidence and proactivity and your value to the organization.
Regardless of how smart you are, your colleagues are not mind readers, and the only way to showcase your brilliance is by making contributions in meetings.
Sometimes, however, an employee might be unable to showcase their brilliance, not because they are afraid to speak up in meetings, but because they don’t get the chance to speak, or because they feel they are not getting heard when they do.
This can especially true for minority groups at the workplace, such as women or people of color.
After all, how do you even show your worth when your ideas are being ignored, brushed over or even stolen?
If you have worked at a place where you were part of the minority group, I bet you have experienced a situation similar to this.
You are invited to a meeting whose aim is to come up with a solution that the organization has been battling with.
After listening to presentations, the participants are asked to share their ideas on how they think the problem should be tackled.
You experienced a similar problem at your previous job, and you have a solution you think might work in this situation.
“I think the best way to tackle this problem is to make clients part of the development process,” you suggest. “We can come up with a system that allows clients to view the progress on their project. This way, they can provide their comments and feedback during development, instead of completing the whole project only to find out that the client doesn’t like the end product.”
You are pretty sure that this will work, but it seems no one heard you say it.
There are a few murmurs, and before you proceed to explain why you think your suggestion will work, someone else interrupts you with a different suggestion, and the conversation quickly moves on to something different.
Being interrupted and ignored leaves you seething inside, but you decide to let it go.
In the next meeting, the same problem comes up for discussion.
One of your colleagues – someone who is not part of the minority – says that he has a solution he thinks might work, and he goes on to give the exact same solution you suggested last week. You can hardly believe your ears.
To make matters even worse, everyone else at the meeting treats the suggestion like it’s the greatest idea they ever heard in their entire lives. They enthusiastically nod along and wonder how no one else thought of this brilliant idea.
Have you ever found yourself in such a situation? For many women and other minority groups at the workplace, this is not such a farfetched scenario. It is something they encounter regularly.
Eventually, people within the minority groups at the workplace are cowed into keeping their ideas to themselves because they fear that their ideas will either be ignored or that they will be judged harshly for sharing their ideas.
In addition, the feeling of not being heard can be very demoralizing, and when left unaddressed, the frustration can spill over and affect the rest of your life.
In addition, the organization also loses out on all your great ideas.
This scenario happens at workplaces in industries across the board, from politics and entertainment to banking.
The idea that people in minority groups – especially women – are regularly interrupted and ignored at the workplace is not a mere perception. It is not just something in our heads.
Various studies and researches show that women are more likely to be interrupted by both men and women, they speak a lot less in professional situations, are less likely to receive credit for their contributions, and may sometimes even get punished for their contributions.
This behavior has become so rampant that new terms have even come up to describe the behavior.
The word “manterrupting” has been coined to describe situations where a woman is unnecessarily interrupted by a man, while the term “bropropriating” has been coined to describe situations where a man takes credit for a woman’s ideas.
Perhaps the most public and most famous case of manterrupting happened at the MTV Video Music Awards ten years ago when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift in the middle of giving an acceptance speech for winning the best female video and told her that she didn’t deserve the award.
Below is a video showing how common manterruptions are.
During President Obama’s first term at the office, the women working at the White House realized that manterruptions and bropropriations were preventing their voices from being heard, and they decided to do something about it to ensure that their contributions got to the president’s ears.
Working at the White House is typically a tough, challenging and demanding job.
For a woman, it is even tougher, owing to the fact that women make up for only a few of the employees working at the White House.
Historically, the White House has always been skewed in favor of men. All the presidents to ever sit in the Oval Office so far have been men.
All the Chiefs of Staff so far have been men.
Among the president’s top aides and advisors, men have always outnumbered women.
As a president ascends into power, he carries with him the men that have been part of his campaign to the White House, and it is a quite hard for a woman to break into this group.
This is the situation the women at the White House found themselves in during the first term of Obama’s presidency.
When he took office, only one third of his top aides were women. As you might expect in such a situation, the women found it hard to get themselves heard.
Their contributions were being ignored and brushed aside, and when the ideas were too good to be ignored, the men in the room often took credit for these ideas.
With no one else to turn to, the women turned to themselves.
They decided that the only way to make themselves heard was to stick up for each other.
The women came up with a strategy known as amplification.
If a woman made a great point but it went unacknowledged, the other women in the room would repeat the point and give credit to the woman who initially came up with the idea.
For instance, a woman applying amplification strategy would say,
“I would like to go back to what Marjorie said earlier. Her idea is valid because it provides us with a viable solution that allows us to tackle the problem at the grassroots level, where it is a lot easier to make the changes. I am in favor of her approach and can offer a few ways to make her solution even more effective.”
This approach forced the male staff at the White House to listen to and recognize the contribution of their female counterparts.
It made their contributions harder to ignore and also ensured that the men did not claim the ideas as their own.
Their strategy worked, and the men at the White House, including President Obama himself, started paying more attention to what the female staffers were saying.
The strategy even contributed to an increase in the number of female staff at the White House during president Obama’s second term.
In coming up with the amplification strategy, the women at the White House had realized two key things.
The first one is that repetition is one of the simplest and most effective techniques for reinforcing any point. It is the best tools for creating emphasis.
At the same time, the women also realized that having to repeat your point yourself would achieve the opposite of what they were trying to achieve.
Instead of helping them get heard, it would make them appear as self-centered and even unprofessional.
Having the point repeated by a different person, on the other hand, adds more weight to what was said.
While the amplification strategy was invented by the women at the White House, it is not reserved just for women in politics.
Manterrupting and bropropriating is not exclusive to politics. It happens in professional environments across the board, which means that the amplification strategy can be used in all these situations.
If you notice that the women (or any other minority group) within your office are being ignored or their ideas getting stolen, you should encourage your coworkers to implement the amplification strategy.
Cutting each other off and ignoring the ideas of others does not help an organization in any way. It just intimidates the victims and keeps them from sharing their ideas.
In the long run, the organization misses out from all the brilliant ideas that these employees chose to keep to themselves.
Therefore, instead of competing against each other and constantly trying to make ourselves look good, you should encourage your colleagues to support each other’s ideas whenever these ideas make sense.
Whenever you notice someone’s ideas being ignored, you should be ready to speak up for them.
If you work in an environment where female workers are the minority and you decide to adopt the amplification strategy, you need to realize that the strategy is a team effort.
It will only work if the women (or any other minority group that is not being listened to) decide to stick up for each other. In order for the amplification strategy to be effective, the members of the group must:
- Agree to support each other: The strategy relies on support. For it to work, the group must agree to support each other whenever they feel one of their own is being ignored or looked down upon.
- Amplify each other’s voices: The group must also agree to reinforce each other’s contributions. By amplifying each other’s voices, you build credibility for each other, make each other’s appear smarter, and make yourselves more visible. Another way to amplify each other’s voices is to open the floor for each other. For instance, a woman who is speaking can close by asking another woman if they have any additional thoughts. This gives the other woman a chance to voice her opinion before a male colleague takes over the floor.
- Make it a habit: You also need to make the strategy a habit in order for it to be effective. If you amplify each other’s voice just one or two times, no one will take note, and your efforts will be in vain. In order for the men in the office to take notice, the female workers should implement the amplification strategy every time one of their own makes an important point.
Sometimes, however, it is possible that you might not be getting heard, not because you are a woman or part of some minority group, but because of other reasons.
In this case, the amplification strategy might not work because you don’t have a group to turn to.
If you find yourself in such a situation, you should follow the following steps to make yourself heard.
ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF
Have you ever observed what goes on inside your mind when you make a contribution you feel is meaningful, but then the other people in the room brush it off like it makes no sense? How did that make you feel? What did you do about it?
If you are like most people, you probably sat back feeling insignificant, while at the same time making a strong mental note on what you will do in response to this.
Very often, you end up doing nothing.
Unfortunately, this does not help you in any way, and the people who ignored your contributions will probably do it again.
To minimize the chances of this being repeated, you should speak up for yourself when you feel like your contribution is not getting the consideration it deserves.
Instead of sitting back timidly when people ignore your suggestions, gently try to engage them further.
You can do this by asking some thoughtful questions, such as:
- “Do you think this approach could work?”
- “Do you have any concerns with this approach?”
- “What if we just gave it a try?”
Asking such questions will make it a lot harder for the other guys to dismiss your ideas. However, always remain respectful when pushing for the consideration of your ideas.
Of course, for your ideas to be considered, they need to be insightful, therefore it is always good to prepare your talking points before the meeting.
This way, you can be sure that your colleagues are not ignoring your suggestions because they don’t make sense.
Apart from advocating for yourself when your contributions are ignored, you should also speak up for yourself in case someone tries to take credit for your ideas.
For instance, if you proposed something the previous week and it was brushed aside, yet someone shares the same suggestion this week and the rest of the team seems enthusiastic about the suggestion, you could call out the person trying to steal your idea by saying something like,
“Can you explain how that differs from the approach I proposed during last week’s meeting?”
While doing this might result in an awkward moment for the colleague that was trying to steal your ideas, it is an effective way of getting people to pay more attention to your contributions, and your colleagues are less likely to try to take credit for your ideas.
TALK TO YOUR SUPERVISOR
While calling out people who ignore or try to steal your ideas is effective by itself, it can sometimes result in you being viewed as too competitive, rude or self-centered.
Therefore, it is always a great idea to approach your supervisor afterwards for a one-on-one conversation.
Make it known to them that you feel like you are not getting heard, and then explain that all you want to do is make sure that you are also making a valuable contribution to the organization. You can also ask your supervisor if they think that there is something else you need to do to ensure that your contributions get the consideration they deserve during meetings.
Having such a conversation makes your supervisor more likely to pay attention to your contributions next time.
It might even make them stick up for you the next time other members of the team try to brush off or appropriate your contributions.
In addition, it might help you uncover team norms that might not have been initially apparent to you.
Sometimes, your contributions might be getting ignored, not because the rest of the team has some malicious intents, but because you are not following some of the group’s unwritten rules.
Therefore, it’s always smart to have a conversation with your supervisor before jumping into conclusions.
WHAT IF THERE IS NO CHANGE?
Sometimes, despite your best efforts at addressing your concerns, it seems like there is nothing you can do to bring about positive change.
You have tried pushing for further consideration of your ideas, you have severally called out colleagues who try to take credit for your ideas, and you have had several conversations with your supervisor explaining that you feel like your contributions are not receiving the consideration they deserve.
Unfortunately, you have seen absolutely no change.
The rest of the team continue ignoring you or stealing your ideas like you are not there.
Working in such environment can be very draining and demotivating.
If you happen to find yourself in such a situation where you have tried addressing your concerns to no avail, it might be time for you to start the hunt for a new job where you can make a meaningful contribution.
Every person deserves to be in a job where their contributions are valued.
While I encourage you to move if you feel like your contributions are not valued, this does not mean that you should expect your team to treat your every suggestion as a message from the gods and implement it immediately.
Regardless of how brilliant you are, not all your ideas will be great, and it’s perfectly normal for some of your suggestions will be dismissed.
However, if you feel like no one seems to listen to anything you say, despite your best efforts to change that, this could be an indication that there is a larger problem within the organization, in which case your best bet might be to look for another job.
In order to survive and thrive at work, you need to prove yourself and show your worth to the organization.
The best way of doing this is by speaking up and sharing your ideas with the rest of the team.
Sometimes, however, the rest of your team can make it challenging for you to share your ideas and demonstrate your worth, either by brushing off your ideas or even trying to take credit for your ideas.
This is especially common for women and other minority groups within the workplace, such as foreigners or people of color.
Having your ideas ignored or stolen can be very discouraging and frustrating.
I have been in such situations, and I know how difficult it can be.
Fortunately, there are some steps you can take to ensure you get heard. If you are part of a minority group at your workplace, team up with the rest of the group and agree to stick up for each other.
If you have no group to stick up for you, advocate for yourself and have a conversation with your supervisor.
Finally, if you feel that nothing you do is changing the situation, don’t be afraid to look for another job.
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