Obama's Female Staffers Hatched A Plan To Make Their Voices Heard — And It Worked

The gender makeup of the Obama administration is markedly different after 7 years.

Obama's Female Staffers Hatched A Plan To Make Their Voices Heard — And It Worked

For more than 200 years, the Oval Office has been occupied by men — 43 of them, to be exact — who surrounded themselves with even more men, as aides, advisors, and staffers. The White House has almost exclusively been a boys' club for centuries, but during the Obama years, women made a concerted push for a place at the table, the Washington Post reported, and it worked. 

In 2008 when Barack Obama became the nation's first black president, two-thirds of his top aides were men, many of whom came over from his campaign, according to the Post. While there were female staffers by Obama's side, too, many struggled to get into important meetings.


Before serving as national security adviser, Susan Rice, who held different positions in the Obama administration, faced this problem. 

She told reporter Juliet Eilperin that she had to press her way into meetings sometimes. "It's not pleasant to have to appeal to a man to say, 'Include me in that meeting,'" she said.

But if they were successful in making sure they were attending important conferences, their ideas weren't always heard. So they banded together to make sure they would be. Eilperin reported:

Female staffers adopted a meeting strategy they called "amplification": When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to its author. This forced the men in the room to recognize the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own. 

"We just started doing it, and made a purpose of doing it. It was an everyday thing," a former Obama aide told Eilperin anonymously. Obama took notice, she added, and started consulting more female and junior aides.

This amplification strategy is associated with the "shine theory," an approach that writer Ann Friedman explained in New York Magazine a few years ago as, "I don't shine if you don't shine." She wrote:

I want the strongest, happiest, smartest women in my corner, pushing me to negotiate for more money, telling me to drop men who make me feel bad about myself, and responding to my outfit selfies from a place of love and stylishness, not competition and body-snarking.

And should Hillary Clinton win the election, 2017 could herald a new era in the White House. Earlier this year, Clinton vowed to fill half her cabinet with women if she is president, which would make a double whammy of historical firsts, shattering the "highest, hardest glass ceiling" in the country. 


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