Ideas are critical to science.
Incidentally, science is also a male-dominated field.
The complexity of gender roles in the workforce means that even in the most progressive settings, many factors can prevent ideas by women from achieving their deserved recognition. For instance, women are more frequently interrupted and less likely to demand credit for their ideas than men. In many STEM jobs, ideas are the major currency: success in science is measured by the novelty and value of our ideas and how these are presented.
The Washington Post recently reported on “amplification,” a tactic used by President Obama’s female staffers to ensure that their ideas were heard during meetings. The strategy is simple: when a woman offers an idea, other women repeat and validate its value. Repetition and validation--by women and for women—are productive verbal tools to promote the ideas of women in the workforce, especially in male-dominated scenarios. Because women in science face unique challenges while en route towards coveted career positions, it’s crucial to consider what the practice of amplification could mean for STEM jobs. How can the careers of female scientists benefit from the amplification technique?
Not dissimilar to White House jobs, positions early in the academic pipeline can be short stints that are of decreased access to women. At this stage, lab meetings and scientific talks are ideal venues for women to endorse the ideas of other women. When a female colleague gives a solid idea, women can repeat the idea to the group and reiterate the merit of the idea. These settings are also occasions where “mansplaining,” the sometimes habit of men to interrupt and interpret what a woman is saying, can be rife. Amplification is an important tool to combat mansplaining by attributing credit to the woman speaking and providing support in an environment of critique.
Outside of meeting spaces, women in STEM can indirectly practice amplification by sharing the research and accomplishments of other women, to endorse their ideas. Simple practices, like selecting a paper by a female PI for journal club or attending a talk by an up-and-coming female researcher, are ways to lend support to the voices of women in STEM. Professional organizations, such as the Association for Women in Science (AWIS), Million Women Mentors (MWM), and National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP), also encourage female scientists to connect with each other. Such connection is a necessary baseline for amplification to be successful.
Writing for Vox, Emily Crockett raises a critical point in disseminating the practice of amplification in any field: women must recognize the biases that exist and make specific efforts to increase the number of women at the table. At higher levels along the science pipeline, women can work to promote the hiring and representation of women to heighten the value of amplification. Professional scientific organizations can also be encouraged to participate by adding amplification to on-going discussions on gender biases in the workplace.
In an ideal society, men would play a more active role to promote women in the workforce. In the past, amplification has been a technique that women have urged men to use to promote the female voice. However, this practice is not prevalent in STEM positions, and both men and women must undergo active training to maintain awareness of the limitations that women face in the context of sharing ideas, work negotiations, and important meetings. At the individual level, women must remember the value of their own ideas. It’s not wrong to ask other women (and men) to support ideas that we, as individuals, believe to be worthwhile.
There is no instant solution to the issues that define gender biases in any workplace, though amplification is a direct and communicative effort to address long-existing problems. Scientists lend their expertise to politicians often. In this case, amplification is an opportunity for us, as scientists, to learn from politics.