June 22, 2021

How to Amplify Marginalized Voices


We truly are in unprecedented times. As veils are lifted one by one, many Americans are seeing, some for the first time, just how insidious the racial disparities in our society are. And as those disparities are laid bare, injustices against other marginalized groups are also getting long-overdue attention. There is a lot of processing that needs doing, on a personal level and on a company level. And it can be hard to figure out how, as just one person, you can do your part to help push the needle towards positive change.

Like many others, I have been thinking about what I can do on my end. I won’t bore you with my laundry list of what I’ve been up to lately, but I did want to share one specific tactic that nearly anyone can do to help move the needle, just that little bit further towards equality: Amplify Marginalized Voices.

What do we mean – “Marginalized Voices?”

For the sake of clarity, let’s talk a bit first about the word “marginalized”: In this context, we’re using marginalized to mean any person, or group of people, who have been treated as less significant, less valued, and/ or more peripheral than others in our society. Now, before we get into the “How”, let’s take a moment to look at the “Why”.

Why does this matter?

The annual McKinsey and LeanIn.org Women in the Workplace report, which in 2019 surveyed 329 companies and more than 68,000 employees, found that half of the surveyed women had experienced being interrupted or spoken over and 38 percent had others take credit for their ideas.

And it’s not just an issue for women; people of color of all genders and members of the lgbt+ community experience being talked over and being interrupted much more than their white, straight, male counterparts. As a queer woman of color, I have personally experienced this many, many times. And almost everyone I know from a marginalized group has several stories about their voices being ignored in meetings and other professional environments.

Some of you might be incredulously wondering: Who would do such a thing? Don’t just take it from me- this is not merely anecdotal, this is a well-documented phenomenon. I am sure that most of the time it is done subconsciously, without intended malice (due to implicit bias). But that does not make it less egregious, nor does it make the results less demoralizing for the affected employees.

For my personal experience, the effect this has had on me has been substantial. I simply stopped talking in meetings. I didn’t stop having thoughts and insights. I just started keeping them to myself. As a near-40-year-old professional who now finds herself in a work environment where my ideas are not only listened to, but appreciated and respected; I’ve literally had to retrain myself to talk in meetings. To be honest, it’s something I’m still working on. The bad news is that my experience is not abnormal. The good news is that every single one of us, especially non-marginalized allies, can help amplify marginalized voices.

So, HOW do we Amplify Marginalized Voices in our everyday lives? 

Step One: Listen to marginalized voices in meetings.

Step Two: When someone says something, punctuate their thought or idea by using their name and repeating the gist of said thought or idea (especially if people are talking over them or moving on without acknowledging the topic).

Some examples:

“Jill, I loved what you said earlier about our social media presence, can we all circle back on that?”

“I’d like to piggyback on Rashid’s point regarding the timing of the all-hands meeting; I agree that the end of the week may not be ideal, would Wednesday be better? What do you think Rashid?”

“I’m sorry, I think I missed what Tonya was just saying about the newsletter. Tonya, can you repeat that?”

“I agree with what Carter said about the challenges we’ve had with our SEO, maybe we should schedule another meeting to discuss?”

I’m not implying that Amplifying Marginalized Voices will cure society’s ills and suddenly take us to a true meritocracy. There is SO much to do and learn. We have a long way to go. But, every positive action helps. And you now have one more tool in your toolbox to help in the fight for fairness in your workplace. Are you part of any committees or social groups? You can use this tactic there too! You can use this tactic in any place people are gathering to express ideas. It may be small, but I promise you, it can be impactful, and it’s something you can begin to put into practice today.

To read more on this topic, please see this Alley Insight article by Sarah Rose Belok.

If you have any questions or would like to chat further about this, feel free to reach me at leah@hirewell.com.

More blogs from Leah Dugan

See all Talent Insights Blog entries....

Our Latest Featured Episode

Our Shows