It is equal parts hilarious and depressing that Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt was called out for repeatedly interrupting Megan Smith, chief technology officer for the United States, while trying to talk about diversity and women in tech.
The SXSW panel, which hosted Smith, Schmidt and Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson, was about innovation in tech, and so the conversation turned to attracting new talent and bringing more women and people of color into the field to spur new ideas.
It seems that the crowd noticed that Schmidt was regularly interrupting Smith to share his own views about diversity, so someone in the audience brought it up during the question and answer period. According to a report from Karissa Bell at Mashable, the questioner asked, “Given that unconscious bias research tells us that women are interrupted a lot more than men, I’m wondering if you are aware that you have interrupted Megan many more times.”
I work in law, not tech, but I can tell you that this problem is every bit as common, if not more so, in the law. And, no, it’s not equal parts depressing and hilarious. There’s not a damn thing funny about it.
And I absolutely love what Judith Williams, head of Google’s global diversity and talent management program, did here. When you’re the woman being interrupted, trying to keep talking over your interrupter or saying, “Don’t interrupt me. Let me finish. Wait,” can, in that wonderful double-bind world in which we operate, cause you to be perceived as “shrill; too sensitive; pushy.”
So having another woman step up and say, as Ms. Williams did, “Are you aware that you keep interrupting her?” is wonderful. We should do it for each other way more often.
Another thing I do is, when a woman proposes an idea, and everyone goes on talking, and then, a few minutes later, a man proposes the same thing as if it were his own idea (and, believe me, most of the time even he thinks it’s his idea because . . . Patriarchy), I say, “So you agree with Mary? You’re endorsing what she proposed a few minutes ago?”
This stuff apparently isn’t going to change on its own.
Picture found here.