Google Exec Gets Called Out for Repeatedly Cutting Off a Woman While Discussing Diversity

Article written by Angela Hydes, Marketing and Content Contributor. Follow us at @TALGroup.

Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, speaks during a session with students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in Hong Kong, Monday, Nov. 4, 2013.
Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google, speaks during a session with students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in Hong Kong, Monday, Nov. 4, 2013. Image: Vincent Yu, AP.

On Monday, Google exec Eric Schmidt took to the stage to discuss diversity with two fellow panel members, Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson and United States’ Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith. Things got awkward when Schmidt was called out by an audience member for continuously interrupting Smith during the discussion.  Things got even weirder when that audience member was identified as Judith Williams, chair of Google’s unconscious bias program.

While Schmidt, Isaacson and Smith were onstage together, one of the recurring themes of their discussion was diversity in tech and how the U.S. government and companies like Google can get more women and minorities involved. Audience members took to social media to comment on how both men (Schmidt and Isaacson) interrupted Williams. While interruptions are not uncommon during SXSW Interactive Panels, their presence was particularly felt given the topic being discussed that day.  During the Q&A Session with the audience, Williams, who is Google’s Global Diversity and Talent Programs Manager, asked both men if they thought their interruptions were a sign of the unconscious bias they themselves had been talking about. [Mashable]

“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,” Williams asked, which immediately prompted a round of cheers and applause from the packed room.

On her part, Smith, a former Google executive, seemed unfazed. “It’s an interesting thing, unconscious bias. It’s something we all have and it’s something we have to really debug.”

As a female holding a leadership role within the technology sector, I certainly relate to this issue myself and am pleased some light is being shed on this important topic. It is crucial that leaders within technology acknowledge the unconscious bias that presently exists in this field, and start making active strides to reverse it. Female leadership in tech has massive potential, but without these prejudices being reversed, its capability cannot be unlocked.

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