On Monday, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and acclaimed Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson were wrapping up a SXSW Interactive panel that had focused on diversity, when an audience member called out the two men for repeatedly interrupting their fellow panelist, the United States’ Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith.
Even more awkward? The audience member who posed the question was apparently Judith Williams, who heads up Google’s unconscious bias program.
Here’s how it went down: Schmidt, Isaacson and Smith were onstage together for a panel called “How Innovation Happens.” One of the recurring themes of their hourlong talk was diversity in tech, and how the U.S. government and companies like Google can get more women and minorities involved.
Both men interrupted Smith several times — not unusual for moderated panels — but Williams felt it was particularly poignant given the day’s topic of diversity. During a 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.
“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,” she asked, which immediately prompted a round of cheers and applause from the packed room.
Williams went on to ask Smith to speak to how unconscious bias affects her and other women. She noted that it often means that men appropriate the ideas of female colleagues and get all the credit. Major credit to Williams for taking the opportunity to show — in real-time — one of the more subtle and ubiquitous ways gender bias plays out. May we all commit to interrupting the interrupters more.