AUSTIN, Texas — Well, that was awkward.
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.
— Elisabeth Morant (@egmorant) March 16, 2015
— Judith Williams (@judithmwilliams) March 16, 2015
“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.
On her part, Smith, a former Google executive, seemed unfazed. “It’s an interesting thing, unconscious bias,” Smith said. “It’s something we all have and it’s something we have to really debug.”
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