The lack of workplace diversity is an oft-discussed issue, one that has garnered the attention of a number of global companies. Among them is Google, who has made efforts to right that wrong. On Monday, when speaking about the tech industry's racial and gender inequality at South by Southwest, Google executive Eric Schmidt interrupted co-panelist Megan Smith repeatedly to give his opinions on the issue, displaying the very behavior at the center of the problematic culture in the tech industry that he himself rallied against.
The Google executive chairman was joined by author Walter Isaacson and U.S. chief technology officer and former Google executive Smith at the "How Innovation Happens" panel at SXSW in Austin, Texas. The Wall Street Journal reported that Schmidt, on numerous occasions, interrupted and cut off Smith mid-sentence — at one point, Schmidt suggested which of two questions Smith should respond to, and later interjected her midway through her response with his thoughts on Raspberry Pi, a mini computer with a niche customer base that Smith was promoting.
During the Q&A part of the session, one woman asked how personality biases in men and women affect workplace dynamics, reported WSJ, calling out Schmidt for repeatedly interrupting his former colleague to applause from the audience.
She asked, to the crowd's approval:
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.
The woman who posed the question turned out to be another Google employee, Judith Williams, who manages the company's Global Diversity and Talent Program that runs "unconscious bias" workshops that teach people how to identify and handle prejudice in the workplace. The irony is killing me.
While Schmidt's behavior was obviously unintentional (only a true buffoon would so deliberately contradict the very point he was making), his disregard for Smith's opinions is perhaps the prime example of how of deep the culture of discrimination in the tech industry runs — so much so that the person attempting to address the issue is himself unconsciously perpetuating it.
As Mashable points out, though, it's not so uncommon for participants in a moderated panel to interrupt each other. It wasn't just Schmidt who interrupted Smith; Isaacson did, too. According to WSJ, Schmidt dodged Williams' question, but it's not all bad. Earlier in the panel about gender inequality, he had called the lack of women in computer science programs a "tragedy." He even was the one to recruit Sheryl Sandberg, the famous author of Lean In, to Google, and during a conversation with her in 2013, he said, "Feminism 2.0 means understanding stereotypes and becoming empowered."
A look into Google's workforce from the past year showed that Google has a stunning lack of diversity for a company so large — 70 percent of its total employees are male, and 60 percent white. On top of that, males comprise a huge majority in the company's tech departments, totaling 83 percent.