Well Played, Ma'am

[Content Note: Misogyny.]

This is awesome:
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.

Many years ago, I had a male colleague who would constantly interrupt me in meetings. And it was the worst kind of interruption—as soon as he'd see where I was going with an idea, he'd interrupt me to present the idea himself, as if it were his own.

This guy was 20 years my senior, and had professional seniority on me, and he wasn't the sort of guy with whom I could simply have a straightforward conversation about the dynamic where there would be any kind of productive and meaningful resolution.

So, one day, I just started drumming my fingers loudly on the conference table every time he interrupted me and started speaking over me. After only two or three times of this, he turned to me and angrily asked, "Can you please stop making noise while I'm speaking?"

"I'm sorry," I said, "but I can't. This is what happens when I'm put on pause by your interrupting me. Once I can complete my thought, it will stop."

There were lots of muffled snickers around the room. He quietly seethed. But it only took a few more finger-drumming incidents before he stopped.

Naturally, he had to try to "win" by dramatically asking, "Are you done speaking? May I speak now? I wouldn't want to tire your fingers." several times, but I just looked back at him with a sweet smile and responded, "I am. Thank you for asking!"

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