Eric “Uncle Sugar” Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman is having a rough day. Uncle Sugar was on a panel at SXSW where he made an ass of himself. Again. (Don’t worry, he can’t be fired–he controls the company’s voting stock with Brin and Page, and they damn sure aren’t going to do anything about the latest outrage.)
According to the Wall Street Journal:
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt had a lot to say Monday about the lack of racial and gender diversity in the technology industry.
In fact, Schmidt had so much to say that he often interrupted and spoke over his co-panelist, Megan Smith, the U.S.’s chief technology officer and a former Google executive. The two appeared on a panel at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Tex.
I’m going to pose two questions about this latest debacle for Uncle Sugar. The first will sound trivial, but it really isn’t. Why is it these people come to Austin (where I live) to act out?
The second is, I hope, a more subtle one. If even half of what is reported about Uncle Sugar’s private life is true, he definitely does not lack for female companionship. I’ll pose a different interpretation of his behavior that is not meant to excuse it at all, but to point out another layer of offensiveness.
I think what we saw in the interaction between Uncle Sugar and the Chief Technology Office of the United States was an example of how Google treats government employees. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, Ms. Smith works for the President of the United States. At least nominally.
What if in fact she only has a dotted line to the President, but she actually still works for Uncle Sugar? Schmidt clearly has no qualms whatsoever about running roughshod over a former employee in public on a panel about the problems with the very behavior he exhibited.
Why? Let’s go with the obvious conclusion. Let’s assume for a moment that he knew what he was doing, he knew where he was, he didn’t care, and he treated Ms. Smith the same way he does all the time regardless of her title because she works for him and this is how Schmidt treats those people. And if he will treat someone who ostensibly works for the President this way, how do you think he treats the other “former” Google employees who are running the United States Government in lesser positions?
Here’s the sad part.
Toward the end of the session, one woman in the audience asked the two to address how personality biases in men and women affect workplace dynamics. She noted that Schmidt repeatedly talked over his former colleague — prompting applause from a full exhibit hall….
Schmidt didn’t respond to the questioner. He had noted earlier in the panel that the lack of women in college computer-science programs is a “tragedy.” A Google spokeswoman declined additional comment [so in case that slipped by you, the antecedent of “additional comment” from the ubiquitous “Google spokeswoman” is Schmidt noting the tragedy. Don’t be shocked if you missed it the first time around].
Smith, for her part, avoided discussing Schmidt’s interruptions specifically. [Why? Why didn’t she lean in?] But she noted that differences in how men and women act can create inequality in the workplace. She cited a study showing that if a job listing shows 10 requirements, a man may still apply if he only has three of them, whereas a woman will hold back unless she has seven.
Acknowledging she can be cryptic, Smith also recalled how she’ll sometimes float ideas at meetings and get no response. A half hour later, a man will offer up the same idea, she said.
“It’s not anybody’s fault,” Smith said.
Oh yes it is. It’s definitely the fault of the leader who fails to notice that dynamic. When it creates a culture of diminishing a group of employees based on gender, it’s the fault of Google’s senior management and most especially their board of directors. The dominos of the failure of leadership is simply revolting.
But what is more telling is Schmidt’s arrogance toward a senior government official. There was no equivocation in Schmidt’s demeanor–he thought Ms. Smith still worked for him.
So the question is…does she?