On Tuesday, a man in a very high-level position at a company made a thoughtless, ill-informed, sexist comment aimed at his female peers. He did this at a meeting intended to help root out bias at the company.

What sets this incident apart is that the man actually appears to have paid for his dumb comment. Generally, the totally lame defense for these types of comments is that they are intended as jokes, and women should just get over it. In that framing, it's the woman's fault for not being able to take a joke, not the man's fault for being insulting and contributing to a toxic environment.

In this case, the special sauce is that this particular comment was made at an all-hands meeting at Uber, which is under pressure to clean up its bro-ish atmosphere. And this particular all-hands meeting was convened to discuss findings from a report examining the company's culture. Seriously.

During the meeting, Arianna Huffington, who sits on Uber's board, said, "There's a lot of data that shows when there's one woman on a board, it's much more likely that there will be a second woman on a board."

David Bonderman, another Uber board member, and a partner at private equity firm TPG, interrupted her, saying, "Actually, what it shows is that it's much more likely to be more talking."

At that point, if anyone had any doubts about the general conclusions of the report--that Uber has a huge problem with sexism--they should have been put to rest. Bonderman perfectly illustrated the bias that so many women face every day, even in allegedly professional settings.

It's amazing that Bonderman couldn't refrain from his comment even at a time when Uber is under such pressure to become less biased. The company, its management, and its directors are under huge scrutiny, and deservedly so.

Which makes one wonder: What do male directors say when their every comment is not being watched? What do they say in private? What kinds of discussions do all-male boards have when there isn't a tape that gets leaked to a reporter?

The way Bonderman went about this is kind of classic. To start with, Bonderman interrupted Huffington. Men interrupt way more than women do, and they are more likely to interrupt women than they are to interrupt other men. The word manterrupting exists for a reason.

It's not like Bonderman is the only high-profile man who does it. Just this week, Senator Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor, was repeatedly interrupted by male senators as she questioned Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

One particularly ironic example: At an SXSW panel two years ago, Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and writer Walter Isaacson repeatedly interrupted fellow panelist Megan Smith, the chief technology officer of the United States. At one point, Schmidt even told Smith which of two questions she should answer. It was so bad that an audience member called Schmidt out on it. Even worse: A constant theme of the panel was diversity. And the audience member who called out Schmidt was Judith Williams, the head of Google's unconscious bias program.

Even at the Supreme Court, the male justices are far more likely to interrupt their colleagues than the women are, and the male justices are more likely to aim those interruptions at a female justice than at a male one. In response, female justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg in particular, have made their language less "polite," eschewing phrases such "Could I ask" or "Excuse me." Those just give the guys openings to interrupt.

Then there's that tired old sexist trope about women being overly talkative. You'd think, given that Bonderman sits on multiple boards, from Caesars Entertainment to Ryanair, he'd have at least some idea of who talks more and who talks less. Nope. A 2012 study found that in meetings, men talk much more than women do. If there is just one woman in a meeting and another joins, those two women still do much less talking than the men.

Bonderman apologized, and resigned from Uber's board later that day. He was on the board because his private equity firm, TPG, is an investor in Uber. So TPG still holds that board seat, and it will get to pick someone to fill it. Hopefully that'll be someone a bit more enlightened. Increasingly, it's looking as if TPG's investment depends on it.

Published on: Jun 14, 2017