Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Arianna Huffington at the Uber all-hands

(Editor' s note: No, it's not Friday, but the hiatus did not let me publish this key speaking moment of 2017, so I'm using the last week of the year to catch up.)

The all-hands meeting in corporate life is no one's favorite venue as a speaker. Rarely is it about giving everyone a car and a year off; more often, it's an effort to deliver and explain bad news, or to start fixing a company-wide problem. And so it was for the ride-sharing behemoth Uber in June. Beset by problems that ranged from sexual harassment accusations to cities revoking its licenses, the company had commissioned an independent report that gave it numerous prescriptions for fixing its sexist culture, and the June meeting was meant to address those with employees.

So it was not a small moment when Uber board member Arianna Huffington, CEO of Thrive Global and founder of the Huffington Post announced that one of those steps would involve appointment another woman, Wan Ling Martello of Nestle Global, to the board--a step that would make women 25% of the board's makeup. At this point, Huffington was the lone woman on the board. The announcement came 7 minutes into the all hands meeting, a moment when management is usually working hard to set the tone for the rest of the session. Here's a transcript of what happened as Huffington was explaining the decision, and her fellow board member David Bonderman of TPG Capital, decided a little mansplaining was in order:
Huffington: There's a lot of data that shows that when there's one woman on the board it's much more likely there will be a second woman on the board.
Bonderman: Actually, what it shows is that it's much more likely to be more talking. 
Huffington: Ohhh. Come on, David. 
People in the room were "aghast," according to one report. Mansplaining often begins with just such an interruption, and the myth that women talk too much is a centuries-old trope used to shut women up--after all, if you're told you talk too much, that's a typical response. The comments were leaked almost immediately, and Bonderman later apologized and then resigned from the board.

Writing in the Washington Post, Christie Emba lays out the substantive issue behind the sexism of saying women talk too much in the workplace:
At Uber, for example, more “talking” would be an uncontestable good. A lack of communication is a major reason the company has wound up in a public crisis. From its founding, the dysfunctional start-up had poorly articulated policies and provided little supervision and few ways for workers to take their concerns up the food chain. Former employee Susan J. Fowler had to turn to a public blog to report sexual harassment. 
Perhaps more dialogue in the early stages would have compelled Uber’s executives to recognize all that and adopt standard business best practices — things as basic as requiring receipts for reimbursement and as major as not turning a blind eye to harassment by “high-performing” employees — years ago. Having more women on its board in the earlier days (Huffington joined only last year) might have led the company to address the sexism in its culture before it spiraled out of control.
What can you learn from this famous, interrupted speech?
  •  Make clear sexist comments are not acceptable: Huffington might have done more, but in the moment--who was expecting a sexist remark at a meeting on sexism?--her rebuke at least made clear that the view was one a dinosaur might hold, and not appropriate.
  • Remember that your presence and voice are essential, no matter how outnumbered you may be as a woman. Both in this more public meeting and many private ones, Huffington was the lone female voice battling the culture. Imagine this meeting had there been no female board member. 
  • Audiences don't like sexist treatment of women speakers. Guess what? Here's another case where the audience objected immediately (and probably leaked audio of the exchange that fast, too). Audiences have helped back up beleaguered women speakers a lot this year, and I like that trend.
Leaked audio from the meeting is here, and the relevant part begins at the 6:40 mark.

(Creative Commons licensed photo by C2 Montreal)

Get involved in more conversations on public speaking with The Eloquent Woman. Follow our Facebook page, read great quotes from eloquent woman on Pinterest, or follow me as @dontgetcaught on Twitter. Learn how to be a better panel moderator with The Eloquent Woman's Guide to Moderating Panels.

No comments: