Nadella’s Advice To Women On Raises Comes Back To Bite Him

By Janet I. Tu
The Seattle Times.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, speaking Thursday at one of the world’s largest gatherings of women in technology, angered many when he said women needn’t ask for raises but should trust in the system and good karma to get them the salaries they deserve.

Just hours later, though, Nadella said he was wrong in those remarks.

Nadella was speaking at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing and was taking part in a Q&A keynote address with Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College and a Microsoft board member.

Klawe had asked Nadella what his advice would be for women who are uncomfortable asking for a raise.

Nadella said, in part: “It’s not really about asking for the raise but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along. And that, I think, might be one of the additional superpowers that, quite frankly, women who don’t ask for raises have. Because that’s good karma. It’ll come back. Because somebody’s going to know: ‘That’s the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to.’ And in the long-term efficiency, things catch up.”

That answer did not sit well with Grace Hopper conference attendees nor with the wider audience, which responded with incredulity and exasperation on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere.

Nadella’s comments come at a time when the tech industry is facing criticism for its wide gender gap. And it’s the first notable public-speaking blunder for Nadella, who has largely been smooth, eloquent and on-script in his public engagements since becoming CEO in February.

But on this occasion, he truly stuck his foot in it.

Nadella backtracked later, saying first in a tweet Thursday: “Was inarticulate re how women should ask for raise. Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias.”

He then sent an email to all Microsoft employees: “I answered that question completely wrong. Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it’s deserved, Maria’s advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”

Klawe had said she disagreed with Nadella’s advice and relayed her own stories of not asking for the pay she thought she deserved. She advised audience members to find out what reasonable salaries are, and to role-play asking for the salaries they deserve.

Locally, as elsewhere, some women in tech said Nadella’s response on this issue was wrong.

“Women working in computer science still make less than what men make,” said Tina Podlodowski, a former Microsoft executive and now an independent consultant on technology issues. “I think that would probably engender women not having trust in the system as it is right now.”

Further, at Microsoft and any other company, she said, “not only do you need to ask for the salary you deserve, you also need to ask for the opportunities that you deserve.”

Indeed, recent research shows the gender pay gap still exists in tech, though it’s narrower than in many other sectors. Female computer scientists make 89 percent of what men make, The New York Times reported, citing a Harvard economist’s work.

“Those were disappointing comments by Satya,” said U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, a former Microsoft executive. “The data makes clear that a gender wage gap exists across all sectors of our economy, and comments like these are emblematic of how far we still have to go to ensure equal pay for equal work.”

Susannah Malarkey, executive director of Technology Alliance, which includes leaders from Washington state’s tech businesses and research institutions, said: “Many women’s experience is that they do not get rewarded simply by being fabulous. In fact, they do have to ask and they do have to speak up for themselves.”

Liz Morgan, senior recruiter at LinkedIn and a former Microsoft and recruiter, had just posted a link earlier this week on how to negotiate a raise to the Seattle Girl Geek Dinners’ Facebook page. Morgan founded Seattle Girl Geek Dinners.

“We’re too humble in the workplace in terms of emphasizing our big wins, our accomplishments,” she said. “Waiting for karma will do no service to helping us grow and promote our careers.”

The tech industry has long had a gender gap that has gotten worse over the years.

The percentage of women employed in computer occupations hit a peak of 34 percent in 1990. By 2011, that percentage was 27 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Last week, Microsoft released figures showing that about 29 percent of the company’s employees were female — on par with other tech giants. The Microsoft number came after several years in which that percentage stood at 24 percent.

The percentage of women in its technical and leadership positions stood at about 17 percent each.

At the Grace Hopper conference — named for a Navy rear admiral and pioneer computer programmer — Nadella had up until the raise comment given fairly thoughtful answers about how the industry as a whole needed to get more women into tech, and about how Microsoft itself might do better.

Of the gender-gap issue, he said: “I, in fact, do not want to fall for the crutch of: ‘Hey, there’s a supply side issue, go tackle that.’ That, I think is also an issue that we do need to deal with.

“But I think the real issue in our company is to figure out how to make sure that we are getting women who are very capable into the organization and are well represented, especially in our case, into development. I think we do pretty well in a lot of other functions. We don’t do as well in development.”

He talked about how Microsoft’s presence at the conference is part of ensuring the company is recruiting well.

He said it’s important to make sure, once women join Microsoft, that they are mentored and that the company makes “the culture of the place be such that women can do their best work. That is something that I’m committed to.”

Nadella also talked about the need to create a workplace environment where midcareer women who make a choice to take time off to raise their families can come back without losing ground.

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