Microsoft CEO Opens Mouth, Inserts Foot On Gender Pay Gap [Updated]

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Update: Satya Backtracks

After opprobrium rained down from the sky following his comments regarding how women should approach asking for a raise, Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella quickly released a memo to Microsoft employees — it was released to the public as well — backtracking on his remarks.

Here it is in full:

All – Today I was interviewed on stage by Maria Klawe at the Grace Hopper Conference – I encourage you to watch the video. It was great to spend time with so many women passionate about technology. I was honored to be a part of it and I left the conference energized and inspired.

Toward the end of the interview, Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. 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.

I said I was looking forward to the Grace Hopper Conference to learn, and I certainly learned a valuable lesson. I look forward to speaking with you at our monthly Q&A next week and am happy to answer any question you have.

Satya

It remains to be seen if his retraction will dampen criticism.

Today at the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella hit the skids after Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd — an institution known for its prominence in STEM fields — asked him how young women should ask for a raise.

Nadella replied that not asking for a raise can in fact be “one of the additional superpowers that, quite frankly, women who don’t ask for a raise 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.”

His remarks came across as disjointed, odd, out of place, and wrong: Why tell women to accept lower pay in the short-term for the promise of the system correcting itself later, when that same system has proven that it will act unfairly?

Reaction to his comments on the raise matter were immediately negative:

The Microsoft leader later followed up with a clarifying tweet.

Klawe preceded her question with a story about her recent attendance at the Most Powerful Women Summit, where between 25 and 33 percent of the audience, by her estimate, indicated that they had never asked for a raise. In the United States, women ask for raises less frequently than men, leading to lower starting salaries for many young women that can persist throughout their careers.

Earlier in the discussion, Nadella listed a number of Microsoft leaders who are women — heads of its HR, business development, its CFO, etc. — and the CEO said that he “absolutely expects [one of the women] one of these days to be sitting in this chair,” the implication being that Microsoft will have a female CEO in the future.

It’s fair to say that even if his comments were merely poorly constructed word-salad that failed to convey his actual feelings, Nadella still alienated some women. Needless to say, this is a pretty large unforced error for Nadella. And if his comments were indicative of his actual views on the matter, they reflect poorly on the company he runs and, possibly, its culture. Let’s hope he returns to Redmond with a redoubled drive to further the cause of women in technology.

Here’s the exchange (Transcript via Microsoft):

Maria Klawe: So one of the questions that somebody asked was: How do you — what do you advise to women who are interested in advancing their careers, but they’re not comfortable putting themselves up for promotions or advanced opportunities? And there was an interesting — I just came from the Most Powerful Women Summit in Laguna Niguel, probably some of the other people here also made that trip to Phoenix.

And there was someone who was talking about the fact — it was Mary Barra, who was probably somebody you’ve talked with as well. And she was talking about the fact that she had never asked for a raise.

And then, you know, her interviewer looked out at the audience, which was a lot fewer people than here, and asked, “How many people have never asked for a raise in their life?” And I would say probably a quarter to a third of the attendees put out their hand.

Now, the most interesting one was Warren Buffett. (Laughter.) And don’t ask me why Warren Buffett is at the Most Powerful Women Summit. (Laughter.) Apparently, he’s been doing it for many years.

So, you know, for women who aren’t comfortable with asking for a raise or sort of saying — who aren’t the younger you, let’s say, what’s your advice for them?

Satya Nadella: You know, the thing that perhaps most influenced me in terms of how do you look at the journey or a career, there was this guy whose name was Mike Naples. He was the president of Microsoft when I joined. And he had this saying where he would say, “Look, all HR systems are long-term efficient, short-term inefficient.”

And I thought that that phrase just captured it. Which is, 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 a raise 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.

And I wonder — and I’m not saying that that’s the only approach, I wonder whether taking the long term helps solve for what might be perceived as this uncomfortable thing of, hey, am I getting paid right? Am I getting rewarded right? Because reality is your best work is not followed with your best rewards. Your best work then has impact, people recognize it, and then you get the rewards. And so you have to somehow think that through, I think.

Featured Image: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan