You could call it a “gaffe,” as some have, or an “inarticulate” expression, as Microsoft (MSFT) chief executive Satya Nadella himself said, but, really, let’s call it for what it is, and that’s “cement.”

DH Kass, Senior Contributing Blogger

October 13, 2014

3 Min Read
Microsoft's Nadella: Karma is Women’s Superpower in Wage Equity Struggle

You could call it a “gaffe,” as some have, or an “inarticulate” expression, as Microsoft (MSFT) chief executive Satya Nadella himself said, but, really, let’s call it for what it is, and that’s “cement.”

Nadella, speaking on Oct. 9 to a mostly female audience at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which bills itself as the "largest gathering of women technologists" in the world—either advertently, or inadvertently, depending on your view—cemented the idea that women shouldn’t ask for pay raises or promotions, but instead have “faith in the system” to reward them if justified.

The act of not asking but instead waiting for others to decide your worth is what empowers women in the workplace, he said. In other words, Microsoft’s female employees would do best by quietly waiting to be noticed—seen but not heard—begging the question, of course, about whether Nadella used that tactic to rise to his position at the company’s helm.

“It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise,” Nadella said. “That might be one of the initial ‘super powers,’ that quite frankly, women [who] don’t ask for a raise have,” he said, speaking to Maria Klawe, Harvey Mudd College president, a computer scientist, and one of only three female members of Microsoft’s 12-director board.

“It’s good karma. It will come back,” he said. Like magic, one must assume.

The clumsiness of Nadella’s words trampled on a number of issues critical to the gender wage gap: It’s not only that women are underpaid—statistics supporting that inequity are omnipresent—but also that women already are less likely to negotiate with their bosses for pay raises or promotions and fear doing so will penalize them.

Judging from Nadella’s remarks, that fear seems well-founded. Afterwards, perhaps someone whispered in his ear, or he realized on his own the ditch he’d dug for himself or the “tell” he’d revealed with the cement he’d poured into the wage inequity hole in which women already find themselves.

Later that day, he walked his remarks back, writing in a memo to Microsoft’s employees, 29 percent of whom are female, “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.”

Since his ascension to Microsoft’s top slot, Nadella has been roundly praised, and rightfully so, as the right leader to guide the vendor into the mobile, cloud era. And, while he properly, and nearly immediately, apologized for his wrong-headed and uninformed advice to women in the workplace, there’s far more he could have done, and still can do, not merely to make amends but actually to do something to support what he called “Maria’s advice.”

Microsoft’s HR department doubtless has reams of internal statistics on where the company fits on the wage equity continuum, so arguing that the vendor should conduct a gender-centric investigation of its pay raise and promotion practices and policies likely is to suggest a redundant exercise.

But, similar to how Apple’s (AAPL) chief executive Tim Cook has become an adamant, vocal champion of certain social and human rights issues, Nadella could grow from his mistake beyond issuing an easy, albeit uncomfortable, mea culpa, to step out of his wonk clothes and mirror Cook’s example.

He could, with his far-reaching influence, become an insistent and public champion for equal opportunity and equal pay for women, insisting that Microsoft adhere to a modern view of the workplace and presenting the vendor’s hallways as the place for women in IT to gravitate to and advance within—not by urging them to quietly hope, but instead by vigorously encouraging them to act.

And he should repeat it, over and over and over again, as he has with the company’s “mobile first, cloud first” mantra.

Let’s hope he does.

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About the Author(s)

DH Kass

Senior Contributing Blogger, The VAR Guy

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