Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been popular in Redmond, but he didn’t make any new female friends with his recent comments about pay raises. Now, the chief is backpedaling as fast as he can with a clear apology for what he calls “inarticulate” speech.
What exactly did Nadella say that was altogether inarticulate? It happened while speaking at a Phoenix, Ariz. gathering of women technologists on Thursday. During his platform time, someone asked him for advice about how women should ask for raises.
"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," Nadella said. "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.”
Nadella got immediate pushback from Maria Klawe, a Microsoft director who was interviewing him, no less. She made it clear that she did not agree with him, and the crowd applauded her bold defiance. Klawe then offered a practical answer to the original question about asking for a pay raise: study the topic and role-play negotiations.
In an e-mail to Microsoft employees, Nadella recalled that moment toward the end of the interview and admitted, “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.”
Nadella said he learned a valuable lesson, and even took to the Twittersphere to explain his faux pas to the masses: “Was in articulate re how women should ask for raise. Our industry must close gender gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias.”
Catalyst for Change
Nadella got plenty of backlash on the Twitter post. Sunny Bjerk responded, “Yikes. It sounded pretty articulate and purposeful to about a million other people.” Juanted House quipped, “Worse, I think he implied to literally trust magic.” And DeathandFood challenged, “Raises are always needed to account for cost of living and experience. You didn't get where you are by karma.”
We caught up with Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, to get his take on the mini-controversy. He told us in an industry with little sexual diversity people who belong to the dominant demographic probably don’t see the differences and may lack sensitivity to the problems of minority groups.
“This is because you won’t see the problems because they won’t apply to you, so it is more difficult to feel empathetic,” Enderle said. “That doesn’t mean the manager is unfeeling, it means they lack the personal experience to understand the problem.”
As Enderle sees it, this is a big problem in today’s workplace because women who move up in the system often do so through advantages offered as part of diversity programs -- or powerful mentors. These women, he continued, may believe the current system works for women because it worked for them without realizing they are the exceptions not the rule. CEOs in general, he said, are blind to system flaws because they didn’t experience them first hand.
“Since the executive, man or woman, is blind to their bias it will come out at events like this and the result, as it likely was here, actually can dramatically change how they view the world,” Enderle said. “In effect, Nadella should now be far more supportive of women regarding pay issues because he has been confronted with his bias and clearly finds it unacceptable. Now, if you could figure out a way to scale this lesson you likely could do powerful things to correct the pay imbalance because the bias Nadella showcased is widely held.”