Advertisement

Microsoft CEO's sexist view of women, dressed up as advice

Microsoft CEO's sexist view of women, dressed up as advice
Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella's statement that women shouldn't ask for raises echoed throughout the tech industry and beyond on Thursday. He is pictured in late September speaking to students in New Delhi. (Manish Swarup / Associated Press)

Finally, ladies! A secret of the universe has been revealed, and it comes from Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella.

The way professional women can get raises, he explained at a conference of women technologists on Thursday, is to avoid asking for one.

That's right: Women should simply trust that the system, particularly male-dominated tech, will reward them. You know, like it does.

“It’s not really about asking for the raise,” he told Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe, who interviewed him onstage Thursday at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference in Phoenix, “but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raises as you go along.”

Not asking for a raise is a kind of “superpower,” he said, that enables women to please their bosses, which will result in good karma and, eventually, a fatter paycheck. No. Seriously. “That’s good karma,” he said, referrring to NOT asking for more money. “It’ll come back because somebody’s gonna know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust, that’s the kind of person that I really want to give more responsibility to.”

Fascinating. I wonder what Lilly Ledbetter would say. She had to take her unequal pay case to the Supreme Court and then Congress in order to rectify it. It's almost as appalling as Gov. Jerry Brown once telling university professors they should be willing to take pay cuts because their jobs provide "psychic income."

If we take a step back and look at Nadella’s comments from a different perspective, we might actually be able to applaud him – not for giving advice – but for frankly describing the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” status quo for women and their wages.

Nadella’s fellow Silicon Valley chief executive, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, who is also the author of the bestselling career advice book “Lean In,” talks about the crazy conundrum women face when it comes to asking for more.

Sandberg, who says her brother had to yell at her to get her to squeeze a better deal out of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, advises women to negotiate for better salaries when they take a new job and to ask for raises if they feel they deserve them. But she also warns them to expect blowback.

Women, she writes, are penalized when they negotiate better salaries. “For men, there is truly no harm in asking,” Sandberg writes. “However, when a woman negotiates on her own behalf, she violates the perceived gender norm. Both male and female colleagues often resist working with a woman who has negotiated for a higher salary because she’s seen as more demanding than a woman who refrained from negotiating. Even when a woman negotiates successfully for herself, she can pay a longer-term cost in goodwill and future advancement.”

You know, because she, like, messed with her karma.

Nadella must have realized he’d stepped in it the instant his entirely agreeable and supportive interlocutor told him she agreed with him on everything but that. And then, Klawe, a computer scientist who is on the Microsoft board, proceeded to tell her own story.

“I have always been uncomfortable in asking for things for myself,” said Klawe. “I am really great asking for things for the people who work for me.” (This phenomenon is typical of executive women, writes Sandberg in “Lean In.”)

“I was being offered the position of dean of engineering at Princeton and I took it without having been offered a salary,” she said. Princeton President Shirley Tilghman told her that “at some point” they’d have to figure out a salary.

“And I’m so uncomfortable, I said, ‘Just pay me what you think is right.’ I probably got a good $50,000 less than I would have if I had been doing my job.” (Can’t really blame Tilghman, as the first female president of Princeton, for underpaying Klawe when Klawe didn’t have the sense or confidence to negotiate.)

But did Klawe learn from her expensive mistake? Apparently not.

Four years later, in 2006, she said, “Same thing when I took the job at Harvey Mudd. They offered me quite a bit less than I thought was appropriate. I didn’t say anything.”

Now that she she is in her early 60s, it appears she has made it her mission to educate women about asking for what they deserve.

“So here’s my advice to all of you,” she told the crowd. “First of all, do your homework. Make sure you actually know what a reasonable salary is. Do not be as stupid as I was. Second thing is role play. Sit down with somebody you really trust and practice asking them for the salary you deserve.”

Nadella, to his credit, did not disagree. And later, after his ill-advised spiritual advice caused a social-media driven uproar, he backpedaled with a non-apology, in the form of a tweet.

His sin was not choosing his words poorly, it was stating a common, sexist point of view dressed up as new age business advice: Women should work hard and be quiet and hope that their bosses notice.

Someone must have explained this to him, because he then sent a memo to his entire company. "If you think you deserve a raise," he wrote, "you should just ask."

Good advice, especially for the 29% of Microsoft's workforce that is female. I'm sure most of them know firsthand that when it comes to earning fair pay, karma is pretty overrated.

I treat everyone equally on Twitter: @robinabcarian

Advertisement
Advertisement