Update 6:12 p.m.: Nadella has issued an email to Microsoft employees in which he says that when he was asked for advice on pay raises, “I answered that question completely wrong.” His email is here.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, speaking Thursday at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing where thousands of women in tech gather each year, said women needn’t ask for raises but should trust in the system and good karma to get them the salaries they deserve.
Nadella was speaking as part of a Q&A session with Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College and a member of Microsoft’s board.
Klawe 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.
And I wonder — and I’m not saying that’s the only approach — I wonder whether taking the longterm[view] helps solve for what might be perceived as this uncomfortable thing of: ‘Hey, am I getting paid right, am I getting rewarded right.’ Because the 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. So you have to somehow think that through, I think.”
That answer did not seem to sit well with the audience, which gave his reply no applause. And “audience murmurs suggested confusion and displeasure with career advice that both goes against everything women are told in the “Lean In” era, and seems woefully out of touch,” according to ReadWrite, which first reported on the comments.
But the audience did applaud when Klawe followed up on Nadella’s answer by saying she disagreed.
Klawe said she’d always been uncomfortable asking for things for herself, telling the story of how when she was offered the position of dean of engineering at Princeton, she took it without having negotiated a salary first. She told the university to pay her whatever it thought was right.
“I probably got a good $50,000 less than I would have,” Klawe said, adding that when she took on the job leading Harvey Mudd, she also got offered “quite a bit less than what I thought was appropriate.” She advised the audience to do their homework, find out what reasonable salaries are, and to role play asking for the salaries they deserve.
Nadella, meanwhile, tweeted later Thursday that he had been “inarticulate” in his answer. Here’s his tweet:
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 #GHC14
— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) October 9, 2014
Microsoft declined to comment on the matter.
Up until that point, Nadella had been giving fairly thoughtful answers about how the industry as a whole needed to get more women into tech, and how Microsoft itself might do better.
Last week, Microsoft had released figures showing the company’s employees were about 29 percent female — about par for the industry. The percentage of women in its technical and leadership positions stood at about 17 percent each.
He said of the gender gap issue:
It’s an all up problem in the sense that the industry has an issue .… 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 the company’s presence at the conference was part of making sure the company was great at recruiting at the entry point. Then, he said, it was about mentoring and making “the culture of the place be such that women can do their best work. That is something that I’m committed to.”
He had also talked about the need to create a workplace environment where mid-career women who made a choice to take time off to raise their families could come back without losing ground:
I realized women have lower tolerance for bullshit. Especially mid-career because they look at that stark trade-off between ‘Do I have to put up with this or can I just go spend time with family.’ … Therefore I think it’s really incumbent on us to create an environment where culturally we don’t make that tradeoff that stark. … There’s a real investment that needs to be made in terms of job opportunities and the ability to map people’s re-entry to be a success. It can’t be left to the internal labor market.
Nadella had also talked earlier in the keynote about trusting in the system when Klawe had asked him about his career path.
He was talking about a previous boss — a woman — who had also been a mentor at a point when he was striving hard to advance and was insecure about whether it was getting him where he wanted to go. His mentor sat him down and said: “Think about the work you do, the craft, the impact, and believe in the system and that the right things will happen,” Nadella said.
The video of the Q&A keynote is here. (His statements on the raise issue start at about the 1:35 mark.)