Congratulations to new CEO Satya Nadella for making people give a fuck about Microsoft for the first time in years. Nadella achieved this emotional engagement by offering up the most deplorable and incorrect advice to women in the workplace since Joan Holloway told Peggy Olson to wear something that showed off her darling ankles.
"It's not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise," Nadella told a confounded (and predominantly female) audience at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on Thursday.
Ascribing to mortals the fictional abilities of comic book heros, Nadella advised that women embrace their innate "super powers" and confidence, and trust a system that pays women 78% as much as men.
His belief in the imaginary didn't stop with super powers:
Nadella made the comments in an on-stage conversation with Maria Klawe, a computer scientist, president of Harvey Mudd College, and member of Microsoft's board of directors. He seemed to suggest that "faith in the system" is akin to magic.
"That might be one of the initial 'super powers,' that quite frankly, women (who) don't ask for a raise have," he told the straight-faced Klawe. "It's good karma. It will come back."
Dual kudos to Nadella today. He might have knocked Tim Armstrong off the most hated dinosaur in tech list.
Update: Karma has compelled Nadella to do some damage control on Twitter:
Nope, I'd say Nadella was incredibly articulate on stage. His thoughts on how women should be compensated came across loud, clear, and very telling. This line from his tweet not so much: "Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias."
Update II: The New York Times gives more context to Nadella's statement from the video below. It does not make him sound better. What Nadella apologists (including Nadella himself) don't seem to get is that his language and phrasing are not the issue. The issue is that in an unguarded moment, the CEO of a major technology corporation said he thinks the current system is efficient and that women eventually get appropriately compensated, despite the persistent wage gap. That doesn't even address getting a job offer from Microsoft, which is 70 percent male.
The system has always been rigged. By telling women that silence related to salary is a virtue that demonstrates "trust" and "responsibility," the CEO of Microsoft lays out his bias—a bias he didn't seem to realize he had. Here it is, from the top of the corporate ladder:
During the discussion, [Klawe] prompted Mr. Nadella for advice for women who are uncomfortable seeking promotions and career advancement [...]
Mr. Nadella said his own thinking on the matter was influenced by Mike Maples, a former Microsoft executive, who had a memorable saying about how human resources systems were inefficient in the short term and efficient in the long term. "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," Mr. Nadella said, according to a webcast of the event.
But then he continued: "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."
Klawe disagreed, recalling the time she was paid roughly $50,000 less than she should have been as dean of engineering at Princeton University because she waited to discuss salary.
Update III: Recode has a memo that Nadella sent out to Microsoft employees apologizing for encouraging women not to ask for a raise. In it he gives up on the "inarticulate defense" and goes with: "I answered that question completely wrong." Once again, it's not the words, it's the worldview behind them.
From: Satya Nadella
Sent: Thursday, October 9, 2014 5:24 PM
To: Microsoft — All Employees (QBDG); Retail: All FTE
Subject: RE: Empowering Others
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.
Recode also has the full text of a memo Nadella sent to Microsoft employees before attending the conference where he said: "I'm also going with the hope of inspiring talented female engineers to continue pursuing careers in technology while also making valuable connections with potential candidates for Microsoft." Reminder: Microsoft is 70 percent male.
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[Image via Getty]