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Microsoft's CEO Is Being Called Out for Suggesting Women Shouldn't Ask For Raises

After Satya Nadella told a conference of women that they should trust "the system" to pay them fairly, he was taken to task by attendees, coworkers, and strangers.
Photo via Flickr

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella may have lost a few friends on Thursday when he told an audience full of women that they should trust "the system" to get them compensated fairly, and that not asking for a raise was "good karma."

"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 in response to a request for advice for women afraid to ask for a raise. Not asking, he added, might help your boss realize your worth, and eventually pay off.


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Today, many women made it clear they disagreed with him on social media:

"'I became CEO by patiently waiting & having faith in the system.' Said no CEO ever.

— Cindy Gallop (@cindygallop)October 10, 2014

I'll take karma over a vague belief that industries reward women if they just ask to be paid fairly, — Margarita Noriega (@margarita)October 10, 2014

Hey — Rebecah (@RebecahAnn)October 10, 2014

Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College and a Microsoft director, who was onstage interviewing Nadella at the time, told him she disagreed, and said women should do research on what their salaries should be and then practice asking for it.

Yesterday, Nadella quickly and publicly retracted his comments and apologized.

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 — Satya Nadella (@satyanadella)October 9, 2014

In an email to his company — Microsoft employs a 71 percent male workforce; the figure jumps to 83 percent in its technical, engineering, and management divisions — Nadella said he "answered that question completely wrong" and that he learned "a valuable lesson."

"I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work," he wrote. "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."


Despite the social media uproar and increased awareness of pay disparities, the fact that Nadella said these things isn't all that shocking; they reflect a longstanding status quo.

"Women know they can't rely on the system to pay them fairly — because it simply never has," Jess McIntosh of EMILY's List, a group that wants to promote change in the country by getting "pro-choice, Democratic women" into office, told VICE News. "A few years ago these comments might not have garnered the attention they're receiving now, but there's been an incredible awakening in awareness about gender discrimination in pay. Both men and women understand it's a huge economic stressor on families — that's why we're seeing it in poll after poll as one of the very top issues for voters this November."

And the fact that comments like Nadella's are less socially acceptable than they once were doesn't necessarily mean employers have changed their thinking.

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"There is still implicit bias about the appropriate role of women, and in some instances when women ask for things, they are viewed as aggressive in a way that is inappropriate," Deborah Vagins, a senior legislative counsel at the ACLU who works on federal advocacy on pay equity and employment discrimination, told VICE News. "Those are lingering cultural stereotypes that have no place in the workforce anymore."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women earn a cross-industry average of 77 cents for every dollar a man makes — less if they are black or Hispanic. Vagins said that while women do need to ask, management also needs to be properly trained, and that mechanisms should be in place so women are paid equally.

"You can't just hope that people will do the right thing, and that that's the only way for people to get raises," Vagins said. "Women should absolutely ask for raises, and where they are deserved they should be getting them…. Unfortunately, when women ask for raises there is sometimes a backlash. When women ask whether or not they are being paid equally, there are often negative repercussions."

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi

Photo via Flickr