When Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told thousands of women at the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women In Computing that people should rely on the corporate system and karma for raises and promotions, the audience was understandably confused.
Nadella now finds himself in hot water over the remarks, but despite the criticisms, he is planning to attend the conference for at least the next four years. After yesterday’s keynote and subsequent outpouring of criticism, Maria Klawe—president of Harvey Mudd College, Microsoft board member and Nadella’s on-stage interviewer—asked him if he would return. He said yes.
“It has changed him, he’s learned something,” Klawe said in an interview. “He’s going to keep on learning. He will be much more knowledgable about women’s issues by the time he comes back here next year.”
After The Firestorm
Nadella’s statements sparked a firestorm of criticism, considering his advice was contradictory to what women have been told for years—if you want to move forward in your career, you need to be assertive and ask for what you want. The gender pay gap still exists, and on average, women earn only 78% percent of what men do.
Shortly after we published a story on the incident, Nadella issued a tweet saying his remarks were “inarticulate,” and followed up with a statement to employees that evening in which he described his earlier remarks as “completely wrong.” Though according to one former Microsoft employee, Nadella’s advice is apparently the standard response at Microsoft to anyone, male or female, who asks for a higher salary.
At Microsoft, that strategy might work. But for the vast majority of women in technology, it was spectacularly bad advice.
Thankfully Klawe was quick to disagree during Nadella’s presentation. She provided the audience with helpful advice—know how much you deserve to be paid, and if you’re nervous about asking for a raise, practice with people you trust first.
“I thought it was important to say I disagreed,” Klawe said. “It was important to very explicitly point out that even someone who is thought of to be as successful as I am is uncomfortable doing it.”
After an experience like Nadella’s, some technology leaders would be tempted to avoid conferences like this one. But Nadella, who spoke sincerely on Thursday about improving the gender balance and the importance of bringing more women into the technical workforce, will step into the breach once more.
Let’s just hope he doesn’t overcompensate by preparing his script well in advance and sticking to it no matter what.
Lead photo by The Anita Borg Institute, Steve Maller Photography