Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke to an audience of female tech pros at the annual Grace Hopper Conference, and things didn’t quite go as planned.
During an onstage question-and-answer session, Nadella suggested that female employees trust “karma” to get them the salary raise they deserve, rather than actually asking for one: “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.”
That ignited a bit of a firestorm, with pundits and publications pointing out that, despite Nadella’s belief in the system to give everybody exactly what they deserve, women continue to make less than men.
In a subsequent email to Microsoft employees, Nadella attempted to walk back his comments. “Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap,” he wrote. “If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”
But even that wasn’t quite enough to quiet the pushback. “Women are paid less than men, and one reason is that women are less likely to negotiate for raises or promotions,” Claire Cain Miller wrote in The New York Times, citing the work of Carnegie Mellon University researcher Linda Babcock, which found that only 7 percent of women negotiate their pay.
“One of the reasons that Mr. Nadella’s comments provoked such a response at the conference and on social media,” Miller added, “is that he also seemed to confirm a common fear: that women who negotiate their compensation will pay a price.”
Nadella isn’t the first CEO to make controversial remarks, and it remains to be seen whether his speedy apology will mitigate some of the damage. But the broader issues of pay disparity likely won’t go away nearly as quickly.
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Image: Anita Borg Institute (video)