Microsoft CEO’s Gender Comments Highlight a Bigger Issue
Gender equality is one of tech’s biggest challenges. Women constitute only 26 percent of the tech industry’s workforce, according to NCWIT. The problem isn’t limited to “frat-boy culture,” it’s about what’s stopping women from reaching the top.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella committed a hiccup during his recent Q&A at the Grace Hopper Celebration when he stated that women who don’t ask for raises have “good karma” and that “women who don’t ask for raises [have a] super power.” In other words, he suggested that a skirt or a tight pair of pants and some good old-fashioned smiling is going to get you ahead in your career.
In response to what some might call overt sexism, Twitter erupted:
— Colette Hope (@colettehope1) October 10, 2014
— Christine Cheng (@cheng_christine) October 10, 2014
Dear Mr. #Nadella, pay raises are earned by the employee, not gifted by the employer. Regardless of gender.
— Ignacio (@ignasegovia) October 10, 2014
While Nadella has since apologized, his comments highlight a bigger issue. “Aggressive and hard-charging women violate unwritten rules about acceptable social conduct,” as Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Lean In. “Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost.” If the industry continues to discourage women from sticking up for themselves and validating their worth to their respective organizations, women will struggle to obtain the advancement they deserve, with fewer finding their way to top leadership roles.
This un-virtuous cycle only validates the “boys club” culture that exists in tech, often illustrated with examples such as Nadella’s comments. Although our booming tech industry changes how we live and work on a daily basis, it can sometimes exhibit flashes of a digressive culture that seems right out of the 1950s.
As founders build out their teams and create a company culture, they are responsible for making sure that culture actually offers equal opportunity, instead of paying lip service to it. And at some point, everyone within an organization must take responsibility for its culture, because it’s up to everyone to ensure that the person sitting next to you has the same opportunities for advancement.
Till next month,
Image: Anita Borg Institute/Grace Hopper Celebration (video)