Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella to women: Don't ask for a raise. It's good karma

Microsoft chief Satya Nadella faced backlash today after telling a conference full of women in computing that women shouldn't really ask for raises.
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Microsoft chief Satya Nadella faced backlash today after telling a conference full of women in computing that women shouldn't really ask for raises.

Update: Thursday, at 5:24 p.m., Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella emailed employees about his comments at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, which Microsoft posted in their news center.

"I answered that question completely wrong," he wrote to employees. "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."


A day that started out well for Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, with a tony, hopeful Vanity Fair article about his future leadership, came crashing down around him this afternoon in Arizona.

Nadella, who was speaking at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, (you can't make this stuff up) was responding to a question about advice for women who don't feel comfortable asking for raises when he managed to shove his foot so far into his mouth that the audience could no longer see his kneecap.

"It's not really about asking for the raise," Nadella responded, according to a Mashable report, "but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along."

He added: "And that I think might be one of the additional superpowers that quite frankly women who don't ask for raises have. Because that's good karma, that'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."

The event moderator, Maria Klawe, is a member of Microsoft's Board of Directors in addition to being the president of Harvey Mudd College. Apparently she cares more about her 'female in the tech world' role than the price of her stock shares because, rather than cut Nadella off with a well-timed cough or the old throat-cutting motion, she let him finish, then proceeded to tell him about the time, as Dean of Engineering at Princeton, she found out she was making $50,000 less than she should have been.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there was a leeeeeeettle bit of backlash from some of the women in the audience.

Did the speaker just recommend that women rely on karma to get raises? #ghc14 After telling us that we have little tolerance for BS??

— P. Oppenheimer (@priscillaoppy) October 9, 2014

Followed by some half-hearted backtracking from Nadella himself — once he managed to remove said foot from mouth. That didn't go over too well either.

.@satyanadella so you're just saying "trust the system that created the structural inequity" in a slightly different way?

— Mark McBride (@mccv) October 9, 2014

.@satyanadella If women are hired at fair salary, raises aren't needed to close the gap. We need to encourage women to ask for more.

— Karen Lopez (@datachick) October 9, 2014

So far, the Google Earth view of Redmond does not show masses of women streaming from Microsoft's main campus, but I'm sure, somewhere out there, Microsoft's board is hunkered down in its underground panic room.

There's no official reaction from the company yet, but one thing's for sure: That Nadella Tweet isn't gonna cut it.

My suggestion for Microsoft (and I suspect I'm not the only thinking this way): Offer all female employees a bonus — or even a raise? Immediately. If nothing else, it would be great karma.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Berit Anderson

Berit Anderson

Berit Anderson was Managing Editor at Crosscut, following tech, culture, media and politics. She founded Crosscut's Community Idea Lab. Previously community manager of the Tribune Company’s Seattle blogging network, her work has also appeared in YES! Magazine and on the Huffington Post, Geekwire, and KBCS 91.3 radio. She served as Communications Director at Strategic News Service, a weekly newsletter that predicts global trends in tech and economics, and Future in Review, an annual tech conference which gathers C-level executives to solve global problems. Her weaknesses include outdoor adventure, bananas with peanut butter and big fluffy dogs.