You would think women in the tech industry, with its wide gender gap and considerable pay gap, would be skeptical of businesses being perfect meritocracies. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, in statements today, suggested he thinks otherwise. Addressing a group of mostly women at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Nadella told the crowd, "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's good karma. It will come back," Nadella said. "That's the kind of person that I want to trust, that I want to give more responsibility to."
The idea, apparently, didn't go over so well with some members of the audience:
Nadella (Microsoft CEO): women shouldn't ask for raises, should trust that the system will compensate appropriately in the end #ghc14— Rebecca Bish (@Becky_ABC) October 9, 2014
Nadella seemed to recognize his mistake, later walking back his comments through Twitter:
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 #GHC14— Satya Nadella (@satyanadella) October 9, 2014
Nadella further acknowledged the slip-up in an email to employees also posted to the Microsoft website, which we've reproduced below.
Today I was interviewed on stage by Maria Klawe at the Grace Hopper Conference — I encourage you to watch the video. It was great to spend time with so many women passionate about technology. I was honored to be a part of it and I left the conference energized and inspired.
Toward the end of the interview, Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. I answered that question completely wrong. 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.
I said I was looking forward to the Grace Hopper Conference to learn, and I certainly learned a valuable lesson. I look forward to speaking with you at our monthly Q&A next week and am happy to answer any question you have.
The quote seemed like a severely off-key note in a speech that otherwise preached the merits of gender equality. Nadella said he would "not fall for the crutch of the supply-side excuse" of women in tech, and that his company was attempting to improve, despite recently released Microsoft diversity numbers that were similarly dismal to most tech companies. He advised women to be persistent in breaking into the industry.
But toward the end of the talk, when the moderator, computer scientist Maria Klawe, asked Nadella about how women should ask for a raise, he made the surprising comments. After doing "your best work," he said, "people recognize it, and then you get the reward." Klawe replied, "This is one of the very few things that I disagree with you on," which was met with applause. "Here's my advice to all of you. First of all, do your homework. Make sure you actually know what a reasonable salary is." Afterward, she advised roleplaying about asking for a raise, and then really asking for it.
Update, 9.20PM ET: Added Nadella's later statement.