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Microsoft CEO: Women Should Rely on ‘Good Karma,’ Not Ask for Raises

Satya Nadella puts his foot in his mouth during a conference celebrating women in computing. Read his entire comments here.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Women RaisesMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella is under fire for his comments about working women, in an industry that already has a reputation as being woman unfriendly.

During the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference in Phoenix, Nadella was asked his advice for women who are uncomfortable asking for raises or putting themselves up for promotions or advanced opportunities.

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,” Nadella said. “That, I think, might be one of the additional superpowers that, quite frankly, women who don’t ask for a raise have. Because that’s good karma. It’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.

“And I wonder—and I’m not saying that that’s the only approach—I wonder whether taking the long term helps solve for what might be perceived as this uncomfortable thing of, ‘Hey, am I getting paid right?’ ‘Am I getting rewarded right?’ Because the reality is, your best work is not followed with your best reward. Your best work then has impact, people recognize it, and then you get the rewards. So you have to somehow think that through, I think.”

READ MORE: Ask the White Guy—Karma Is Not a Career Strategy

See Nadella’s comments here, starting at the 1:35:05 mark.

When Nadella’s interviewer, Dr. Maria Klawe—President of Harvey Mudd College, a computer scientist by trade and a member of Microsoft’s board of directors—politely responded, “This is one of the very few things I disagree with you on,” the crowd applauded.

Critics quickly took to Twitter, posting comments such as:

Nadella eventually apologized on his own Twitter feed:


He also sent an email to Microsoft employees in which he said he “answered the 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,” he wrote. “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.”

Microsoft recently released its workforce demographics, revealing that the company’s global workforce is just 29 percent women. In tech positions, the number drops to 17.1 percent.

Moreover, only 17.3 percent of Microsoft’s “leadership” positions are held by women. This compares with a U.S. workforce national average (Catalyst data) of 29 percent, a DiversityInc Top 50 average of 29.3 percent, and a DiversityInc Top 10 average of 32.3 percent.

Other tech companies that had fought for years to hide their workforce demographics started to finally release them publicly earlier this year, and most had roughly the same female representation as Microsoft. Google’s global workforce includes just 21 percent women, while 30 percent of Apple and Twitter’s employees are women, 31 percent of Facebook’s and 37 percent of Yahoo!’s workforce.

Amongst leadership, all of these companies are also grossly underrepresented by women, but still outperform Microsoft (Google and Twitter: 21 percent, Yahoo! and Facebook: 23 percent, Apple: 28 percent). When it went public earlier this year, Twitter’s entire board of directors were white men, and only one woman was counted amongst their investors and executive officers (Vijaya Gadde was hired as the company’s general counsel just two months before the IPO release).

This is all the more shocking when you consider that women earn more than half of all college degrees in the United States, including 62 percent of associate’s degrees, more than 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, nearly 63 percent of master’s and more than 53 percent of doctoral degrees.

Tech companies, or companies with strong STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) workforce components that emphasize gender equity, have more inclusive cultures and better human-capital results, DiversityInc Top 50 data show. For example, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, No. 1 this year in the Top 50, has worked hard to improve gender equity in critical jobs. Christi Shaw, President, now has women in scientific functions as more than half of her direct reports.

Later this week, a story on DiversityInc Best Practices will detail how Top 50  companies with strong STEM workforces—including IBM, BASF and Monsanto—are hiring, retaining and promoting more women in technical jobs.

Research by Harvard University Professor of Economics Claudia Goldin shows that women in computer engineer, scientist or programmer jobs make anywhere from 84 percent to 90 percent of men in the same position, controlling for age, race, experience and education.

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6 comments


  • Having worked for big technology companies I actually understand what he is saying. I don’t think he really meant his comments to be directed specifically at women. But he doesn’t want a line out his door asking for raising.

    Is a large technology company you don’t just walk into an office and ask for a raise. The company has an annual rating’s season. During that season the managers gather feedback on your performance, etc. and you receive your performance rating. Based on that money may or may not be available. Whether money is available for raises has to do with how much money (if any that year) the executives allocated for raises. Some some years you can get a top rating and no rise. Other years you can get an ok rating and get a raise.

    So, its a formal process. Your boss doesn’t have the ability to just respond to raise requests. I believe that is what he was trying to say.

    • Luke Visconti

      Please watch the video and read his statement on Microsoft¹s website. I understand what you’re trying to say but I don’t think you’re correct. His comments were absolutely directed specifically at women and highlighted the difference between women and men in how they handle the critical self-promotion aspect of managing a career. The numbers bear this out, both at Microsoft and nationwide. The data show that women do not get paid at the same level as men for doing the same job. Ironically, the moderator of this discussion herself was cheated by another woman on her pay at Princeton University. This is not casual or incidental, this discrimination is theft. Companies know that they’re cheating women out of pay—the president of Princeton University at the time knew she was cheating her subordinate out of what she was due. I do not believe that it’s fair, and it is indeed not legal, to cheat someone based on their race/ethnicity or gender. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening at many large corporations. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

  • Robert Gray – The process you describe is the same as it is where I work, which is a large financial services corporation. It was also the same when I worked for an IT consulting company and for a major retailer. And, yes, you can still walk into your manager’s office (or HR’s office) and ask for raise. Of course, you need to have facts and examples to back up your argument for a raise, but if you are truly underpaid and your argument is good, then HR would most likely advise that you get a raise. In some corporations HR will monitor pay rates for discrepancies and correct when needed.

    Finally, keep in mind that discrimination can happen during the review process. A manager could knowingly or unknowingly give gender-biased reviews such that the female employees end up getting smaller raises.

  • “Because that’s good karma. It’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.

    “And I wonder—and I’m not saying that that’s the only approach—I wonder whether taking the long term helps solve for what might be perceived as this uncomfortable thing of, ‘Hey, am I getting paid right?’ ‘Am I getting rewarded right?’ Because the reality is, your best work is not followed with your best reward. Your best work then has impact, people recognize it, and then you get the rewards. So you have to somehow think that through, I think.”

    This is a common misrepresentation of the contributing factors to the gender wage gap. I especially take issue with his equating “That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to” to the type of person who gets a raise. This is the essential message that is being relayed: “You aren’t getting that raise because you aren’t earning it.” When the reverse is true. Women take on more responsibilities and earn less pay than men who have those same responsibilities. Perhaps he (and many others) don’t understand that “equal work” means the same responsibilities, same hours, and same qualifications. Equal pay for equal work means we are performing the same job with the same responsibilites, for the same amount of time, with the same qualifications as our male counterparts, but male work has a higher dollar value assigned to it than the same work performed by a female.

  • Gwendolyn Combs

    The statement made by the CEO of Microsoft is very indicative of the philosophy that generally permeates the context of diversity and inclusion for women and racial and ethnic minorities. While I support the outrage surrounding the position of women in the statistics released by the company and the DiversityInc. data, I find it interesting that the same outrage or more is not presented about the paucity of racial and ethnic minority representation. Statistics for workforce representation and pay disparity for racial and ethnic minorities are just as or even more disturbing. There is a need for more of a big picture perspective in these discussions.

    • Luke Visconti

      His comment was made at a women’s conference and concerned only women. Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc

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