Microsoft chief in humiliating climbdown over gender pay gaffe

10 October 2014 -


Satya Nadella forced to issue staff-wide apology after saying that women should rely on “karma” to get ahead in the wages stakes

Matt Packer

Microsoft honcho Satya Nadella has been left red faced after suggesting that women should trust the “system” and rely upon “karma” to get them the pay deals they want. Ironically, Nadella was speaking at a celebratory conference to honour the memory of Grace Hopper – a pioneer in the field of computer science, who developed key innovations while serving in the US Navy.

In conversation with Maria Klawe – president of the California-based Harvey Mudd College – Nadella, said that, for women seeking higher pay, “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.”

He added: “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.”

No sooner had Nadella spoken than Twitter erupted with scorn from female users inside and outside the technology industry. Many of those critics attacked Nadella for urging women to take a laissez-faire stance on pay and their career prospects, and just go along with the tone set by male executives.

In a tweet after his conference session, Nadella acknowledged as much, and backtracked significantly. “Was inarticulate re how women should ask for raise,” he said. “Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias.”

Making doubly sure to cover his tracks, Nadella followed that message with a staff-wide email in which he set out to explain himself. “Today,” he said, “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 honoured to be a part of it and I left the conference energised and inspired.

“Towards 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 … If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”

He concluded: “I said I was looking forward to the Grace Hopper Conference to learn, and I certainly learned a valuable lesson.”

Read CMI’s research on the gender pay gap.

Image of Satya Nadella courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons.

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