Why I love Microsoft’s CEO Blunder about Women and Pay

Why I love Microsoft’s CEO Blunder about Women and Pay


In our politically correct business landscape where CEOs pretend to seek diversity and pay lip service to pay equity, it is refreshing to hear an honest CEO express the real underlying belief system that keeps executive ranks primarily male and white.

Satya Nadella’s remarks at a Women in Computing conference last week sum up the unconscious bias that still exists in the workplace about women. He was responding to a request for career advice for women who want to advance but are uncomfortable asking for a raise. “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. 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.” OL Blog

Of course, countless studies have shown this is not true. The pay gap remains at more than 23 cents per dollar between men and women after adjusting for factors such as job duties, educational background, experience, etc.   And it is worse in the technology and banking industries. Waiting for karma hasn’t worked and women know it, which is why they are asking, Satya.

His comments are refreshing because they express what nobody else wants to admit, though. There is a bias, and his blunder is his admission that it exists.

First, he assumes the meritocracy works; that if women truly are equal they will be recognized, rewarded, and elevated with the natural tide that Satya himself probably attributes to his own success. I’m sure a lot of white men believe this. Believing otherwise would mean he didn’t get his position with hard work alone; that maybe something in his background, network, or even luck pushed him ahead of his peers. Nobody wants to admit that. But of course, what he is really saying here, is because the meritocracy works, then it also follows that since women and minorities are still paid less, then they are actually less capable. I appreciate that he is saying what he really believes out loud for us.

Second, his assumption that quietly having faith is a “superpower” for women reflects the entrenched societal pressure for women to live up to traditional gender stereotypes. Women are not supposed to be “selfish”, talk about money, or make waves. They must quietly serve and wait for men to take care of them. In our book, we call this “The Ideal Woman” who 1) Does it all, 2) Looks good, and 3) is NICE. Nice girls don’t ask for money or promotions. And they don’t get them. Some superpower, Satya.

Third, his assumption that raises will be handed out deservedly reflect his belief that these women who ask are not actually ready for promotion or recognition when they ask. Yet the data says otherwise: Women feel they need to have met 100% of the job requirements of the next post just to consider themselves ready to apply for promotion. Men reportedly apply for jobs when they feel they have achieved far fewer of the requirements. Further, women report being chronically under-utilized at work. So, the women are waiting until they are MORE capable than the men to ask for promotion but Satya thinks they still don’t deserve it. We now understand that he agrees with the belief that women must work twice as hard to earn the position of a man. Thanks for confirming that one for us.

I think the biggest obstacle to equality for women and minorities is political correctness because it hides the flawed beliefs and biases of people like Satya. While out one side of their mouths the mostly white male CEOs are touting their commitment to women’s leadership development, it’s nice when sometimes the truth accidently spills out of the other side: Some men still think women are inferior and don’t really belong in leadership. I wish we could hear this honesty more often so we could begin to address the real problem.


© Kelly Watson 2014






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