Microsoft CEO Tells Women In Tech Not To Ask For Raises, Then Backpedals


Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s advice to women who feel underpaid: don’t ask for a raise, just place your faith in the system and wait for it to come to you through karma.

That’s what he told the audience of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on Thursday, as first reported by ReadWrite. “It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise,” he 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.”

Later in the evening, however, he backtracked, but stopped short of apologizing, in a company-wide email. ” If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask,” he wrote, adding, “I said I was looking forward to the Grace Hopper Conference to learn, and I certainly learned a valuable lesson.”

If Nadella prefers to work with women who don’t ask for raises, as he indicated in his initial remarks, he wouldn’t be alone. Both men and women are less likely to want to work with or hire women who ask for raises, while they don’t penalize men and end up rewarding them with higher pay. Research has generally found that when women act assertively at work, by for example asking for a raise or a promotion, they encounter “both social and financial backlash.”

Women, however, won’t get paid more by simply hoping it’ll come to them. In one study, researchers told managers they had a limited amount of money to give out in employee raises. When the managers knew they would have to negotiate with employees with the same skills and responsibilities, their starting offers were two and a half times larger for men than for women. The gender wage gap, which currently means the average woman working full-time, year round makes 78 percent of what a man makes, can be explained by some things, such as the likelihood that women will adjust their careers to care for children. But there is a portion of the gap that remains unresolved and is at least in part likely due to bias. Women in tech are also victim of the pay gap: in computer and math occupations, they make $278 less than men each week at the median, and college-educated women in Silicon Valley make 40 percent less than men.

Bias against women at work can be seen in a number of ways. Women in technology get much more criticism in feedback from managers, and usually it addresses their personalities, not how to develop their skills. Highly ambitious women who use the same tactics as men to get ahead will still be half as likely to advance. Mothers are at a particular disadvantage, seen as less competent and committed, which is in part why they have an even bigger wage gap while fathers actually make more than childless men.