Economy

Microsoft CEO Apologizes For Equal Pay Remarks, Pledges Efforts On Diversity

CREDIT: LeWeb13 on Flickr

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

About a week after telling the audience of a women in technology conference that they shouldn’t ask for a raise, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella apologized for his remarks in an internal company memo obtained by GeekWire on Thursday. He also laid out concrete steps the company will take to increase diversity.

At the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Nadella was asked what women who feel they are underpaid should do. “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. He also suggested that he would rather trust and give responsibility to those who don’t ask.

In the memo, referring to those remarks, he wrote, “One of the answers I gave at the conference was generic advice that was just plain wrong. I apologize.” He went on to explain that he had been given the advice not to ask for a raise from mentors and followed it in his own career, but “my advice underestimated exclusion and bias — conscious and unconscious — that can hold people back.”

He noted three areas that the company will focus on in improving diversity, “starting immediately.” The first is to ensure that employees are paid equally for equal work, although he noted that the human resources department found that last year, women at the company who had the same title and level made 99.7 percent of what men did. “But this obscures an important point: We must ensure not only that everyone receives equal pay for equal work, but that they have the opportunity to do equal work,” he noted.

The second focus will be to hire more diverse employees at all levels by increasing diversity among the senior ranks and intensifying its efforts at colleges and in other hiring. The company recently released its diversity numbers and men make up more than 70 percent of employees and white people make up more than 60 percent. Increasing diversity will now be one of the goals that senior leadership will be evaluated on.

And the third initiative will be to conduct mandatory diversity training and a focus on how performance feedback, the selection of new hires, pay and performance decisions, and other steps are made.

On the progress toward these goals, he said, “I’ll report back to you in future all employee Q&A sessions starting in November.”

While the pay gap may be small at Microsoft, women in computer and math occupations make $278 less than men weekly at the median. Women with degrees in science and engineering who work in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math — make $15,900 less than men each year.

Beyond being undervalued, women are also still rare in these fields. They hold 41 percent of the degrees but fill just over a quarter of technology jobs. Microsoft’s diversity numbers don’t look great, but neither do those of a handful of big tech firms that also recently released their diversity data, none of whom had more than a quarter female workforce.

And the few women there rarely make it into leadership. Fifty-five percent of American technology companies have zero women in leadership — a higher share than companies elsewhere on the globe — and at the top ten Silicon Valley firms, just 17 percent of executives and top managers are women. Half of the country’s tech companies don’t have any women on their boards.