Do Microsoft CEO Nadella's comments on women represent Silicon Valley culture?

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told a conference full of women that not asking for a raise is one of women’s 'superpowers' and helps to develop 'good karma.' Is this evidence that one of the most forward thinking industries is still largely an old boys club?

Manish Swarup/AP
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks to students in New Delhi, Sept. 30. On Thursday, Mr. Nadella spoke at an event for women in computing held in Phoenix, saying women don't need to ask for a raise. They should just trust the system. He was asked to give his advice to women who are uncomfortable requesting a raise.

Microsoft head Satya Nadella launched into damage control Thursday night after telling predominantly female audience that women shouldn’t ask for raises, but instead trust the system to recognize their hard work.

“I answered that question completely wrong,” the chief executive officer told employees in an e-mail Thursday evening. “If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”

That statement is drastically different from the one he offered Thursday morning at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing when interviewer Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., and a Microsoft director, asked what advice he might have for women who felt uncomfortable requesting a pay increase.

“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 replied.

The CEO went on to suggest that not asking for a raise is one of women’s “superpowers” and helps to develop "good karma."

Mr. Nadella’s statements underscore persistent criticism that the technology industry is unwelcoming to women. Women are significantly underrepresented in much of Silicon Valley. Only 29 percent of Microsoft employees are female, according the company’s latest figures, released earlier this month.

The suggestion that women demurely wait for recognition of a job well done essentially legitimizes and reinforces the persistent gap between men's and women’s pay, says Kellye Sheehan, president of Women in Technology, a Washington, D.C.-based professional association for women in the technology industry.

“Culturally, women are more likely to work quietly and assume someone will notice and then automatically reward them,” Ms. Sheehan says in an e-mail interview.

Researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University found in 2003 that women were eight times less likely than men to negotiate over salary, according to the Harvard Business Review.

More recently, researchers at the University of Texas found that women are not only less likely to negotiate for their salary, but also ask for an average of $7,000 less than men when they do, National Public Radio reported in April.

While the gender pay gap has narrowed significantly since 1980, when female employees earned an average of just $0.63 for every dollar earned by their male counterparts, women today still typically earn 16 percent less than men for the same job, according to Pew Research. The White House’s estimate is even higher, placing women’s pay, on average, at just 77 percent of that of men's.

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