5 Reasons Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Is Wrong About Women

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: October 13, 2014

Forget Karma...

Satya Nadella had a rough weekend.

The new Microsoft CEO was at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference late last week, when a softball question turned into a fiasco. When asked what advice he would give to women looking to advance their careers but who are uncomfortable asking for a raise, Nadella inexplicably began talking about how women should let the system run its course and rely on karma instead of negotiating skills.

“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,” Nadella said. He also said women who refrain from asking for raises have a “superpower,” because “that’s good karma” and “that’s the kind of person I want to trust.”

Obviously, the largely female audience – as well as thousands on social media – were not pleased.

Although Nadella backtracked with conciliatory tweets and an apology, that a CEO of a company like Microsoft thinks nothing of the wage gulf between men and women and believes the system will take care of everything in the end, shows a stunning lack of awareness.

Here are five reasons why Nadella’s comments are very, very wrong.

5. Overlooks the Gender Wage Gap

We wonder if Nadella has heard of the gender wage gap, because if he knew women only make approximately 77 cents to a man’s dollar he might not have put his foot in his mouth.

Although he says women should essentially trust in the system and rely on the powers-that-be to hand them raises on a timely basis, Nadella’s comments completely overlook the fact that the system is broken. Many women don’t get equal pay for equal work, and if left unchecked, that 77 cents could decrease.

4. Downplays the Need for Women to Negotiate

Our surveys show female workers consistently negotiate less often and suffer much more anxiety about negotiation compared to men.

Forty-six percent of men said they always negotiate, but that number drops to 30% for women. Furthermore, 75% of women report being anxious about salary negotiation compared to just 60% of men. Part of that could be because men who negotiate are often seen as go-getters and respected for their negotiating efforts, whereas women are labeled as “bossy” or “nags” when they ask for a pay increase.

3. Marketing Yourself Isn't a Bad Thing

The bottom line is if you don’t advocate for yourself then no one else is going to either. Unfortunately, that’s especially true for women.

As lovely as the idea of karma is, Nadella’s implication that female workers should rely on it instead of stepping up and taking action is troubling and then some. If you’ve had a string of big wins and achievements lately and performance reviews are coming up, you should absolutely start preparing to ask for a raise. Sure you should be respectful and ask in the right way, but whether you’re a man or a woman it’s never a bad idea to take the initiative and ask for a bump in pay.

Failing to actively negotiate salary could literally mean leaving anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million on the table over the course of your working career.

2. The Squeaky Wheel Isn't a Bad Thing

Think for a minute about what would happen if you extended Nadella’s logic regarding female employees to other aspects of life.

First of all, if workers left things up to karma and the system, there would be no weekends off. No overtime pay. No safety standards in place to protect people on the job. And if you extend the logic outside the workplace, women wouldn’t be able to vote, interracial classrooms wouldn’t exist, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry in the 30 states in which they currently can tie the knot.

In short, change doesn’t happen unless people make some noise. The gender wage gap is closing for just that reason, so women need to speak up more on this issue, not less.

1. Condones Unpreparedness

The Boy Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” but it’s advice everyone should follow.

Those who would follow Nadella’s advice about karma and waiting to be recognized essentially leave everything up to chance and other people. So even if they received a raise, female employees wouldn’t even know if that pay increase means they’re not being fairly compensated.

Workers of both sexes should always be prepared when it comes to knowing your worth, by checking our free Salary Wizard to see how much you should be earning in your job. If you want to get even more detailed, try a personal salary report. In light of this incident, Salary.com is offering 50% off PSRs until the end of November, using the coupon code KARMA2014.

Always come prepared so you can make sure the system isn’t selling you short.