We Spleen: Microsoft CEO’s Sexist Gaffe

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently caused a stir when, at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, he (with no intended irony) said that women should not ask for raises. Why? Because not asking for a raise would grant us good karma and give us “superpowers” that would reward us later in our careers. Note that he didn’t tell men to do the same. 

His flabbergasting comments, in full:

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. 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.’

That’s right, ladies! Relax, kick back and wait for good ol’ karma to take care of you. Because you don’t want to be some shiftless, untrustworthy woman who has the nerve to ask for things. If you’re doing your job right, you don’t need to speak up and take initiative like all those silly workplace advice columns say. Just be passive. After all, we women are good at that whole passivity thing, right? Waiting for Prince Charming, waiting to be asked on a date. Now all we have to do is wait for the Raise Fairy to flounce in on her Equality Unicorn and leave our justly deserved wages under our pillows while we sleep unawares. Easy-peasy, good ol’ karma.

Besides, studies have shown that women who do ask for raises are often perceived as being too aggressive, demanding and unlikeable. Jeeze, you might as well slap a giant red “A” on your chest and call it a day. In a culture that still expects women to be nice, generous, humble, approachable, non-confrontational, compromising, concerned for others first (even at our own expense) and (as I like to say) always smiling, being called “unlikeable” is a professional woman’s kryptonite. So let’s neither take risks nor practice the best ways to ask for raises as women. Let’s do what Superman would do and just hang on for dear life to our nifty “superpowers.” I guess the gender pay gap and the fact that women are statistically less likely to ask for raises are a fiction (especially in tech) for Nadella, but superpowers are not.

Nadella quickly back-peddled on his backward advice once people began to criticize it as naïve, out of touch and sexist. In an email he sent to all Microsoft employees after the interview, Nadella wrote that he had answered the question on women asking for raises “completely wrong” and that he believes “men and women should get equal pay for equal work.”

OK, sure… That’s a complete 180 from what he originally said, but not surprising. Let’s just hope people skipped over Nadella’s speech and tuned into the voice of reason at the conference: Dr. Maria Klawe, Harvey Mudd College president and a member of the Microsoft board of directors. Dr. Klawe, who said she found out she was getting shorted a whopping $50,000 annually when she was first hired as dean of engineering at Princeton, had her own advice for women,

First of all, do your homework. Make sure you actually know what a reasonable salary is if you are being offered a job. Do not be stupid as I was. Second thing is: role play. Sit down with someone you really trust, and practice asking them for the salary you deserve.

That sounds better. Professional women (and all women), don’t listen to men who tell you to take a backseat and wait for someone to “grace” you with what you deserve. Let’s create our own karma and make a new superpower: women unabashedly asking for raises.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS licensed under Creative Commons 2.0.





Corinne Gaston is currently an editorial intern at Ms. and is working toward a B.A. in Creative Writing at USC. When not in the Ms. office, she is the Associate Opinion Editor at Neon Tommy. Follow her on Twitter @elysehamsa or go to her personal blog.