Microsoft's Nadella walks back comment on women's pay raises

Satya Nadella

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella said that female employees should trust that their employer will offer them fair raises, rather than asking for them—a statement he later recanted on Twitter and via an official statement from Microsoft.

Nadella appeared on stage at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, where he was interviewed by Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College.

The majority of the interview covered topics like how Nadella handled the balance between work and his personal life—a topic familiar to women who have to juggle the roles of mother and career executive. The conversation eventually turned to a question of what advice Nadella would give to female employees who wanted a raise.

“For women who aren’t comfortable with asking for a raise...what’s your advice for them?” Klawe asked, according to a webcast of the event.

Satya Nadella Maria Klawe Microsoft GraceHopper.org

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella joins Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College, on stage at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Nadella: ‘That’s good karma. It’ll come back.’

“You know, the thing that perhaps most influenced me in terms of how you look at—how you look at the journey or the career,” Nadella said. “There was this guy who was named Mike Maples, he was the president of Microsoft when I joined, and he had this saying that all HR systems are long-term efficient, short-term inefficient. I thought that that phrase just captured it, which is it’s not just really about asking for the raise, but knowing 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 a raise have, because that’s good karma. It’ll come back. Because somebody’s gonna know that’s the kind of person I want to trust. That’s the kind of person I want to give more responsibility to. And in the long-term efficiency, things catch up.”

“And I wonder—and I’m not saying that’s the only approach—I wonder, whether taking the long term helps solve for what might be perceived as this uncomfortable thing of hey, am I getting paid right, am I getting rewarded right, because reality is your best work is not followed with your best reward,” Nadella added. “Your best work then has impact, people recognize it, and then you get the rewards. So you have to somehow think that through, I think.”

There was an audible murmur during Nadella’s comments, and several attendees took to Twitter, criticizing Nadella for his remarks.

Klawe responded with a story about her own hiring experiences, adding “This is one of the very few things I disagree with you on.” She advised the audience to know the salary for a position they’re being offered, and to role-play asking for more money.

Nadella later reconsidered his answer, tweeting “Was inarticulate re how women should ask for raise. Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias .” 

An emailed apology

Nadella later sent an email to employees, clarifying his position further. 

“Toward the end of the interview, Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises,” it read in part. “I answered that question completely wrong. Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it’s deserved, Maria’s advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”

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