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Sexism, alive and well in the tech world

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols | Oct. 17, 2014
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has backed off from his remarks, but the bottom line is that Microsoft, along with much of the tech industry, still sees women as second-class citizens.

When I first heard what Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had said at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, I assumed it had been misreported.

Yeah, I know, me giving a Microsoft honcho the benefit of the doubt! What is the world coming to?

But it was difficult to believe that Nadella, when asked what advice he would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises, would tell his audience of mostly technically savvy women, "It's not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise."

Difficult to believe, but true nonetheless.

Still, the mind boggles. In the tech industry, women typically still make significantly less than men. According to an American Association of University Womenstudy based on 2011 U.S. Census Bureau data, women's pay in many STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs still falls well behind that of men. For example, the median earnings for male computer and information systems managers in 2011 were just over $98,000, while their female counterparts were making around $86,000.

But according to Nadella (at least until he backed off of his comments later in the day), women should rely on karma to address that inequality. I am not kidding about this. Here is his actual quote: "And that might be one of the additional super powers' that, quite frankly, women who don't ask for a raise have. Because that's good karma. It'll come back. Because somebody is gonna know that's the kind of person I want to trust, that's the kind of person I want to really give additional responsibility to. And in the long-term efficiency, things will catch up."

Super powers? Karma? This is the kind of advice that women in technology can expect from the CEO of one of the biggest technology companies on the planet?

As it sunk in that these words had actually passed Nadella's lips in a public forum, a formulation came to mind: As Daniel Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, is to racism, so Nadella is now to feminism.

But instant karma, in the form of a frenzy of criticism on Twitter, got Nadella. And unlike Snyder, Nadella began backpedaling like crazy. Almost immediately, Nadella was spinning like a top. I haven't seen such flip-flopping since I put Washington, D.C., in my rear-view mirror.

This, he wants us to know, is how he really feels: "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 [Klawe]'s advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."


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