Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella set off a firestorm of criticism Thursday at the Grace Hopper Conference, a Phoenix event focused on women in computing, after being asked his advice for women in tech who aren't comfortable asking for a raise.
"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 told interviewer Maria Klawe, president of the Harvey Mudd College and a Microsoft board member, in front of an audience. "And that, I think, 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," he said.
"This is one of the very few things I disagree with you on," replied Klawe, before encouraging attendees to ask for the salaries that they are rightfully owed.
Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of the UltraViolet women's rights group, told eWEEK in an emailed statement, "It is shameful that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella would tell women—especially in an industry that already has a serious problem recruiting and retaining female talent—not to ask for raises. Wage discrimination costs women and their families close to half a million dollars over their lifetime."
Soon after Nadella's comments, social media erupted in disapproval. On Twitter, Christine Quinn, the former New York City Council Speaker under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, blasted Nadella's comments today. She tweeted: .@Microsoft CEOs comments that women shouldn't ask for raises shows breathtaking ignorance http://ow.ly/Cz3F6 @WomensEqParty #equalpay
In an Oct. 9 tweet, Nadella backtracked from his earlier comments at the conference. He said, "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 #GHC14."
Later, in a memo to employees, Nadella clarified his stance on women's pay. "Toward the end of the interview, Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. I answered that question completely wrong," wrote Nadella.
The CEO continued by saying he "wholeheartedly" supports programs within Microsoft and the industry at large that encourage women to pursue careers in tech and close the pay gap.
"I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work," added Nadella, "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."
At Microsoft, 21 percent of the overall workforce is female. In technology positions, that figure dips to 17.1 percent. Women make up 17.3 percent of leadership roles at the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant.
According to the National Center for Women & Information Technology, last year 26 percent of all computing-related jobs in the United States were held by women. In 2012, 24 percent of the Fortune 100 had female CIOs.