Last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella sparked a firestorm of criticism for comments he made at a women-in-tech conference in which he suggested that employees who feel underpaid should wait it out rather than ask for more money. But he went even further, saying something many headlines missed: a woman who doesn’t ask for a raise, he added, is “the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to.” Executive to pushy women who ask for more: Could you not?
The backlash was so swift and severe that he had issued a backpedaling e-mail by the end of the business day. While he didn’t apologize, he did reverse his position—now he claims to be pro–asking for more money.
He’s only the latest tech executive to put his well-paid foot in his mouth when giving advice to female employees. Just weeks before, Australian Evan Thornley, who founded the online advertising company LookSmart, told an audience that he could hire talented women “relatively cheap to someone less good of a different gender.” The pay gap, for him, represents “great arbitrage.” Women: talent on the cheap thanks to the gender wage gap.
He also later backtracked, saying that his intention didn’t come out right—he meant to deride gender inequality in the tech industry and urge other companies to “hire talented women and pay them properly” instead of hiring incompetent men and giving them top dollar.
But what leaked out of these two executives’ mouths likely contains a good deal of truth. It is a narrow window into what they, and many of their peers, really think about women—which usually goes unsaid. And it exposes the fact that all the nice talk about wanting greater diversity may stand little chance against the unconscious (and sometimes very conscious) biases women face in the tech industry. The misconceptions and unfair perceptions of women swirling in men’s heads hold women back. And the reality is, women are underpaid in tech. Women working in science, technology, engineering or math (commonly known as STEM) jobs make $15,900 less than men a year. College-educated women in Silicon Valley make $21,599 less. Even with various factors taken into consideration, female computer scientists make 89 percent of what male ones make. Looking at the data, it’s obvious that politely waiting until bosses offer raises isn’t working.