Raising Some Eyebrows: Microsoft CEO Nadella's Comments On Women's Pay And 'Karma' Fuel Firestorm

Hours after news spread that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said women in technology should hold off on asking for pay increases to generate "good karma" for themselves, female IT executives had some strong words of disagreement.

At the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix Thursday, Nadella said in a fireside-chat style discussion that women shouldn’t seek raises. He said women who don’t "lean in" throughout their careers will instead find they have an advantage.

"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. … I think that 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 will come back," he said, according to a recording of the event. "Somebody's going to know, 'That's the kind person that I want to trust. That's the kind of person I really want to give more responsibility to.' … The reality is your best work is not followed with your best rewards."

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Harvey Mudd College President Maria Klawe, who prompted Nadella with the question seeking advice for women in the room, said she disagreed with Nadella's perspective. Her remark was met with a round of applause at the conference.

Nadella tweeted an apology following the event, saying he was "inarticulate." Nadella also sent out an email to Microsoft employees in which he said he answered Klawe’s 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," the email read. "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."

Microsoft representatives declined further comment on the matter to CRN.

Debbie Fitzerman, president CEO of DFC International Computing, a Toronto-based IBM, Lenovo and Microsoft partner, told CRN she was disappointed in Nadella's comments. She pointed out, though, this may be an inside look as to the attitude within Microsoft. She said Nadella's attitude is not far off from other perspectives she has come across in the channel and across her career.

"There's outrage but … he's really just made public what's been going on for years," Fitzerman said. "In technology, [as a woman], you still have to prove yourself as far as knowing the technology because even though I'm the CEO of a company … I need to prove myself."

Fitzerman also said she believes younger men and women in the channel are working to close the gender gap, but progress still needs to be made.

"The younger guys are much better, but the younger guys, as a rule, except for Mark Zuckerberg, are not the heads of corporations or senior managers or those making the decisions," Fitzerman said. "There's a still a bit of the old boys' club [atmosphere]."

Michell Stockmann, president and CEO of TechKnow Solutions, Breese, Ill., said in the 13 years since she launched her business, she has come across disparities due to her sex and said she was also disturbed by Nadella’s comments.

"It's definitely a male-dominated field and it is what it is," Stockmann said. "I'm an owner, so it's different [for me] … but I still have to prove myself to future clients that I am just as good, if not better. … I'm confident in what we do and provide, and if they don't choose us then, I move on and say, 'They didn't deserve us.' "