Sunday, October 19, 2014

179.7 - Clown Award: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Clown Award: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Now it's time for one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

You may have heard about this, perhaps not, but here it is anyway. The winner of Big Red Nose this week is Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft.

On October 9, during a Q&A after he gave a speech at a plenary session at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing taking place in Phoenix, Arizona, Nadella was asked what women in the industry should do to be paid more.

This was his answer, and it's a quote:
It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raises as you go along. 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 going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to. And in the long-term efficiency, things catch up.
In other words, women, don't ask for a raise. Just don't. Trust in the benevolence of the capitalist system and your "good karma" because that kind of passive acceptance of whatever you get offered is a "superpower" that women have.

And he said this, of all places, at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Grace Hopper
For those of you who don't know who Grace Hopper was, in 1934 she became the first woman to get a PhD in mathematices from Yale University. During World War 2, she joined the Navy Reserve and wound up programming the Mark I, one of the first electronic computers. After the war, she helped develop the UNIVAC computer. She co-developed COBOL (for COmmon Business-Oriented Language) - one of the first general computer languages. She invented the first compiler, a computer program that translates a "higher" computer language, one that looks more like a language to us, into "machine code," the form the computer actually uses. To top it off, she is credited  with popularizing the term "bug" for a problem with a computer program after she solved a malfunction with the Mark I by finding an actual bug - a moth - stuck in a relay. She retired from the Navy Reserve in 1986 at the age of 79 with the rank of Rear Admiral. She has a US Navy destroyer and one of the first Cray supercomputers named in her honor.

And it was at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing that Satya Nadella said that women should just trust in the "superpower" of their "karma" and not ask for the raises which they are due.

Now, after word of this got around, Nadella back-pedaled faster than a circus performer on a unicycle, which I know is a bad metaphor, but work with me here.

Satya Nadella
Initially, he gave the classic and classically lame excuse that he was "inarticulate" in his answer, even though that would mean that his answer was unclear and frankly his meaning seemed pretty clear to me: This was no gaffe, no slip of the tongue; I mean, he went on for a whole paragraph. Apparently a lot of other people reacted as I did because within hours, he was sending an email out to Microsoft employees falling all over himself to take it all back. Oh, yes, men and women should get equal pay for equal work, he said, and oh yes, if you think you deserve a raise, you should ask for one. Oh yes.

By the next day, he was declaring his desire to become a leader in addressing the issue of diversity in the tech industry.

Now, truth be told, and in fairness, Microsoft is no worse than the rest of the industry on the issues of women's roles in the company and women's pay. But "no worse than the rest" is not a very high standard to meet.

And this takes no account of the psychological tightrope women have to walk. Many - perhaps most - women do not ask for raises and they pay a penalty for doing so, including lower income over their working lives, a lack of acknowledgement of their contributions, and even a loss of opportunity because they are perceived as too passive. But women also pay a penalty if they do ask for a raise: They can get branded as aggressive or "pushy" or unpleasant, which can hinder their careers every bit at much as not asking.

Which  means, if Nadella really does want to address diversity in the industry, it's not enough to say "sure, ask for a raise." And it's damn sure that telling women that they should depend on the "superpower" of their "good karma" marks you as a complete and total clown.   

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