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Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Microsoft CEO Tells Women Techies to Trust "Karma" on Pay Inequity

Oh dear. Oh my. No, no, no.

Asa Mathat

In an interview today in front of the most prominent group of women techies, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told the audience at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, being held in Arizona, that they need to trust “karma” if they don’t get the raise they want.

“It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise,” said Nadella to Maria Klawe, who is president of Harvey Mudd College and also a member of Microsoft’s board, in an onstage interview.

“That might be one of the initial ‘super powers,’ that quite frankly, women who don’t ask for a raise have,” he added. “It’s good karma. It will come back.”

Oh dear. Oh my. No, no, no.

The comment was not well-received by those gathered there at the event, which is named for one of history’s most important women tech icons.

It is well documented that women earn less than men for the same work and the issue of the lack of gender and racial diversity is an increasingly acrimonious issue in the tech sector.

Thus, when the leader of one of tech’s biggest companies makes a gaffe like that and in a place dedicated to promoting women in tech, this is what’s known as a PR nightmare.

Klawe called me just now and tried to dial back the damage a bit.

“He is an amazing leader and I adore him,” she said. “But he was giving an authentic answer that was not the party line and was just not thinking about it.”

Klawe added that “I think he is wrong about what he thought, but it is not fair to pillory him … people make mistakes.”

Yes, indeed they do, which Nadella acknowledged in a tweet after the event.

A Microsoft spokesman said Nadella will have more to say soon, so I will update.

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