The chief executive of Microsoft has apologised to his staff after saying that women should not ask for a pay rise and should have “faith in the system” instead.
Satya Nadella, who took charge of Microsoft in February, told a conference to celebrate women in technology that females could rely on “good karma” inside their business to obtain a wage rise.
His gaffe came in a response to a question from academic and Microsoft board member Maria Klawe about women’s pay, which is a hot issue in a tech industry heavily dominated by men.
Klawe told the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing event that she disagreed with her boss’s response, triggering cheers from the audience and a Twitter storm against Nadella online.
The Microsoft chief executive, who succeeded Steve Ballmer but has spent 22 years at the tech giant, later sent an apologetic email to all his employees saying he had got it all wrong.
“I was interviewed on stage by Maria Klawe at the Grace Hopper Conference – I encourage you to watch the video,” he explained. “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.
“Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programmes at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. 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.”
At the meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, he had struck a different note when asked about women and wages: “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. 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,” he said.
The comments were particularly inflammatory because only last week Microsoft reported that less than 30% of its 100,000-strong global workforce is female. That 70/30 ratio is regarded as fairly standard among other technology companies such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo.
Research by the American Association of University Women, published last year, revealed that women were overall paid 78% of what equally qualified men received, although some data suggest the pay gap is less in the tech sector.
The firestorm around Nadella’s comments comes as Microsoft is already struggling to maintain its position at the cutting edge of the tech industry, having seen a dramatic fall in its market share. That decline forced its founder and first chief executive, Bill Gates, to come back and spend more time around the company. A piece in the current edition of Vanity Fair on Microsoft is headlined The Empire Reboots, although it quotes a recent blog post entitled “The Irrelevance of Microsoft” by a Silicon Valley analyst.
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