The More Distressing, Less Noticed Message from Microsoft CEO Nadella

If you’ve read any business news in the past few days, you’re aware of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s advice (and subsequent apology) to women not to ask for a pay raise.

It appears that many women have been following his advice for years. We know the research: women don’t negotiate as effectively for themselves as men do. They don’t negotiate as early or as often. That’s certainly part of the reason that women earn 78 cents on a man’s dollar.
The simple answer? Negotiate, ladies.

The more complex reality? Women can face a backlash if they’re perceived to be too aggressive in their negotiations. In fact, less noted than Nadella’s advice to trust in “karma” was his comment that women who don’t ask for raises are “the kind of person that I want to trust.”
The flip side? This implies that women who ask for raises are un-trustworthy.
And, in fact, many women I speak to have felt the backlash from asking. I have too.
Only recently I was negotiating a pretty nothing agreement with a company. These weren’t high-stakes, big-bucks negotiations, but something in which only a very small amount of money would change hands. But the requirements and restrictions on me were pages and pages of legalese long. So I went back, asked a number of questions and requested a number of changes, to partially even things out. The other side wouldn’t flex much and so we ended up failing to come to agreement. Oh well…..happens all the time. Except the other side got mad at me. Yes, mad. Hang-up-the-phone-abruptly mad.

I was pretty surprised, given how low the stakes were. But I had clearly broken some unwritten rule – and offended them – by trying to negotiate terms.
What’s the answer?

It’s certainly not that women should fail to negotiate for themselves; after all, that’s part of what got us here. But perhaps we can take a page from the research of Name It Change It; they work to identify and call out sexism in reporting on female political candidates. By identifying these instances (ie, “naming it”), they work to reverse any negative impact such reporting has on the candidates (“changing it”). And it appears to be having some effect.

So recognizing, discussing, calling out, debating, arguing about, examining this perhaps-innate gender bias against women who negotiate is a first step. We should be having these discussions publicly, and managers should be having them privately. It should become part of the dialogue in our workplaces, as a means to enabling a truly level playing field at work. No, it’s likely not enough, but it’s an important first step.

My guess is that Nadella’s advice was well meaning and sincere. And thus he has highlighted an important issue and challenge in achieving the full business advantages of diversity. We shouldn’t let this moment pass too quickly.

Sallie Krawcheck is the Chair of Ellevate Network and Ellevate Asset Management. Ellevate Network (formerly 85 Broads) is a professional woman’s network, operating across industries and around the world. Both businesses are committed to the full economic and financial engagement of women.
(Photo: nbhupinder, Flickr)

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This entry was posted in Article - Newspapers, Equal Pay, Women's issues and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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