Credit Jason Henry for The New York Times
“The conversation around salary, the conversation around the art of women asking and how to ask are conversations that are happening organically already between my friends and myself,” she said. “For us, it only fuels the fire that they should be asking for raises.”
For one female engineer in Chicago, Mr. Nadella’s remarks were a reminder to ask not just for a raise but also for more challenging opportunities at work.
“The comments just reminded me that you have to keep up with it,” said the woman, who did not want to be identified talking about compensation. “I keep becoming more aware of how it’s not just about me. If I don’t ask, I’m hurting others too.”
Meanwhile, Sandra Guillen, a translator and interpreter in New York, said she would never tell her employees not to ask for a raise, either. “I will not let his outrageous comments deter me from asking for a raise if I know and I can prove that I have done a great job and exceed all expectations,” she said.
After the uproar about his comments, Mr. Nadella quickly backtracked, writing Microsoft employees, “If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”
But the furor highlighted one of the country’s biggest workplace paradoxes: Even as women are becoming more educated than men and achieving higher career levels than ever before, they are still treated differently at work, including receiving median pay of about 20 percent less than their male counterparts.
One reason is that women negotiate less than men, including for higher pay. When they do, they are penalized, largely because of preconceived notions about gender roles that have not caught up with women’s role in the workplace. It is expected that men promote themselves and speak up, but not women.
“It basically violates the expectations about how we think women are supposed to be,” said Linda Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University and a leading researcher on women and pay negotiations. “The literature talks about women being communal, kind, interested in others, helpful, not aggressive. When people violate expectations, there’s backlash against them.”
Within the tech industry, Mr. Nadella’s comments particularly hit home. The industry generally has been under fire for its low numbers of women and in some cases poor treatment of them. Tech companies have lately been issuing reports on the diversity of their work forces; generally, about one-third of all employees and fewer than 20 percent of technical employees are female.
“His comments are illustrative of a double standard for women in tech,” said Monica Harrington, a former senior manager at Microsoft who said the problem was far bigger than just one executive. “It’s scary to see him say out loud what so many men think. Women have to advocate for themselves, but bosses can’t penalize them for doing so.”
Mr. Nadella’s advice on asking for a raise was not the only message on this topic given at the conference, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Before Mr. Nadella made his remarks, Blake Irving, chief executive of GoDaddy, gave the opposite advice, telling women they should “speak up, be confident.” Mr. Nadella’s remarks also reignited a longstanding debate about whose responsibility it is to close the pay gap and otherwise ensure that women are treated equally at work.
In the 1960s, feminists encouraged collective action with the mantra, “The personal is political.” Today, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, urges women to speak up for themselves, while her critics say that she emphasizes personal responsibility too much and that workplaces and public policy are what needs to change.
“We get the message that we just need to go and negotiate ourselves, but the research clearly finds that it’s a tricky proposition for women, to say the least,” said Laura Kray, a professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies negotiation and gender stereotypes. “But then organizations aren’t doing what they need to do to rectify this problem. Everyone’s kind of throwing up their hands and saying, ‘How are we going to make progress on this?' ”
Research gives women contradictory messages.
A study of Carnegie Mellon University business school graduates found that women are less likely than men to ask for raises and that this contributes to the pay gap. In the study, men’s starting salaries were an average 7.6 percent higher than those of women, in part because 57 percent of men negotiated their pay while just 7 percent of women did.
“Telling women not to do that is just going to further exacerbate the pay gap because men are going to continue to negotiate and negotiate assertively,” said Ms. Babcock, who did the study.
Yet at the same time, women pay a price for negotiating, a fear Mr. Nadella confirmed when he said he has more trust in and gives more responsibility to women who don’t ask for raises.
Another study, co-authored by Ms. Babcock, found that people penalized female job applicants more severely than men for negotiating. A study published in June and co-authored by Ms. Kray examined gender biases in negotiating. Women are perceived to be less competent, the study found, and as a result, people are four times as likely to mislead and deceive a woman during a business negotiation.
The annual conference where Mr. Nadella spoke brings together women in tech for networking and includes panels like one called “It doesn’t have to be pink! Designing for women.”
This year attendees also created a Bingo game involving tone-deaf things men in tech said to women, like name-dropping Ms. Sandberg, or saying, “That would never happen in my company.”
Article credited to Nick Wingfield at The Upshot.