SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) – What’s more challenging — trying to revamp the world’s largest software maker or being the first man to be a keynote speaker at a 20-year-old tech conference for women?
This morning, at least, it may have been the latter for Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who was interviewed on stage at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix.
“I was petrified,” he told the crowd of around 7,500 women (and almost 500 men, including me). And for good reason: In recent months the tech industry has attracted more attention than ever over its huge gender gap, especially in technical jobs.
During his Q&A with Microsoft director Maria Klawe, some of Nadella’s fears seemed to be realized when he spoke about managing one’s career. He shared that he’d once been told — by a female boss, he noted — that he should stop bucking for a promotion. “Settle down. Believe in the system and the right things will happen,” he recalled her saying. When asked what women should do when they feel uncomfortable about asking for a raise, he repeated that advice, suggesting that those who take the long view will be rewarded in the long run.
That didn’t go over so well. Klawe, a superstar of the movement for her success at getting women to study computer science at Harvey Mudd College, begged to differ. She urged women to press for their due, pointing out that she had left $50,000 in salary on the table by not negotiating harder when taking jobs at Princeton and then at Harvey Mudd. That brought a burst of applause from the crowd.
After the talk, Nadella tweeted: “Was inarticulate re how women should ask for raise. Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias.”
Nadella said in a statement posted on Microsoft’s website after the interview that he answered the question wrong.
“Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap,” according to the statement. “If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”
The uncomfortable interchange was the one tense moment in an otherwise open, warm discussion. Klawe gave Nadella a gushing introduction.
“I adore this guy,” Klawe said. “He’s strong and a fabulous human being. I love you, Satya.”
“I love you, too,” he said with a smile, to chuckles in the crowd.
When Klawe got down on her knees to bow in gratitude for his agreeing to appear, he joked that he had little choice. “She’s on my board!”
By the end, Nadella’s miscues seemed out of character with his otherwise progressive views on diversity issues. When time was up, Klawe sought to close the session as warmly as it began.
“I’m not sure you’ll ever let me interview you again,” said Klawe. “Can we have a hug on stage?”
Then they did.