This is a bona fide CTRL-ALT-DEL moment for Satya Nadella.
The Microsoft CEO is having to go through a system reboot after having told the audience at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing that they need to trust in karma for the raise they want but feel to diffident to ask for.
“It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise.”
And then he dipped into his rich ancestral Indian heritage for some ancient wisdom.
“That might be one of the initial ‘super powers,’ that quite frankly, women who don’t ask for a raise have. It’s good karma. It will come back.”
But karma, as they say can be a bitch. And truth, dear Satya, hurts.
Let’s give this to Nadella. As soon as he realized the foot was well and truly in the mouth, he apologized unconditionally. He did not go the usual weasley non-apology apology route viz “I did not mean to offend anyone but if I did inadvertently offend someone or the other, I am very sorry.”
Nadella, to his credit, did not try to wiggle out or claim he had been misunderstood/misquoted/jetlagged. He owned up fully.
I answered that question completely 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. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work … If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask. I said I was looking forward to the Grace Hopper Conference to learn, and I certainly learned a valuable lesson.
The whole thing has turned into a conversation about equal pay for equal work. Nadella says he’s for it but then, which CEO could be overtly against it? Oddly Nadella represents an industry which has been attacked for lack of gender and ethnic diversity, but according to a study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) math, computer and physical science professions are a few categories that do have pay equity, reports Quartz, though others contest that. The earning difference between men and women with the same credentials who make the same career choices is about 6.6% as opposed to 23%. President Obama in his 2014 State of the Union speech said it was “an embarrassment” that women were paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes though as Quartz notes “his careful construction elides the fact that the 77% statistic does not refer to ‘equal work.’”
But the question was not about equal pay for equal work even though that is what the furore is now all about.
It was about asking for a raise and how it is often difficult to ask for one. What Nadella suggested by his remark was that it was “good karma” not to ask for a raise, thus implying that you would be rewarded later (perhaps in another life). Satya Nadella did not say there should not be equal pay for equal work. He suggested something different but also obnoxious—that asking for a raise a woman feels she deserves is somehow a bad thing, not good karma. And that’s just as sexist because it smacks down a woman for speaking up for her due, implying that like children, good girls should be seen (diligently writing code) and not heard.
Satirist @AmreekanDesi rued that “Satya Nadella is proof that you can take Indians out of India, but you can’t take their gender biases out of them. #maaro.” Well, that might be a little harsh. Sexism is in plentiful supply in India and @brownbrumby wonders “Has Satya Nadella ever attended a RSS shakha?” and the satire handle @ModiDoesThings quips “EXCLUSIVE: Satya Nadella offered a senior BJP role. ‘In our ethos, too, women cannot question, and need “karma” to grow,’ Amit Shah said.”
But sexism is not the preserve of the RSS. It was not that long ago that Harvard president Lawrence Summers had to issue at least three apologies for saying that women lacked the ability to excel at math and science even while saying, “ I did not say, and I do not believe, that girls are intellectually less able than boys, or that women lack the ability to succeed at the highest levels of science.”
Nadella has apologized and this affair will probably not make Microsoft’s stock sink and Apple’s rise. Anyway an ex-girlfriend of Jobs wrote a biography that describes Jobs as a “sexist bully” who said that “if women were good they wouldn’t experience labor pain.” Apparently that change did happen after a transformational trip to India, from which he returned covered with bed-bugs and full of parasites.
Nadella’s gaffe is hardly on par with that kind of transformation. But in the world of Twitter karma he can expect some grief for some time to come. Meanwhile he joins the long list of Indian gurus with wisdom to offer to the West. Scroll recently carried a thoughtful piece posing the question “Why Indian writers are never in the running for the Nobel?”
In the Satya Nadella school of wisdom the answer would be “It’s not really about asking for a Nobel, but knowing having the faith that the system will give you the right Nobel. Trust karma.”
And voila we got our Nobel. Though for Peace, not for Literature but karma works in inscrutable ways.
Sandip Roy is the Culture Editor for Firstpost.com. A version of this story appeared on Firstpost.com.