How Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Should Have Answered

When a man makes a naive comment in a room full of more than 7,000 tech-savvy women, he should apologize. And quickly.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently apologized for a borderline sexist comment he made at a women’s computer science conference in Arizona last week. He was giving advice on how women should approach wage negotiations—specifically how should women go about requesting higher wages.

He told the audience, with less than 500 men in attendance, that not asking for a raise is “good karma” and the system would deliver pay increases when warranted.

It wasn’t long before the Twitter-verse was in a frenzy, criticizing Nadella for promoting a serious issue for women across all industries. The responses reflected a combination of anger, disgust and thankfulness.

The smartest and most charismatic man couldn’t have survived a women-focused conference without making at least one flop. Women should understand Nadella couldn’t possibly give relevant advice to people struggling in a system that has lifted him up.

In a strange twist of events, Nadella’s failure has given feminist success in bringing wage disparity based on gender to the front line.

Economist Linda Babcock from Carnegie Mellon University says men are four times more likely to negotiate higher pay than women. According to her research, men and women are equally harsh towards women who ask for pay raises. It’s become a crucial issue in bridging the wage gap. Babcock discovered women often receive backlash for deviating from the social script.

Nadella runs a multi-billion dollar technology corporation. The sorry letter was a great move in image management, but his sentiments were dishonest. Many high powered men (and women) start to view women as combative when they fight for the salary they deserve.

Those women in the audience were looking for encouragement. He should have been able to give it to them. In his letter, Nadella retracted his entire statement about women and pay raises. He said women should ask for pay raises if they think they deserve it.

Wish Nadella would have thought of this before he opened his mouth in Arizona a few days ago.

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