Friday, October 10, 2014

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Gives Advice to Women. A Tragicomedy in Three Acts.

Here are the cheat notes for the tragicomedy:

Act I:  An event takes place to celebrate women in computing.  It's named after Grace Hopper who is pretty famous in that field.  Enter Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella with carefully considered advice for women:

He had been asked to give his advice to women who are uncomfortable requesting a raise. His response: "It's not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along." Not asking for raise, he added, is "good karma" that would help a boss realize that the employee could be trusted and should have more responsibility.

The Greek Chorus:  But what about women not being assertive in salary negotiations as the cause for their lower earnings?  Chicks don't ask.  Chicks don't ask.  Chicks don't ask.  (In a sad and droning tone) .

Act II:  Enter Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella with a carefully considered apology for his lines in Act I:
But his comments caused an uproar online, and Microsoft posted a memo from him on its website. In it, Nadella said he answered the question "completely wrong" and that he thinks "men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it's deserved, Maria's advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask."

The Greek Chorus:  You should just ask.  You should just ask. You should just ask.  Even though asking doesn't necessarily work for women.*

Act III: Ongoing ruminations from various actors, groups, while the Greek Chorus hums in the background.

Here are my ruminations:

1.  I want to get invited as a VIP in a conference for goats which teaches about some weird disease in them.   That's because I know nothing about goat health care and I could be ready to elaborate on that ignorance within five minutes!  Turpentine should work (at least it works in sheep in Terry Pratchett's Diskworld fantasy books).

The above paragraph is a joke, because this play is not all tragedy, right?  I'm not comparing women to goats (because there are also gentleman goats) and I'm not comparing getting paid less or being kept out of top jobs in an industry with some weird goat illness (and this has nothing to do with Ebola, either).

The joke is a vague attempt to capture that astonishing readiness to talk about stuff one hasn't studied.   I take my war helmet off for that!  If it wasn't CEO-splaining it would be very brave, even foolhardy.

2.  Then there are the interesting though very muted defenses:  For example, the argument that Mr. Nadella was talking about everybody, not just she-goats, in that statement.  Everybody should abstain from asking raises because that way your good karma will reward you!  Also, corporations would save lots of money if all workers agreed to meekly take whatever happens to be in their wage packets.

Or the idea that Microsoft already takes care of all that is needed to get deserving people promoted:

"I think as an executive he was trying to say, at Microsoft we have this whole team of people who handle compensation, and if you deserve a raise we will give it to you," Larssen added. "Obviously it came out very wrong, very sexist." 
3.  But I loved this bit:

Larssen thinks it's not only the tone but the timing that played a role: "At a time every big tech company in America is trying to get more women involved, [Nadella's comments] struck a really different chord than the rest of the conversation." 
It's exactly what would have happened if the goats had used me as their health expert.  The big difference is that Mr. Nadella is supposed to know this stuff before he speaks, what with being the CEO of Microsoft,  and I wouldn't have been in that goat scenario.  That he didn't do his homework tells us an enormous amount about the value rankings in the industry.

The Greek Chorus:  Hum. Hum. Hum.  (Out of key).

*A Wall Street Journal blog suggesting that Mr. Nadella's comments were meant for everyone, not just for women, nevertheless notes that:
Asking for more money remains one of the riskiest things a worker can do, particularly for women. In her research on gender, negotiation and leadership, Hannah Riley Bowles, a senior lecturer at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, has found that women are perceived as less likeable or appealing to work with when asking for more money–unless they can frame their request as a strategic opportunity for the company.