Yesterday, Microsoft's CEO said something really wrong about women. But he's just one of a number of tech executives to make similar gaffes in the last few days.
This has not been a great week when it comes to equality in the workplace. On Thursday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella made waves when he advised women against asking for pay bumps. “It’s not really about asking for the raise,” he told a mostly female audience at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, “but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.”
By Thursday night, Nadella was in full damage-control mode, renouncing his previous statement in an email to Microsoft staff. “If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask,” he wrote.
It’s good that Nadella acknowledged his mistake, but the gaffe shows how many in the business world still have difficulty understanding the prejudices faced by their female colleagues. And as our colleague Margaret Magnarelli points out, “he still doesn’t realize it’s not as simple as ‘just asking’ for us.”
What’s more, the Microsoft chief wasn’t the only boss even in the past few days to make clueless comments about how women should behave in the workplace. Earlier at the same conference, a group of male execs from Facebook, Google, GoDaddy, and Intuit participated in a panel purporting to offer tips on how both men and women could help stamp out tech’s bro-centric culture. A video of the event is available here, and Readwrite gave the blow-by-blow.
It did not go well. Here are a few of the most most off-base observations:
“It’s more expensive to hire women, because the population is smaller.” – Mike Schroepfer, CTO of Facebook
Actually, it’s not. While Schroepfer was trying to say that it’s more expensive to recruit women because they are underrepresented in computer science, it’s been widely reported that women make 78% of what men make. This is the so-called gender pay gap.
And yes, the gap persists even in the supposedly meritocratic tech world: According to a recent analysis of Census data, men with a graduate or professional degree working in Silicon Valley earn 73% more than women with the same degrees working in the same industry.
While some of the pay gap is explained by factors like experience level and industry choice, economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn found that even when you control for those factors, 41% of the gap remains “unexplained.”
In fact, at a conference last month, Australian tech mogul Evan Thornley made the opposite point: that women are “Like Men, Only Cheaper.” That quote comes directly from his slideshow. “Call me opportunistic,” he elaborated, “I thought I could get better people with less competition because we were willing to understand the skills and capabilities that many of these women had.” Thornley later apologized.
“The only thing I would add is speak up … Speak up, be confident.” – Blake Irving, CEO of GoDaddy
This isn’t bad advice by itself — studies have shown that women who self-promote and negotiate harder do end up with with higher salaries — but like Nadella’s email to employees, it fails to acknowledge that women are often punished when they do speak up. “Assertive or competitive qualities are usually associated with men, and are thought to be essential for successful leaders. But for women, they can be a landmine,” said Daina Middleton, global CEO of Performics, in an interview with Fast Company.
Need evidence? Economist Linda Babcock ran a study where she videotaped men and women asking for raises using the exact same script. Viewers of the tape agreed that the man deserved the raise. But they did not like the woman who asked for the exact same thing, in the exact same way.
“People found that to be way too aggressive,” Babcock told NPR. “She was successful in getting the money, but people did not like her. They thought she was too demanding. And this can have real consequences for a woman’s career.”
Other data suggests that women entrepreneurs also get turned down more often than men do. One study found that investors are more likely to accept pitches from male entrepreneurial teams than from female teams — even if they’re making the exact same pitch. In another study, business school students read a prospectus for a mock company. In some versions, the CEO was listed as male; in others, the CEO was female. The students were four times more likely to recommend the company led by the male CEO.
“It will be twice as hard for you … but you can make a big difference in your company.” – Alan Eustace, senior vice president of search at Google
True, but unfortunately women are often absent from the kind of high level positions that would allow them to “make a big difference.” Only 4.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female — and those 24 women represent a record high.
Women already know it’s at least twice as hard for them to succeed. They just wish business leaders would do something about it.
To Eustace’s great credit, he acknowledged the panel’s issues on Twitter and made a great suggestion for future male allies.