How one woman answered Nadella on asking for a raise

Now the media frenzy has somewhat subsided over Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s comments at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference, let me try to put it all in perspective. I was at the session and it was a good one!

And yes, Nadella messed up his answer as to whether women should ask for a raise. He should have been prepared for this question and had a much better answer ready for this important issue. But one key item missing from the media coverage was how Dr. Klawe called him on it.

Having Microsoft’s CEO as a keynote speaker at the Grace Hopper Conference (GHC) in Phoenix no doubt drew some of the 8,000 women in IT to the conference. They gathered at the Phoenix Convention Center to listen to him, and his talk was meant to be a relaxed, informal chat with Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College and a Microsoft board member. The format was to meant show the real Nadella, talking about himself, his family, running Microsoft and other similar topics in an open and relaxed manner. Still, the talk wasn’t all warm and fuzzy, as he also talked about Microsoft and its plans.

And it worked. He showed he is a warm human being who cares about a diverse range of issues. He was relaxed and shared his personal experiences. He talked about his family, of the challenge of having two special needs children (one is a quadriplegic), how he maintains work-life balance, which he refers to as work-life harmony, and he mentioned he runs 3 miles a day. He said he always liked working with women, as he said “women have lower tolerance for bullshit.”

However, the press reported very little of the above – instead, most media outlets solely reported on his response to the question coming at the end of the session, seeking his advice to women who do not feel comfortable pressing their bosses for promotions or raises.

Nadella responded, “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.”

It was an inappropriate answer – especially since it came after his comment about women having lower tolerance for BS. And he was proven right, by women tweeting, texting and so on about his crappy answer. Insightful articles appeared in short order in the media, arguing that Nadella missed a great opportunity to use that platform to become a serious advocate for women in technology.

But most missed the point that Dr Klawe called him on it. She pointedly disagreed with his answer and gave personal examples where she was disadvantaged by “the system,” both when she worked at UBC and when she accepted the job at Harvey Mudd College.

Last week, Nadella was also at the Gartner conference doing a more formal keynote interview. I was at that session and noted how he handled himself well this time, with no gaffes. Did the GHC incident show that Nadella can’t handle informal, non-scripted interviews? Is it just early in his role as CEO and he still needs more practice? Or is it also possible that the GHC Nadella was the real Nadella, who believes that karma is an intrinsic part of his value system? I’m not sure, and it is too early to tell. However, I’m willing to bet he will be more careful with such comments in the future.

And a bit about the Grace Hopper Conference – it is an amazing event!! If you have a chance, go next year! The conference attendance increased over 100 per cent from last year, from 3,600 to over 8,000, and yes, men are welcome. There were 483 of them there this year!

Universities and colleges sent students, professors and researchers. In all, 440 colleges and universities were represented. Large vendors like Google, Facebook, Pinterest, and Intel also sponsored students to attend. It was great to see that over 50 companies used this event to recruit more women to their area of technology, and there was on-site child care during the conference.

While the sessions ranged from technical to professional development, the focus was networking by encouraging attendees to share their successes and challenges and getting unique perspectives through someone else’s lens. With over 8,000 women in attendance, there was a lot to learn and share!

Catherine Aczel Boivie
Catherine Aczel Boivie
Dr. Catherine Aczel Boivie is a widely respected executive with over 30 years of experience in the leadership of advancing the value of information technology as a business and education enabler. Prior executive roles includes: CEO Inventure Solutions and Senior Vice President of Information Technology/Facility Management for Vancity Credit Union; SVP of IT and Chief Information Officer at Pacific Blue Cross and Canadian Automobile Association of British Columbia. Catherine is also an experienced board member serving on several boards, including those of Commissioner for Complaints for Telecom-television Services, Canada Foundation for Innovation and MedicAlert Canada. Dr. Boivie is the founding Chair and President of the Chief Information Officers (CIO) Association of Canada that has over 400 Chief Information Officers as members across Canada. She has been publicly recognized for her contributions, including being named as one of Canada's top 100 most powerful women by the Women's Executive Network in the "Trailblazers and Trendsetters" category and the recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee medal for being a "catalyst for technology transformation".

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