I was in the audience at the Grace Hopper conference when Satya Nadella made the controversial comment suggesting that women should not ask for raises and have faith in the system. I am that proverbial woman in tech that everyone has been talking about since. Here is my perspective.
I started my career as a software engineer in the late nineties, after getting a masters in computer engineering from University of Michigan. I now manage a team of software developers. I have had the tremendous fortune to work on interesting projects with wonderfully inclusive and collaborative teams. I have had extremely supportive and fair managers all through my career, that I could count upon.
As Nadella recommends, I trusted the system and it worked for me. When I came out of grad school, I started at a low starter salary. I worked hard, and my performance during the first few years was recognized and rewarded with large raises to bring my salary up to par with those of my colleagues, without my having to ever ask for it.
Does this mean that Nadella is correct? That women should just trust the system and gather all the “good Karma”?
The big difference is between asking for a raise vs. negotiating for what you deserve. The question placed to Nadella was about the latter but he seemed to have answered the former.
He, and I am sure most people, see asking for raises as something that pushy or whiny employees do. That phrase brings up images of one of two characters from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross — the obnoxious character that Alec Baldwin played or the defeated character portrayed by Jack Lemmon. Read Nadella’s comments once again keeping those two people in mind
“ 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. That’s the kind of person that I want to trust, that I want to give more responsibility to.”
To me he is clearly associating a negative persona with the kind of people who ask for raises.
Now let us look at the alternative: negotiating for what you deserve by taking a positive and assertive approach. This is the direction Maria Klawe attempted to steer Nadella towards as he was in the process of putting his foot in his mouth. There is enough data to show that women do not do enough of this.
Yes, I trusted the system and never had to ask for a raise in my career, yet my current salary is at par with my male colleagues. However, I have confidently, assertively, and consistently asked for what I needed at work to achieve my goals— a part-time work schedule when my children were young, a place on high-profile projects, additional responsibility to advance my career, and changes in title and pay that go along with that extra responsibility. And the system has recognized and rewarded that, every time.