On gender gaps and misleading data

I’m a female engineer and I love data. So, it irks me to no end when people misuse it. I spent years in academia, where it was of utmost importance to use data responsibly and to make sure all conclusions were well-founded.

Sadly, among the general population, people are not so careful with data. Apart from politicians, the offenses are usually minor. But on Equal Pay Day, the head of HR at Microsoft used pay data to mislead everyone.

I work at Microsoft and I love data. And I’m very annoyed.

It’s great that there are no differences in gender within the same level and position at Microsoft. However, the important question is whether Microsoft promotes women as often as men. But this is not the question that HR has answered.

For those who aren’t familiar with levels at Microsoft, the same title can have multiple levels, and your level determines both your salary and your potential bonus. Salary does not vary much within a level. However, a higher level means a much higher salary and bonus target, and the increases become even more dramatic as you move up.

So, Microsoft should really be reporting on women’s promotion rates as compared to men, but I doubt this will paint a pretty picture. In my teams, I’ve seen a consistent trend: women have more junior titles than men and are generally not in leadership positions.

I’m not blaming Microsoft for this, and I’m actually not surprised. As Satya learned after making some unfortunate remarks at Grace Hopper in 2014, there’s a well-known phenomenon at play: women tend not to ask for raises or promotions. Women don’t highlight their accomplishments, because they don’t want to “brag.” Women will even minimize praise and say it was a team effort rather than risk taking credit for others’ work.

So, it is unsurprising that until recently, there were no women on Satya’s Senior Leadership Team. But, it’s very disappointing that one of these women posted this misleading salary report. This report does far more harm than good, as true cases of sexism might be dismissed as mere hurt feelings. After all, now we have hard data that women’s salaries are not negatively affected.

I’ve asked the head of HR to provide promotion statistics for genders, and if they ever do, then we’ll have a much better understanding of gender equality within Microsoft. But for now, shame on you, Satya Nadella and Kathleen Hogan. You should show that Microsoft is committed to more than the appearance of diversity. And, and as a software company, you should not use data to mislead.

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