Tag Archives: Catalyst

To the Edge of the Gap with Satya Nadella

It’s hard to believe that the people around Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella did not prepare him for a question about the pay gap at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, and even harder to believe that they would advise him to tell women to stop asking for a raise and place their “faith,” instead, in “karma.” Nadella must have gone off script, or lost his talking points on the way to Phoenix. He tried to backpedal on Twitter later in the day, but by then the damage was done.

There is a transcript of the mess here. Nadella starts by talking about the inefficiencies of “HR systems” and ends up endorsing a corporate caste system, in which karma determines station. He advises talented women that the arc of Microsoft universe is long, but bends toward justice: they should keep the faith, keep working and just keep quiet about the whole equal pay thing.

Today, he’s repented, in an email to Microsoft employees: “if you think you deserve a raise, just ask for it.” He’s also committed, he says, to closing the pay gap at Microsoft. The trouble is, telling women they should “just ask” for raises may indicate that the CEO has found a formula that will allow him to remove his foot from his mouth, but it isn’t going to solve the problem.

In fact, research by the organization Catalyst — which I’ve written about in another post — shows that while the system may reward men in roughly the way Nadella describes, giving them “the right raises as [they] go along,” it does not so reward women; and when women ask for raises, their requests go unmet. It’s hard to have faith in a system like that.

The whole incident brings me back, of course, to my ongoing interest in the power of asking, which is the power in question here.

“Just ask” sounds like permission; but permission does not necessarily entail power. What’s fascinating about the Catalyst research on what happens when women ask for raises is that it clearly shows that the power of asking is a power we have to confer on others: it’s the power we give the other to make claims (or demands) on us.

We confer that power when we recognize the other’s status as a second person, or — to put it another way — when we recognize in them an authority equal to our own.

Respect that authority, and we are mutually accountable to each other. Disrespect or disregard it, and we deny others the status of persons, make them instruments of our will or means to our ends. We dehumanize them, or fail to acknowledge them as fully human.

Of course, respect of this fundamental order is not something Nadella can institute at Microsoft by tweeting about “bias,” emailing his apologies or by executive fiat. But a good place to start the broader conversation about closing the pay gap (at Microsoft, in the tech industry or throughout the business world) might be to see it, and approach it and address it as a basic power gap that only true respect for persons can bridge.

What Do Women Want? What They’re Asking For

Sasha Galbraith has a piece on Forbes today about Megan Brown, who launched a company called HatchedIt — a social calendar app, for planning, managing and coordinating events with friends and family. Much of it reads like a press release, a fluff piece about an entrepreneurial Mommy blogger, ripe for the kind of satire that Paul Rudnick dished out in The New Yorker last week. (But not, I should note, before Ruth Fowler beat him to the punch.)

What caught my eye was the title (“Lesson From a Woman of Wall Street: Ask For What You Want”), which promised to say something about asking; and what redeemed the article and kept it from being all fluff was Brown’s account of her rise through the male-dominated ranks of finance and her mockery of the “empty suits” with whom she used to work: “they all use a bevy of analogies like, ‘We all need to be rowing in the same direction’ and ‘picking the low-hanging fruit.’ You can’t understand anything they’re saying, but all the other men think they sound brilliant.” So here, I thought, is a woman schooled in the workings of power and language in the world of business.

For Brown, asking is something men expect; but it’s not something women do:

I also think there is a different way to manage men than you manage women… Men respond differently. I have to remind myself when dealing with a man, you need to be direct; you need to ask for what you need upfront; and you need to not be embarrassed or apologize. It’s a skill set that took me a long time to really understand in finance and I had to learn quickly to ramp up my career. But if not for those experiences, I don’t think I would understand that now, especially as we are looking for funding and partnerships, you really need to ask for what you want. And for a lot of women [in any industry or situation], that’s challenging.”

The trouble with this advice is that it rehearses stereotypes Brown probably learned from hanging around those empty suits. As research from the organization Catalyst shows, “it’s simply untrue” that women don’t ask.

For example, by looking at the career paths of over 4000 MBA grads from around the world, Catalyst found that women were more likely than men to ask for a variety of skill-building experiences and to proactively seek training opportunities. And we also found that women and men negotiated for a higher level position or greater compensation during the hiring process for their current job at equal rates.

Women do ask –but get little in return. Equally skilled men advance farther and more quickly than their female peers. In fact, we found that the $4600 pay gap that starts from day one grew to more than $31,000 several years down the track—even when women asked.

The Catalyst study concedes that “women who toot their own horn do get ahead –and are happier at work too,” but tooting your own horn is not really the same as asking. The issue is that when women ask, their requests are not being met. In a Washington Post article, Catalyst researchers Nancy Carter and Christine Silva point out that “people routinely take a tougher stance against women in negotiations than they do against men” and that talent management systems can be biased against women.

If entrenched sexism in the business environment affects everything from how women are received when they ask, to what they think they can ask for, as well as ideas of what power looks like, how it’s created and how it’s shared, then it might conceivably prevent some women from asking for what they want, or make it seem “challenging” to do so, as Megan Brown says. But I’m afraid that merely advising women “to ask for what you need upfront” is a bit like telling them they just have to lean in.