While Microsoft CEO’s comment upsetting, it is not entirely wrong
By now everyone in the social media world and beyond is likely talking about the recent comment by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in which he suggested that “women don’t need to ask for a raise and should just trust the system to pay them well.”
In a monumental effort to regain creditability as a leader and quell the flames of indignation, Mr. Nadella apologized for his response to the question “What advice would you give to women who are uncomfortable requesting a raise?”
Despite being politically incorrect, the irony is that Mr. Nadella’s advice is actually sound. This in and of itself is the real issue with which everyone in the business world should be more concerned.
According to the results of a Yale University 2012 study conducted by Professor Victoria Brescoll, “when men talk a lot, people want to reward them. But when women do it, they are seen as being too domineering, too presumptuous.”
More specifically, the study found that talkative men were given a competency rating of 5.64 on average, while quiet men were given a 5.11. On the other hand, “chatty women” received a rating of 4.83 versus 5.62 if they were more quiet.
Based on the above results from the Yale study, it would be unwise to summarily dismiss Mr. Nadella’s words as being out of order.
Don’t Shoot The Messenger
I in no way want to come across as if I am agreeing with the sentiments behind Mr. Nadella’s words, nor willingly accepting their implications. However, women cannot with cries of injustice and sexism, continue to ignore and/or muffle the underlying problem.
After all, and if you think about it, an apology from the Microsoft CEO ultimately does little in terms of overcoming a negative stereotype of women.
Similar to the belief that men are assertive and women are aggressive disconnect, the fact that men are rewarded for speaking up while women are penalized for doing the same, requires more than an apology.
It requires a whole new mindset on the part of men and yes, even women.
Killing Women With Mentoring Kindness?
In the September 2010 Harvard Business Review article by Herminia Ibarra, Nancy M. Carter, and Christine Silva titled “Why Men Still Get More Promotions Than Women”, the authors found that “high-potential women are overmentored and undersponsored relative to their male peers”. As a result, “they are not advancing in their organizations.”
For those unfamiliar with the difference between a mentor and a sponsor, a sponsor is an individual who goes beyond providing feedback and advice, and uses “his or her influence with senior executives to advocate for the mentee.”
In essence, and in addition to speaking for themselves, women also need champions to voice their support and to help pave the way to greater opportunities – including increased pay.
Less Apologies and More Sponsorships
In the case of the Microsoft CEO, and beyond offering an apology, I would suggest that he ask himself the following question; “Have I ever been an active sponsor for a woman or women within my own company?”
Once again, I am not talking about the mentoring referenced in the HBR article. What I am talking about is real sponsorship in which Mr. Nadella examines the pay scale differences between men and women at Microsoft, and actually works towards implementing a reward policy based on merit as opposed to gender. This is ultimately leading change through positive action.
In terms of women, there needs to be less focus on the offense, and more emphasis on solutions. This includes following the advice of Maria Klawe, who suggested “women do their homework on salary information”, and first practice “asking for a raise with people they trust”. Beyond the raise question, women also need to actively seek sponsors who will, when required, step up to the plate on their behalf.
Or to put it another way, and in the spirit of the Elvis Presley song, it is now time for a little less conversation, and a little more action . . . on everyone’s part.