Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO (Pic courtesy: Microsoft)
There is some cheap schadenfreude to be had in Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s “good karma” and salary raise for women workers observation. I had my share for about two seconds after hearing his exact comment yesterday. Now, one might want to add a little more nuance.
First, this is what he said at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, “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…That, I think, might be one of the additional superpowers that, quite frankly, women who don’t ask for a raise have. Because that’s good karma. It’ll come back because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to. And in the long-term efficiency, things catch up.”
It was a prestigious conference that celebrates women in high technology. Nadella could not have been unaware and unmindful of the platform. Notwithstanding his background as a techie one presumes a level of articulation and clarity of perspective that the CEO of one of the world’s most influential corporations is expected to have. The first thought that came to my mind when I heard him was the Gita and this particularly famous shlok from it.
Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana
Maa Karma Phala Heturbhuh Te Sanagostav Akarmani
You are only entitled to work/action but not its fruits/rewards
Let fruits/rewards not be the motive of your work/action
Nor you be attached to inaction
The particular sholk is regarded as one of the core messages of the Gita. The idea of karma that has so deeply entrenched into the popular American lexicon—I would venture to suggest it is perhaps the most widely used Sanskrit word in America now—that people routinely invoke it in conversations and debates of all kinds. I suspect Nadella was subconsciously channeling some aspects of the shlok when he spoke about “good karma.” I hate to second-guess anyone, especially when someone has said his or her piece as clearly as Nadella has.
His core points seems to be that faith in the corporate system ultimately pays off if workers—in this context women workers—do their job steadfastly. The notion that doing one’s job diligently and without a sense of entitlement is in itself enough and helps accumulate “good karma” for women that will eventually lead to a pay raise is touchingly naïve. Perhaps Nadella is drawing on his own experience which led him to become the CEO of Microsoft on the strength of his work and merit. However, he forgets a key differentiator. He is a man. I am not breaking any news here when I say that women are not compensated equally in corporate America for an equal amount of work and an equal amount of skills. It is in this context that the issue of asking for a raise or getting it as a natural consequence of good work ought to be seen.
In his own mind Nadella seems to have erased the gender differentiation when he advises that women that it is not about asking for a raise but “knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.” He appears to come from the position that gender equity in corporate is a given and the question of salary raise really boils down to just doing one’s job steadfastly. That is where his perspective is deeply flawed. It cannot be that he does not know that gender equity is not a given. It is not a given and it is most certainly not about having faith that the system will ultimately recognize your worth. The system is not an agnostic machine that is blind to gender because the system is often predominantly male. When Nadella took over earlier this year this is what I wrote in February:
“As Microsoft appears set to name the Hyderabad, India born Satya Nadella as its new CEO, I have decided to look at the software giant from its “gender breakout” standpoint.
Microsoft’s “Facts about Microsoft” statement on its website reports many things but the one that drew my attention was its male and female employee numbers. As of 2013, the company has 44,826 male employees and 14,371 female employees in the U.S. Those numbers make Microsoft a 75.7 percent male company and 24.3 percent female company. To me, that terribly skewed gender ratio should be one of Nadella’s immediate internal challenges if he is chosen.
Technology companies, like companies generally, do tend to be male-heavy and that has a direct impact on their products in terms of whom they appeal to. Even if the male employees try hard to think like women, there is just no getting around natural differences between the way the two genders approach life. It might seem counterintuitive to mention testosterone and software together but there is certain inherent maleness to most software. Since they have no choice women do end up adapting to the lopsided product mix but I am fairly certain that given a choice they would introduce a whole new range that would appeal to the other half of humanity.”
I seriously wonder whether a system that is 75.7 percent male is inherently gender-neutral. Of course, pay equity is not just a Microsoft problem but generally a corporate problem because corporations around the world tend to be male-dominated. Good karma works only when the system has intrinsic fairness built into it. If life is not fair, I am not sure corporations can be. In any case, the karmic cycle is a life’s work where rewards and compensations are not always financial. Salary raise is necessarily financial.