Five reasons Microsoft CEO's gender gaffe is worrisome for women

CEO: Not seeking a raise is 'good karma'
CEO: Not seeking a raise is 'good karma'

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CEO: Not seeking a raise is 'good karma' 02:23

Story highlights

  • Microsoft CEO said women who don't ask for a raise will receive "good karma"
  • Satya Nadella made the comments at a conference celebrating women in computing
  • Nadella said on Twitter that he was "inarticulate" and that the gender gap needs to be closed
  • Women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to the latest numbers

Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two girls. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

What? Is this 2014 or 1954?
The CEO, Satya Nadella, has since tried to clarify his comments, which were ironically made at a conference in Phoenix celebrating women in computing.
    Nadella took to Twitter to say he was "inarticulate" on the topic of how women should ask for a raise. At the conference, he appeared to be saying that women who have faith that things will work out (and who don't speak up) will see pay increases in the long term during their careers.
    In his Twitter mea culpa, there was no talk of faith or karma. Nadella said the tech industry needs to close the gender pay gap "so a raise is not needed because of a bias."
    There are so many reasons why Nadella's initial comments are so worrisome. I've tried to boil down my anger and the outrage of other women on social media to five:
    1. Other men think this way: First, it's clear that Nadella believes that women should trust that things will work out in the long run, or he would never have said it. The question is how many other male chief executives feel the same way. I'm guessing there are some. And if they do feel this way, how motivated are they to close the gender pay gap? Do they feel like Nadella implied that income differences will work out in the end? Women make 78 cents for every dollar our male colleagues make. For several years, the number has been 77 cents to every dollar a man earns. I'm not sure "karma" is going to bring that gap to zero.
    2. Women are already afraid to ask: I remember a story I worked on while I was at the women's website iVillage.com. We asked women how often they asked for a raise, and their responses were shocking. Only 35% of the 1,500 women surveyed said they ever asked for a raise. Fewer than one in five said they ever asked for a promotion, according to the survey. Most women are already reluctant to speak up when it comes to getting more money for their work. Comments like the ones from the Microsoft CEO aren't likely to increase their confidence to go for it.
    3. We need more female chief executives: I'm not really into betting, but this is a wager I feel very confident I'd win. Would a female chief executive officer have ever suggested that women should trust the system and trust that they'll receive "good karma" if they don't ask for raises? Absolutely not. I don't think any woman, especially one who has gone on to head a Fortune 500 company, would say she ever trusted the system to get where she is. She most likely had to take on the system and speak up for herself over and over again throughout her career. So Nadella's big-time gender gaffe points to why we need more women in the C-suite. Sadly, as we reported last year, there has been no significant difference in the number of women in executive positions for four years in a row.
    4. We need more women in tech: We already knew we have too few women in the tech industry, but the Microsoft chief's gaffe is another reminder. You have to wonder if he'd ever make such comments or believe them if he were surrounded by more women. According to CNN Money, Microsoft's work force is 71% male, but the male-female breakdown gets even worse when you focus on technical and leadership roles. Eighty-three percent of those positions are male, according to CNN Money, which reports that the figures are roughly in line with the male-female breakdown at Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Apple. The issue is not just one of diversity but what impacts the bottom line. The research shows that there is a positive correlation between diversity on boards and in the C-suite and a company's financial performance.
    5. What message are we sending our girls?: There's been so much discussion in the past year or two about how we need to get our girls to lean in, how we need to ban the the word "bossy," how we need to have them stop apologizing and feel good and confident about who they are. And then we have a chief executive officer of one of the country's top tech companies sending a message that could easily be translated into encouraging our girls to be good and not ruffle anyone's feathers, and that that's how they'll get what they want. We women know that's not how the world works.
    So I'm thinking we might need to create a new campaign, taking a page from the fabulously successful "Run Like a Girl" ad by Always, which called attention to how the term "run like a girl" became a negative when it should be a source of strength.
    How about a campaign titled "Make a Gaffe Like a Man"?
    There are way too many men who could be included, but we'd give the starring role to the Microsoft chief at the moment.
    What do you think about the Microsoft CEO's initial comments that women shouldn't ask for a raise? Tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.