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Walkback: Microsoft CEO saying women should rely on ‘karma’ for raises

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella speaks to students in New Delhi on Oct. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)

Women make less than men for doing the same job. On average, 22 percent less. They also are less likely to ask for a raise.

While there is some evidence the pay gap is narrower in the tech sector, the gender imbalance is real, including at Microsoft, which last week reported that women make up 29 percent of its global workforce.

Presumably Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella considered these issues before he sat down for an interview with fellow Microsoft board member Maria Klawe at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a high-profile annual event for leading women in tech.

Near the end of the interview, Klawe asked Nadella what advice he would give to women who aren’t comfortable asking for a raise.

His answer?

“It’s not really about asking for a raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raise,” Nadella said.

The system hasn’t done a good job of addressing the pay gap thus far. But hey, there’s always “karma.”

Nadella continued: “That might be one of the initial ‘super powers,’ that quite frankly, women who don’t ask for a raise have … It’s good karma. It will come back.”

“This is one of the very few things I disagree with you on,” said Klawe, drawing applause. Klawe maintained Nadella is “an amazing leader” whom she adores.

“Oh dear. Oh my. No, no, no,” was the response of Re/code’s Kara Swisher, one of the aforementioned leading women in tech. The blog Readwrite has a roundup of similar reactions registered on Twitter.

Several hours later, Nadella tweeted an apology: “Was inarticulate re how women should ask for raise. Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias.”

A more thorough mea culpa came later. Nadella tweeted this memo to employees:

Maria asked me what advice I would offer women who are not comfortable asking for pay raises. I answered that question completely wrong. Without a doubt I wholeheartedly support programs at Microsoft and in the industry that bring more women into technology and close the pay gap. I believe men and women should get equal pay for equal work. And when it comes to career advice on getting a raise when you think it’s deserved, Maria’s advice was the right advice. If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.