There’s no question that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put his foot in his mouth last week when he suggested that women should not ask for raises but instead should just do a good job and have faith that they will get the pay they deserve. He made the baffling statements in an unlikely forum, a conference in Phoenix celebrating the achievements of women in computing. Microsoft board member and Harvey Mudd College president Maria M. Klawe had asked Nadella what advice he’d give women who are not comfortable asking for a promotion. Nadella’s answer: “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.”
As if he hadn’t done enough damage with that comment, he continued: “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.”
Facing an immediate firestorm of criticism, Nadella tried to retract his words, though a tweet he sent late Thursday failed to make clear what he was trying to convey. He said he had been “inarticulate” about how women should ask for raises. He went on to say, rather confusingly, “Our industry must close gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias.” He also sent an email to Microsoft staff that was more succinct, saying he supported programs that brought more women into technology and that closed the pay gap. About raises, he said, “If you think you deserve a raise, you should just ask.”
Is there anything to be learned from Nadella’s gaffe? If the advice in his follow-up memo was correct, what is the best way for women to ask for a raise? What kind of obstacles do women face that men don’t and how can women overcome them?
For advice I interviewed eight career coaches, including five trusted sources in New York who have provided me with great wisdom for past career stories, and three coaches in Silicon Valley. All of them agree that Nadella’s initial comments were completely wrong-headed, even if applied to men.
“It runs contrary to everything I ever say to anyone in business,” says longtime coach Ellis Chase, 67, who coaches at Columbia Business School and is the author of In Search of the Fun-Forever Job: Career Strategies That Work.”One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that being productive, smart and working like a dog is going to get you recognition and compensation which of course is not true for anyone.” He adds, “Years ago a boss told me, ‘It doesn’t matter if you come in two hours before anyone else because no one sees you.’” While both genders should advocate for themselves and ask for raises, the coaches all agree that women find it more challenging to ask for raises than do men.
One encouraging piece of information I got from the three Silicon Valley coaches: Nadella’s initial notion that women should not ask for raises is not representative of tech culture in the valley. Though tech jobs remain dominated by men – only 29% of Microsoft’s global workforce is female – Lisa Stotlar, 51, who is based in Palo Alto and has been coaching for more than 20 years, says Nadella’s comments “don’t sound typical at all.” Says Mountain View-based coach Ada James, 32, “bosses have been very receptive when the women I’ve worked with have asked for raises.”
Still, women must overcome their own reluctance to ask for raises while confronting lingering sexism toward women who appear too assertive. As The New York Times noted after Nadella made his comments, Carnegie Mellon economics professor Linda Babcock, author of the 2003 book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, has studied women’s attitudes toward raises and promotions and found that they are more likely than men to be anxious about asking for more pay and better positions. In one study she found that 57% of male Carnegie Mellon business school graduates negotiated their starting salaries compared to just 7% of women. In a 2005 paper she and two co-authors found that women who tried negotiating with men for more compensation, suffered more push-back than men. (Though when men and women negotiated with a female boss, the boss didn’t differ in her reactions to both genders.)
Babcock’s research may be dated, but three of the eight coaches told me that they think women who ask for raises get penalized because of their gender. “If women are more assertive, people aren’t used to that,” says Marianne Adoradio, 64, a San Jose coach with 20 years of experience.
The good news is that women can counteract gender bias and boost their pay considerably. Palo Alto coach Stotlar even thinks that this is an especially good moment for women to get ahead because of recent attention to the lack of diversity at tech companies. In addition to Microsoft’s poor diversity numbers, last summer, after Apple released a report showing that women make up just 30% of its employees worldwide, CEO Tim Cook said he was “not satisfied” with the gender and racial breakdown at the company.
So what should women do to increase their compensation? I’ve combined the wisdom of the eight coaches here to offer 12 directives.
1. Lean in. To borrow the title of the best-selling book by billionaire Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, women should pursue higher salaries and promotions, despite their reluctance and in the face of lingering sexism. I personally empathize with women who prefer to take a “mommy track” once they’ve had kids (I did that for some years after my son was born in 1996). But like Sandberg, coach Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio says that women are too quick to assume they can’t handle more responsibility, which can also bring a higher salary. She has a client right now who is earning $350,000 as a senior vice president at a financial services company. The woman’s bosses asked her to interview for a managing director job which could double her salary. But the woman didn’t want to pursue the opportunity. Thanasoulis-Cerrachio insisted she explore it. “I’ve never had to talk a guy into something like that,” she says.
2. Build relationships in your industry and your company: Coach Anita Attridge, who worked for 20 years in human resources jobs inside companies, including more than 10 years at Xerox, says she’s observed that women aren’t as natural at networking as men. One of her clients who was earning $300,000 at a pharmaceutical company, wanted to make a play for her boss’s job. But Attridge says the woman hadn’t been effective enough at getting to know the right people. “She had done a sterling job and made great accomplishments but she had no relationships with the people in the company who were going to be making the decision.” She didn’t get the promotion. Longtime coach Eileen Wolkstein, 71, observes, “women tend to form relationships that are less up than across or down.” They’ll be friendlier with the administrative assistants than with the senior staff. Wolkstein also notes that there can be a hazard in befriending more senior women. “The sisterhood is not necessarily alive and well,” she says, and women bosses may feel they had to work hard to get where they are and younger women should pay their dues. Attridge notes that at Xerox, CEO Ursula Burns was a master at cultivating relationships across the board. “She did what a guy would do.”
3. Know your value. Relationships inside and outside your organization can help you do this. Money is still a taboo subject but Attridge suggests you get to know someone in HR6 who can help you at least get a sense of the range your job pays and whether you’re in the ballpark. Online sources like PayScale and Glassdoor are also great resources. New York coach Sarah Stamboulie suggests that women “do the math” to determine what they’re worth. Add up what you did for the company in the last year. Did you increase sales by $50,000 or $100,000 or contribute to a project that enabled the company to bring in a new client?
4. Talk up your accomplishments. Go beyond your boss and seize the chance to talk yourself up to others in a position to help you, says Stamboulie. Example: If you’re in the elevator with a senior manager and they ask you how you are, say things are great and you got the latest project in on time. Convey that you’re a team player by praising your boss.
5. Take advantage of a win. When you finish a project, successfully woo a new client or close a deal, consider initiating a salary discussion then, especially if your accomplishment helps your boss’s reputation within the organization. “Timing is really important,” notes Stamboulie.
6. Make a long list of your accomplishments. You should stay on top of this all the time. Document your achievements and praise from higher-ups. When you prepare for a salary discussion, come with specifics and numbers. You increased sales by 30%, you smoothed over a troubled overseas client relationship, you hired and supervised a new employee who has become a superstar. Chase says this is a common weak area for women. Many are not natural self-boosters. Overcome your fear of self-promotion.
7. Talk about your plans for the future. Too many people stop at what they’ve done in the past, says Wolkstein. Come up with a plan going forward. “You don’t just get paid for what you did,” she says. “You get paid for what you’re going to contribute.”
8. Keep emotions out of it. Even if you feel like you’ve been treated unfairly and you’re angry that a male colleague with your job title and experience is making $20,000 more than you, keep your feelings in check. Otherwise you’ll put your supervisor on the defensive. “Nobody wants to hear, ‘it’s only fair,’ or ‘I need,’” says Chase. When you bring up a salary number, present it straight, without feeling. This is what you know about the rate for your level of responsibility. Don’t compare yourself to John in the next office.
9. Rehearse. Practice with a coach or loved one. As I mentioned above, women who feel that asking for a raise is the last thing they want to do should come up with a script about their accomplishments, plans and salary expectations based on the information they’ve gathered about what they think they deserve. Then practice that speech until you have it down cold. I’m not trying to give my coach-sources free advertising here but I do think compensation negotiations are an area where coaching can more than pay for itself.
10. Give them time to think. Stamboulie advises coming into a salary negotiation with a one-page takeaway. If the supervisor doesn’t engage you when you make your bid for a raise, step back and offer to leave them with some information. Make your presentation, put your sheet on the desk and say you’ll come back in a few days.
11. If you don’t get what you want, plan an exit strategy. “Why stay where you can’t move?” asks Chase. “There is no job worth being miserable over.”
12. Be vulnerable. This advice may seem to run counter to everything I’ve written here about how women should lean in and push for what they deserve. But Mountain View coach Ada James convinces me that the concept is worth considering. It comes from Brené Brown, an author and research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work who has done a popular TED talk. The idea is that the very act of asking for a raise makes you vulnerable. “You’re living a full and engaged life by putting yourself out on the line,” says James. “Showing up in the negotiation room is vulnerable.” Adds James, “You can be really strong and vulnerable at the same time. That’s what bravery is.” I agree.
Read the article on Forbes