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Microsoft CEO says he was 'inarticulate' on pay for women in tech

Satya Nadella backtracks after appearing to suggest women should have faith that the system will reward them, rather than asking for a raise.

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella took to Twitter to explain comments he made at a conference focused on women in computing.Photo by CNET

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stumbled into a controversy over gender pay inequality on Thursday when he seemed to suggest that women in tech shouldn't ask for raises but should instead trust that the system will take care of them.

During an event focused on women in computing, Nadella raised the ire of many in the audience when he was asked what advice he'd offer women who were uncertain how to approach their supervisors about a raise or promotion.

"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," Nadella said in the interview, which can be viewed here and below. "And that I think might be one of the additional superpowers that quite frankly women who don't ask for raises have."

Nadella's comments drew a negative response on Twitter from audience members who felt the remarks advocated women quietly tolerating lower pay than their male colleagues. ReadWrite, which attended the Phoenix event -- the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing -- compiled some of those comments earlier today.

After his appearance, Nadella appeared to backtrack on his remarks, tweeting that his response had been "inarticulate" and that the tech industry should eliminate gender pay inequality so that raises are no longer an issue.

In response to a CNET request for comment, Microsoft forwarded the email Nadella sent to Microsoft employees this evening addressing the interview:

From: Satya Nadella
Sent: Thursday, October 9, 2014 5:24 PM
To: Microsoft - All Employees (QBDG); Retail: All FTE
Subject: RE: Empowering Others

All - Today I was interviewed on stage by Maria Klawe at the Grace Hopper Conference - I encourage you to watch the video. It was great to spend time with so many women passionate about technology. I was honored to be a part of it and I left the conference energized and inspired.

Toward the end of the interview, 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.

I said I was looking forward to the Grace Hopper Conference to learn, and I certainly learned a valuable lesson. I look forward to speaking with you at our monthly Q&A next week and am happy to answer any question you have.

Satya

Gender equality in the workforce has become a contentious issue in Silicon Valley, with many tech companies, including Microsoft, releasing diversity reports that detail the makeup of their workforces. For Microsoft, women comprise 29 percent of its worldwide workforce, but only 17.1 percent of its tech workforce.


Updated at 6:20 p.m. PT with Nadella's letter.

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