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Microsoft CEO takes lessons from gaffe about women's pay

Satya Nadella says he found no gender pay gap at his company, but adds that more work needs to be done to increase workplace equality.

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Satya Nadella said he is humbled by the controversy sparked by his comments on women's pay. CNET

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says he's learned a lot since making some widely criticized comments on women's pay.

Earlier this month at a conference focused on women and tech, he suggested women shouldn't ask for a raise and instead believe the system will take care of them. Now, ahead of the company's earnings report Thursday, the CEO again worked to smooth over the controversy brought on by those comments.

In interviews with CNBC and USA Today made public Monday, Nadella again called his comments "completely wrong," adding that the incident has been "a very humbling and learning experience for me."

Speaking earlier this month at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Phoenix, he was asked what advice he'd offer women who were uncertain how to approach their supervisors about a raise or promotion. He said, "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, who took over as CEO in February, said in the Monday interviews that he answered the question from the narrow focus of his own experience. He said it was wrong to suggest anyone facing bias shouldn't address it, adding that it is important to forcefully take action against biases so workplaces can be more equal.

"What struck me most even since then," he told USA Today, "is as I talk to other senior women and generally anyone, and their stories of how, for example, quote unquote, the system has actually not worked for them. And when you hear that and you sort of really recognize what a raw nerve my comments [touched], especially around being passive, [it] makes no sense."

He added that he looked into the pay gap at Microsoft and found no disparity, that jobs with the same title and level have a "tight band" of 0.5 percent difference between them. He added, though, that more work needs to be done to make the tech industry more of a meritocracy.

The CEO last week sent out a memo to staff saying the company is launching a diversity initiative to increase training in making the workplace more inclusive.

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 unbalanced makeup of their workforces. For Microsoft, women make up 29 percent of its worldwide workforce, but only 17 percent of its tech workforce.