Time Inc Column: Open Letter to Satya Nadella “You are the Industry, Be the Change”

Dear Yes & Knowers, you might have already seen this as ABC News as other publications have covered this specific idea. Published over at Time Inc in my (now) regular column on power on Friday, it addresses the situation that the CEO of Microsoft got himself into at the Grace Hopper conference. I’ve seen a change.org petition asking for Nadella’s resignation, but I haven’t spread that idea because he’s done nothing “wrong” other than say aloud the lie that most tech execs believe (that we have/work in a meritocracy). I’d rather see the energy go towards solving the problem. What else would you recommend be done?


So Satya Nadella, your team stayed up all night trying to figure how to position this as a faux pas and not a tell. But I stayed up last night and thought about how you could turn this into a win.

Women shouldn’t ask for raises; instead, they should trust that “karma” will take care of them and have “faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along.” For those who missed it, that’s what you, the CEO of Microsoft, said yesterday at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference, a gathering focused on improving the pipeline of women entering the technology field. “Tone-deaf” and “ignorant” were common adjectives that met this pronouncement. And some outrage. (Loads of outrage, actually, often condensed to three letters on Twitter: WTF.)

You later apologized, saying you were “inarticulate” and that “the industry must close the gender pay gap.” I respect that you apologized and that you know at some level you messed up. But even your apology holds a fatal flaw. Your thinking should trouble us all.

First, the system you initially said women should “have faith” in is incredibly biased. The facts on this are irrefutable. Harvard research shows that women often face a choice of being perceived of as either competent or likable (a problem men don’t face). Catalyst research shows women are punished for being ambitious. Other research shows that men apply for jobs for which they have 60% of the stated qualifications while women demur unless they have 100%. So, when you say “trust in the system,” what you are really doing is patting women on the head. And this causes outrage not because it offends women, but because it reeks of patriarchy.

Your apology, however, encoded something even worse. You said on Twitter that “our industry must close the gender pay gap so a raise is not needed because of a bias.” Our industry. To which one has to start wondering… Who exactly is “our industry,” and how exactly would we know if “our industry” was working on the problem or ignoring it. We couldn’t. As any leader knows, until you have a throat to choke, you have nothing. I bet you don’t say “I hope the industry fixes communications protocols.” You assign it to someone. Or you lay out how you will be involved in the solution. So, in other words, when the truth is evident about how women are treated in tech, and the facts incontrovertible, you’re taking a pass on being a leader—on being part of the solution.

Satya Nadella, shame on you. You can do better.

Read and educate yourself. “Lean In” is by far the best-researched book on the state of women and leadership.

Then, and this is important: Take action. Yourself.

Bias is fixable. But (and this is a big but) only with conscious leadership. And that’s the bigger issue that your “faux pas” suggests. It’s about how power needs to be shared. While achieving wage equality is important, what is more important is creating a new normal where women don’t have to live by the old rules others created by men in the industrial era. Women — as well as a fair number of men — want to create rules and approaches that bring out the best in everyone. Women will not be able to undo debilitating, ingrained cultural biases on their own. And there’s no reason why they should have to. And to be clear, this isn’t a “women’s” problem. This is an economic problem. You need the talent of all people — to bring that which only they can bring — to solve old problems with new ideas or to come up with entirely new solutions.

This is an opportunity for leadership and so far, Mr. Nadella, you’re showing you’re not a leader. I’d like you to prove me wrong.

Here’s how you could do it: Instead of waiting for the industry to change (miraculously), why not be the change. Tomorrow, you re-level and compensate every woman on the same pay scale as your men. That would change the industry, and you have it within your powers to do it. It would redeem your stupidity yesterday. But more importantly, it would signal to the industry what leadership actually looks like.

Stop talking about being an ally and actually be an ally.


Original post spot: http://time.com/3490240/an-open-letter-to-satya-nadella-you-are-the-industry-you-must-be-the-change/

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