(Editor's note: Not long after the headlines appeared about this interview at the Grace Hopper Celebration in 2014, I asked reader and software engineer Cate Huston--who was present at this session--to write about the missing piece in the coverage. Of course, that missing piece was what the woman leading this interview said. It's not only important for the content, but because serving as a on-stage interviewer is increasingly among the public speaking roles you may be asked to take. As Huston notes in this post, you have more choices to make than simply asking questions when you're in this pivotal role.)
In October 2014, Satya Nadella as CEO of Microsoft made headlines when in a keynote at a conference of over 8000 women, he advocated the benefit of not asking for pay-rises, but instead trusting in karma. It was highly tweetable, and because it followed a plenary panel of “male allies” from the night before that had also contained some unfortunate remarks, the comments gained traction and outrage outside the conference. That external reaction was far greater than among those attending, who had heard his many thoughtful comments through the rest of the interview. Best of all, and largely ignored in the press coverage, was his interviewer Maria Klawe’s response. Klawe is Dean of Harvey Mudd College, and a Microsoft Board Member.
Clearly, if karma worked as a strategy for pay rises, women wouldn’t average 78c on the dollar. In the technology industry the gap is slightly smaller at 84c on the dollar [full study with data for 2013], but this is an industry where more than half the women are driven out by mid-career. It is part of the insidious and pervasive thinking (well documented in Women Don’t Ask - Amazon) that results in women being paid less, starting in their first jobs and resulting in a lifetime loss of $434,000 ($713,000 for those with a college degree or higher) [data from 2008].
As Nadella was lambasted on social media, in the press (internationally!), and on TV, Klawe’s fantastic response and great advice was largely overlooked. Here it is in full:
Well let me tell you a story about myself, because I actually… this is one of the very few things I disagree with you on.
So, I’ve always been uncomfortable in asking for things for myself. I’m really great at asking for things for the people who work for me.
But, so, I was being offered the position of Dean of Engineering at Princeton. And… I took it without having been offered a salary. So at some point we’re having this conversation, Shirley Tilghman hired me, and she’s saying “well we have to figure out what salary we’re going to pay you” and I’m so uncomfortable I say “oh just pay me whatever you think is right.” I probably got a good $50,000 less than I would have if I had been doing my job. Same thing when I took the job at Harvey Mudd. They offered me quite a bit less than I thought was appropriate. I didn’t say anything.
So, so, here’s my advice to all of you. First of all do your homework. Make sure that you actually know what a reasonable salary is if you are being offered a job. Do not be as stupid as I was. Second of all is role play. Sit down with someone you really trust, and practise asking them for the salary you deserve.Three things we can learn from this:
- Disagree with your interviewee! Klawe stepped in at the moment they were losing the audience and her answer was a highlight of the talk.
- Get personal. Nadella talked about theory and the long term view of HR, but Klawe made the loss that women get from not negotiating personal with her own story of being paid $50,000 less than she should have been at Princeton. Further revealing that she had made the same mistake with her current role made it impossible to ignore as a one-off.
- Relate to the audience. Klawe’s response is full of things that the many women in the audience relate to, being good at asking for things for others, for example (notice how many times in the whole interview she advocates donating to Harvey Mudd). And where better to make the suggestion of role-playing than at an event with a huge careers fair where women gather to learn and support each other. I bet women were role-playing salary negotiation in the breaks that day.
2014 GHC Thursday Keynote by Anita Borg Institute